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Millions of people are waking up to new video-game consoles under the tree this morning. But how they end up using their new consoles might surprise you.

And it’s likely to differ depending on which console they receive.

Data released recently by the Nielsen market research firm showed some interesting differences in usage patterns among the three major consoles: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 3.

Here’s a Nielsen chart breaking down the data.

The survey was based on a sample of 3,000 people in the United States. A few observations from the numbers …

  • Even with the rise in on-demand and streaming video, those uses remain a relatively small portion of time spent on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (15% and 14%, respectively) suggesting that there’s still plenty of room for growth in video streaming on those consoles. (Microsoft is aiming to boost video and television viewing with its recent Xbox Live dashboard overhaul.)
  • Online gaming, as a percentage of overall usage, actually dropped on the PS3 and Wii from 2010 to 2011, according to the Nielsen data. In the case of the PlayStation, the extended outage of the PlayStation Network this year would seem a likely culprit. The numbers suggest that Nintendo and Sony have some work to do to make their online platforms worth user time.
  • Nintendo, which added Netflix in 2010, saw a big increase in video streaming on the Wii this past year, rising to 33 percent of time spent, from 20 percent the year before.
  • Games are, in fact, still the primary way we use our game consoles, with watching shows through various methods No. 2. Other types of uses, such as listening to music and browsing the Internet, fell noticeably on each console between 2010 and 2011.
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