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A Little Something Extra for the Box

Game peripherals make perfect gifts for the video game enthusiast whose console doesn't have everything.

November 29, 2001|ALEX PHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Back in the good old days, new game systems used to hit the market bundled with a couple of controllers and maybe a free game or two tossed in for good measure.

No longer. Because hardware companies actually lose money on every box they sell today, they rid systems of any extras.

Consoles now come with just one controller. Want another? That'll be $40, please. Need a joystick to play the latest flight simulation game? Throw in an additional $30 to $100.

The situation has created a tidy little market for game peripherals. For consumers, the consolation prize for having to buy extra doodads is choice. Here are some recommendations.

DVD Remote Controllers: The Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox are capable of playing DVD movies, but viewers must deal with a clumsy interface (the case with the PS2 controller) or buy a DVD remote controller (a necessity for Xbox).

Because the PS2 has been on the market for more than a year, several third-party companies make a remote control for playing DVDs costing $10 to $20.

Trouble is that most have lousy interfaces that aren't much more intuitive than the game pad. The exception is the Sony controller, which looks and feels like a full-featured controller, not like the other junior versions out there. At $20, it's worth the premium.

Unfortunately, playing DVDs on the Xbox requires a remote, and buying one from Microsoft will set you back $35. Best to wait for companies such as Saitek or MadCatz to come out with theirs.

Controllers: Cut the cord. Get a wireless controller. For the PlayStation 2, there's a 900-megahertz controller made by MadCatz.

The $40 device comes with a charging cradle that juices up the controller for up to five hours. This means consumers won't need to buy batteries.

Unlike remote controls, the majority of which require line-of-sight access to the machine, the MadCatz controller uses radio frequencies to send signals, so players don't need to be directly in front of the console.

One consideration is that the MadCatz controller is heavier than the standard PS2 controller, which is good for those who like a little heft. On the other hand, the difference is not significant--it's no heavier than the tethered Xbox controller.

PC Graphics Cards: Obtaining high-octane graphics on the personal computer is almost an obsession for devotees of increasingly realistic PC games. Fortunately, prices are coming down fast, putting graphics cards in the range of less rabid consumers.

Two graphics chips are considered the top of the line this season--the GeForce 3 made by Nvidia, and the Radeon 8500 from ATI.

Consumers can get the GeForce3 in several graphics cards on the market.

Prices range from $320 to less than $400, which while expensive is down from $600 a few months ago.

To compare features and prices, go to http://www.tomshardware.com, a site that goes into great depth about the pros and cons of each card. It also has handy price comparison charts for more than a dozen online merchants.

For those wanting to save a few bucks without compromising performance, ATI's Radeon 8500 cards are less expensive than those containing the GeForce 3 chip. A recent price comparison yielded a $235 tag from Buy.com, with all other retailers pricing the card well below $300.

This price still may be too steep for something entirely optional. A cheap, all-in-one thrill for the young at heart is the pager-size Pokemon Mini console. For $40, the system includes a party game and can be purchased online at http://www.pokemoncenter.com.

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Alex Pham covers video games. She can be reached at alex.pham@latimes.com.

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