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A very happy new year to you. And what a year it promises to be for those of a gaming persuasion. We've already banged on about the biggest and best games you'll be able to play over the next 12 months (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

But 2012 will also be defined by the new wave of next-generation gaming systems on the way. Whether you like playing games on the go, on your phone or on your fat arse in front of the telly, there's a system coming for you. And here is what you need know.

PlayStation Vita

Touted as the ultimate hardcore gamers' portable system, Sony's PSP successor has one key advantage over every other handheld console or smartphone ever released: dual analogue sticks.

This means no more compromises when it comes to the biggest and best games, whether it's Uncharted at the urinal or Call of Duty on the crapper.

Elsewhere Vita is packed with cool features: front and rear touch (imagine 'squeezing' objects in a game), front and rear cameras (for, amongst other things, advanced augmented reality) a microphone, gyroscope and accelerometer (for motion-control) and lots of neat social functions to keep you connected to friends as well as the internet.

It's out in Europe and the US on Feb 22nd, for £229 (wi-fi only) and £279 (wi-fi + 3G) in the UK, with an impressive launch line-up, including new entries into the acclaimed Uncharted and WipEout series.

Which is all well and good, but Vita has two big questions to answer: with the rise-and-rise of smartphone gaming, do people still want a high-end handheld console? And even if they do, will they pay up to £40 a pop for games to play on it?

Wii U

The bold, brave successor to the staggeringly successful Wii will launch later this year. Nintendo's Big Idea, rather like Wii before it, is all about the controller. Wii U's has a touch-screen in the middle of it, which means it can be used as a second screen or as a standalone gaming device of its own.

Last year's launch trailer offered an overview of some of the different types of gaming this will make possible. And on top of that, if  you're playing a game but the missus wants to watch that Eastenders garbage, you can switch instantly to the screen in your hands.

Yes, it looks like a Fisher Price iPad. But it's a fascinating, exciting and still, frankly, baffling concept – not least because we've only seen demos so far, rather than actual proper games running on it. Expect a huge reveal at E3 in June.

Some developers I've spoken to with Wii U kits are struggling to figure out exactly what to do with it, so it's over to Nintendo to lead the way – as, lest we forget, it had to do with initially left-field concepts like DS and Wii. And all that turned out quite well in the end, didn't it?

iPad 3

It's coming – obviously – and very likely sooner rather than later. But when? As ever with Apple, no-one's 100 percent sure and every tech man and his dog is speculating. But while the smart money is on sometime in the next few months, it could arrive as early as February, with one particular rumour suggesting it might launch on the 24th – which would have been Steve Jobs' 57th birthday.

Either way, what you certainly should expect is for the new model to feature a higher resolution display, possibly (hopefully) the glorious 'retina' one that debuted with iPhone 4 – something Sony's Vita doesn't offer. 

iPad 3 is also likely to pack a more powerful processor, possibly a quad-core A5 (iPad 2 is dual core). Which, for gaming, would mean much more horsepower to produce even more amazing visuals (which are already pretty great, as the stunning Infinity Blade 2 shows).

iPhone 5

Rather like iPad 3, there's no doubt it's coming, and relatively little doubt that it'll arrive later this year. The question, then, is less when and more what? With 4S only a relatively modest (and, to some, disappointing) upgrade to iPhone 4, it's come to be seen as a stop-gap before the next major upgrade to Apple's smartphone range.

We can expect some clues as to what to expect on the technical side from iPad 3 – which, in gaming terms, is most straightforwardly likely to mean more power meaning sexier graphics.

The next Xbox

Though it may not feel like it, Xbox 360 is an ancient six-years-old now - and despite Microsoft's regular dashboard plastic surgery to keep it looking fresh, its insides ain't getting any younger.

Microsoft is expected to announce its next home console this year, probably at E3 in June. However, with big games like Halo 4 due on 360 later in 2012, it's hugely unlikely the next Xbox will launch before 2013 – and developers are already making games for it.

What can we expect? Well, to get an idea of what games will look like on the next-generation consoles of tomorrow, take a look at Battlefield 3 running on a super-high-end PC today. Alternatively, watch this video made by Gears of War maker Epic Games last year as an example of what it expects the next Xbox and PS4 to be capable of. Yummy.

There's also talk that the new Xbox will function as a digital recorder (which would be well in-keeping with Microsoft's desperate desire to 'own' the living room), and it'll come with the next generation of Kinect, which may finally deliver on the technology's amazing promise – which it spectacularly failed to do so far with the vast majority of its flappy, imprecise games.


Exciting, isn't it?


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