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Why a new breed of games consoles will be giving Sony and Microsoft sleepless nights.

2013 was supposed to be the year of the next-generation consoles: with Nintendo’s surreal Wii U out already, this year looked set to be dominated by super-charged sequels to the PS3 and Xbox 360.

The PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, or whatever they’ll be called, are open secrets: even if Sony and Microsoft still don’t admit to their existence, games developers are already announcing the games they’ll be making for them, and it’s widely expected that one or both will be released this year.

They won’t be alone however: 2013 will be the year that console gaming choices went from three to, well, whatever you like. A new wave of tiny devices, taking cues from mobile technology and apps, is on the way to change the business model forever - and provide a whole lot of fun for you along the way. Here’s what to look out for:

Project Shield

Just announced this morning at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nvidia’s Project Shield is a handheld gaming console like no other. It’s an Xbox-style controller with a five-inch, fold down HD screen on top that’ll let you play any Android games and apps you like using its twin thumbsticks.

It’s the PlayStation 3 rather than the PS Vita that might be out of a job in your home however: this clever contraption also streams games from your PC to wherever you are over Wi-Fi, including anything you’ve downloaded from Steam, and you can hook it up to your TV to play them too.

Given that current PCs are much more powerful than today’s consoles, it’s entirely possible that this handheld could out-perform Sony and Microsoft’s next home consoles in time. It’s out sometime between April and June this year, though Nvidia is staying quiet on the price for now.

GameStick

The recently announced GameStick takes the power of Android, and puts it in a gamepad that you can take with you anywhere. The computing power’s held in a tiny, memory stick-sized dongle that pops out of the wireless gamepad and plugs into your TV to play Android games, and you can also connect other wireless controllers for impromptu multiplayer sessions. Best of all, the whole package costs just $79 (£50).

GameStick has already proved a Kickstarter sensation: with 25 days to go, it’s already raised more than $240,000 (£150,000), smashing its original target of $100,000 (£62,000). If you back it now, you can expect one by April.

Ouya

This little $99 (£62) box kicked off the trend for tiny console killers all by itself when the team behind it raised more than $8.5m (£5.3m) on Kickstarter last year. It looks like a shrunken Nintendo GameCube, but it runs Google’s Android operating system. While it’s less portable than the GameStick, its business model is revolutionary: every game on the system will be free to play (at least for a while, so you can test it first), the machine is open to hackers, and developers won’t have to pay a fee to release games for it.

With the first models now shipping to eager developers, the Ouya is inching ever closer to its estimated April shipping date. We can’t wait.

Archos TV Connect

Archos is best known for its cut-price tablets, but its newly announced TV Connect rig is as more PlayStation rival than iPad contender. The small gadget perches on top of your TV and pumps Android onto your big screen, so you can browse the web or watch movies, but it also pulls double-duty as a games machine: the admittedly massive remote squeezes in dual thumbsticks and gaming buttons alongside a QWERTY keyboard, and Archos has crafted its own software that lets you add joystick controls to touchscreen-only games. If you prefer Angry Birds to Uncharted, this might just be the way to go: it’s out next month for £99.

G-cluster Games Machine

G-cluster’s Games Machine is a new contender in the game streaming space currently dominated by the likes of OnLive. The tiny box works in much the same way: connect it up to your TV and the internet, and you can instantly stream the latest PC games from servers that do all the heavy lifting for you. The twist is that instead of a clunky controller, you can use your smartphone or tablet as a gamepad for G-Cluster’s box by way of an app. That should keep the price right down when it launches: G-cluster’s business model is to partner up with networks and ISPs rather than directly to gamers. Given that we’re on the cusp of a 4G, super-speed revolution, we can definitely see British operators wanting to get in on the tech.

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