This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is soon upon us, with the sixteenth outing of the games industry's biggest international trade show in LA on 7-9 June 2011 sure to reveal a wide range of interesting new videogames, as well as the latest console, PC and handheld gaming tech from Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and many others.
The biggest E3 news announcements, E3 rumours and the annual E3 press conferences from the likes of the aforementioned big three, alongside major games publishers such as EA, Konami, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Activision and many more, are closely watched, monitored and pored-over by games designers, publishers and committed gamers alike.
TechRadar will bring you full details of all of the major E3 2011 news announcements from all of the major gaming hardware brands and software publishers as and when they are announced. For now, let's take a look at what we expect from this year's show.
Key E3 dates
Whether you are lucky enough to be in attendance at the cavernous LA Convention Center, hobnobbing with the eager crowd of industry PRs and marketing punters all pushing expense allowances to the limit, or just sitting at home with the millions of other hardcore gamers online, ready and willing to pick apart the meaning and possible outcome of every new tech and games announcement, E3 is the highlight of the gaming news junkie's year.
E3 2011: Thousands of exhibitors crammed into LA's convention centre
Firstly, though, brass tacks. If you want to follow the biggest announcements from E3 2011 this year, here are the times, dates and details of the key press events that you need to mark in the diary.
The Microsoft E3 press conference kicks off the show's week, taking place at 9am Pacific time (5pm British Summer Time) on Monday 6 June, followed later on the same day by the Sony E32011 press conference at 5pm PST (1am BST, for those PlayStation die-hards who want to stay up late to catch the news live).
The Nintendo E3 press conference takes place at LA's Nokia Theatre the following day at 9am PST (5pm GMT).
In addition to new console tech, an immense amount of new games across every platform are set to be unveiled at the show. Thousands of games developers and publishers and PRs have spent the best part of the year preparing polished demos of their latest interactive masterpieces to show off to anybody with eyes and ears who they can successfully capture and keep in front of a screen for two minutes or more.
After all, it is a desperately hard sell, trying to keep anybody's attention for more than 10 seconds as they wander around LA's huge convention centre hoping to be amongst the first to find the next big, yet-to-be-discovered thing in gaming.
GEARS OF WAR 3: That's gotta hurt
Do you head to Microsoft to try to get some hands on time with Gears of War 3? Do you join that annoyingly long queue to get 10 minutes playtime with the new Nintendo console? Or do you head straight to Sony to get a taste of Uncharted on the NGP?
Consoles versus mobiles
"I think this year's E3 is going to be one of the most interesting for many years," says UK industry veteran Alex Verrey, remembered by many as Gamesworld's Big Boy Barry, and now PR Manager for peripherals specialists Mad Catz.
Verrey's personal take is that E3 2011 will see "the big three doing their utmost to explain how they intend to move their business forward and what exactly they intend to do to keep the gaming community interested and fixated on playing dedicated consoles rather than mobile tablets and phones.
"Perhaps most intriguing will be Nintendo's media briefing. In order to keep ever anxious investors happy, they have already announced that the successor to the Wii will debut at this year's E3 AND will be in an advanced-enough state to be playable by all visitors.
"Everything known to date is pure rumour but it's a fair guess that the console will probably exceed the power of the PS3 and Xbox 360 (if only by a little) and the rumours about a colour touchscreen/controller hybrid are simply too plentiful and detailed to ignore. Expect to see a strong focus on 3DS titles as well, as Nintendo are all too aware that the system desperately needs some AAA titles to see off the oncoming storm of the next generation PSP from Sony."
With Microsoft and EA moving quickly to quell recent industry rumours that next gen Xbox development kits were in the hands of developers, it seems highly unlikely that Microsoft is going to reveal any new console hardware tech of its own.
"Sony and Microsoft will be faced with a tough show this year," Verrey agrees. "The next Nintendo system will be getting all the attention this year and I simply don't believe Sony or Microsoft will be ready or willing to discuss their next home console for a while. They will both want to keep their current generation of home consoles alive for as long as possible, as both machines are now entering the cycle where they become profitable for the platform holders."
SONY NGP: The big news in handheld gaming in 2011
All of which strongly suggests that, in addition to a full reveal from Sony of the pricing, name and extensive hands-on demos with new first-party and third-party games lined up for the new Next Generation Portable, there will also be a heavy focus on the latest Kinect and Move software from both Microsoft and Sony, as they continue to attempt to expand their customer bases beyond the hardcore.