With a Sony PlayStation 3 hooked up to his 57-inch TV screen, Tom Whaley's friends flock to his Northfield home a couple of nights per week, not to play video games, but to watch movies.
Whaley, 20, uses his PlayStation to watch DVDs and Blu-rays and YouTube, to check out TV shows and films streamed by Netflix and to play CDs. Whaley uses his PS3 everyday to look at such TV shows as "Breaking Bad," "Weeds" and "Community" and to watch Blu-ray copies of such big blockbuster action movies "Star Wars," "The Matrix" and "The Lord of the Rings."
"The PS3 is the ultimate form of household video game console entertainment," said Whaley, a 2010 Mainland High School graduate. With all the options for entertainment, it's sometimes easy to forget its primary purpose is a video game console.
"I have a bunch of video games, but that's what I use the PS3 for the least," Whaley said.
Increasingly, people are using the latest versions of the video game systems, such Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, Nintendo Co.'s Wii and PS3, to do things other than play video games.
These multimedia, multitasking consoles began appearing about three years ago, but have been warmly embraced by consumers, said Steve Koenig, director and industry analysis for Consumer Electronics Association market research. The proliferation of these devices also have made online video services such Netflix, Hulu and Vudu - which makes HD movies and TV shows available on-demand - popular.
The association's research has found about 45 percent of adults who watch videos at home are getting some of their content from a game console, said Koenig.
Consoles are rapidly becoming all-around entertainment providers, he said.
"It's watching video, catch-up TV, social networking and Internet browsing to some extent. They are portals to a variety of entertainment," Koenig said. "In the case of the Xbox, PS3 and even the Wii, they have their own ecosystem of apps. All kinds of media information and entertainment content are available through this platform that used to be the sole domain for playing video games."
John Perovich, 28, of Mays Landing, has had a PS3 for three years and a Xbox 360 since the game system was introduced in 2005. Perovich uses his Xbox 360 primarily for Netflix and the Hulu plus subscription service and his PS3 to watch Blu-ray videos or play games.
Perovich started using Netflix and Hulu plus two years ago on his Xbox 360 when he didn't have good cable service.
"I chose not to get cable because of Netflix and Hulu. That's how I watch television," Perovich said. "I had no idea you would be able to do this one day when I bought the video game systems, no clue whatsoever."
Perovich pays $7.99 per month for Hulu plus, for new TV shows. He pays th same for Netflix, for old TV series and movies.
"The major impact is how I purchase DVDs and Blu-Rays. It is extremely rare that I will buy any DVDs or Blu-ray," said Perovich.
"It was just really convenient," said Perovich about streaming through his Xbox. "I thought I just have to pay a subscription. I don't have to go buy a box set of a TV season, and I can save a lot of money."
The new game consoles represent a trend of smarter, multi-use devices replacing older, single-use technology, said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and pop culture professor at Syracuse University.
In recent years, old stalwarts such as video game players, VCRs or DVD players and radios have been superseded by products unifying all these functions into one device, he said.
"A lot of people don't think about the fact that the game console does an awful lot of that stuff," said Thompson. The drawback to a PS3, XBox or Wii is they are not as portable like a smartphone or an iPad.
As consumers embrace video streaming they are buying - and renting - less physical media, such as DVDs.
"That's why companies like Blockbuster ... their business was decimated because why do you need to go to the video rental store," Koenig said. "You just stream the movie from home and stay parked on the couch."
According to a report from the NPD Group, the sales of DVD and Blu-ray fell 9.4 percent for the six months ending March 2011 over the same time period ending in March 2010.
In the McCourt household in Mays Landing, Dawn McCourt said her children, Shawn, 10, and Scarlett, 8, received a Nintendo Wii as a Christmas gift four years ago and an Xbox 360 in December. Now her son uses Netflix to catch up with old episodes of the Disney show "Good Luck Charlie" and the Spike TV's "Deadliest Warrior."
Dawn McCourt said she hasn't purchased a single DVD since the Xbox 360 arrived in her home. She has watched old episodes of "Lost." The first thing she streamed from Netflix onto her 50-inch TV screen was 2010's "Iron Man 2."
"It felt pretty awesome because it was a lot cheaper than going to the theater. For movies, unless it's some blockbuster you really need the big effects to see, I just wait now," said McCourt, whose moviegoing has been cut down to once per month since the Xbox arrived. "We probably used to go every weekend, I think."
McCourt does own a stand-alone DVD player. A disc is currently stuck inside her player. She said it will probably collect dust for a while, and it will eventually be sold at a yard sale.
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