Graphics, schmaphics. The future of gaming not only looks better — it sounds a lot better, too. Talk to any game composer or sound designer, and you’ll hear a lot of excitement about the amount of creativity they can exert with games. So how does the next generation compare?

Amidst all the PS3 vs. Xbox 360 comparisons, there actually hasn’t been much talk about sound, probably because all three consoles (PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Revolution) will feature 5.1 surround and optical outputs. Then again, so does your DVD player. Does anything differentiate them? (Read More)

Nintendo: Nintendo details are the sketchiest, because the big N chose not to release specs on their upcoming machine. We do know it’ll have 5.1 optical output, but not much else. For a good overview, see (of all places), one of the few outlets to stay level-headed admist the hype.

Sony: Sony’s specs are only slightly less vague. One digital out will carry audio, and PS3 features “Dolby 5.1ch, DTS, LPCM, etc. (Cell-base processing).” Huh? Well, DTS is a form of surround encoding, and LPCM aka “linear PCM” (see an overview of coding formats or specifics on LPCM) is a higher-quality audio encoding format for DVDs. So expect high-quality encoded audio.

Microsoft: Xbox also has some seriously high-grade specs, and with a platform geared for exclusives, you could see some heavy soundtrack action here. According to official MS specs, look for “Multi-channel surround sound output (apparently 5.1 -Ed.), 48KHz 16-bit audio, 320 independent decompression channels, 32-bit audio processing, and over 256 audio channels.” Sounds cool, but remember that cross-platform games usually go for lowest-common denominator.

Custom music via Windows: The real story with Xbox 360 may be the integrated media handling features: you can rip music to the drive and set up custom playlists for games (so you can drown out lousy game soundtracks), and Media Center Extender hooks up to media from your Media Center PC. There’s even streaming from Windows portable music devices, digital cameras, and standard XP PCs.

Hackers beware: While the NES and Game Boy are perhaps the most-hacked game systems ever — hacked Mario Brothers reduced to just clouds has even shown up at the Whitney Museum of Art — note that the new Revolution will feature DRM for its downloadable retro games. Unclear whether that would prevent, for instance, loading homebrew NES games onto Revolution. Hang onto your old hardware, kids.