News from the virtual world:

— E3 MINI: This year's version of the Electronic Entertainment Expo — newly christened the E3 Media & Business Summit — was much smaller than last year's, but it wasn't just the lack of crowd noise that made it seem a lot quieter.

Last year, Sony and Nintendo were still gearing up for the launches of the PlayStation 3 and the Wii, respectively, while Microsoft was trying to build momentum for the Xbox 360.

Now that the pre-launch jitters are out of the way, all three companies are focused on finding a larger audience.

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— WII ALMIGHTY: Nintendo had the most to crow about, with Wii sales gaining on the 360 and the DS dominating portable gaming.

The company didn't make any big new software announcements, concentrating instead on 2007 releases like "Super Mario Galaxy" and "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption" (for the Wii) and "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" and "Brain Age 2" (for the DS).

Nintendo did show off some new peripherals designed to appeal to the more casual gamers who have made the Wii a smash.

The Balance Board is a pressure-sensitive panel, about the size of a bathroom scale, that you stand on while working out to the company's new "Wii Fit" software.

The Wii Zapper turns the Wii remote into a gun, for shooting games like Capcom's "Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles"; the Wii Wheel turns it into a steering wheel, for driving games like the next-generation "Mario Kart."

During his E3 press conference, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime noted that the Wii has been sold out every week since its debut last year — and executives acknowledged that shortages are likely to continue through this year's holiday season.

— CENTRAL STATION: Sony led off E3 with a $100 price cut on the current PS3 and the announcement of a new model with a heftier hard drive.

But any positive vibes were dissipated later in the week when a Sony executive revealed that the older model was being discontinued — so the $499 PS3 deal will last only until inventory runs out.

A Sony representative told the Next-Gen Web site, "We have ample inventory to meet the immediate needs of consumers in (North America) for several months to come," but the switcheroo seems like it's bound to confuse consumers.

Most of the games Sony showcased were previously announced works-in-progress like "Killzone 2," "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" and "Heavenly Sword."

"Sly Cooper" developer Sucker Punch showed up with a new superhero franchise, "Infamous," while the PlayStation Network will be getting an intriguing new 3D puzzler called "Echochrome."

Meanwhile, the PlayStation Portable is getting a makeover. The new model will be slimmer and lighter, and its battery will last longer (thank goodness). It will also have video output, so you can play PSP games on your TV at home.

— X OVER EASY: The Xbox 360 currently has the most wide-ranging game library of any of the three new consoles, and Microsoft vice president Peter Moore spent most of his E3 presentation talking about the system's exclusives.

The big gun, of course, is "Halo 3," but the supporting players in the 360's 2007 lineup — "BioShock," "Blue Dragon," "Mass Effect," "Project Gotham Racing 4" — make the console pretty much indispensable.

Microsoft did make one concession to the "party game" market that Nintendo's Wii has opened up. The most family friendly new title for the 360 was "Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action," based on the popular board game.

The Xbox version includes 1,800 new trivia questions and will be packaged with four "big-button" control pads, meant to appeal to players who may be intimidated by traditional video-game controllers.

— NEW IN STORES: Is it time for football already? EA Sports brings on "NCAA Football 08" (for the Xbox 360, PlayStation3 and PlayStation 2), while 2K Sports returns to the gridiron with "All-Pro Football" (360, PS3). ... EA Sports also has "Rugby 08" for the PS2. ... Sony brings "Hot Shots Tennis" to the PS2 and "PaRappa the Rapper" to the PlayStation Portable. ... Namco Bandai tells "Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology" on the PSP.