Before you know it, a host of new video game systems will be occupying shelf space at your local Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) or Electronics Boutique (NASDAQ:ELBO). Of course, the phrase "before you know it" is being used loosely. Next-generation Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Playstations and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xboxs won't be out until 2005 or 2006 (assuming no delays). Nevertheless, to investors, that time frame is a close one, since being ahead of the curve is what it's all about.

Not to be left out, Nintendo (NASDAQ:NTDOY) plans to add to its handheld-gaming legacy. By the end of this year, the console maker hopes to launch the Nintendo DS (although that might change), and it is quite the evolution from the Gameboy Advance system. It will possess two game screens.

Theoretically, this should add a whole new dimension to the current perspective of video game players. Imagine Resident Evil on such a device, for instance -- you see your player walking down a dark corridor on one screen, and on the other, you receive warning that an overdeveloped mutant tarantula is scurrying along the ceiling, intent on catching up, and dropping on you (just my imaginings, by the way).

Then again, it could also confuse matters. One has to wonder: Will Nintendo luck out with this new offshoot of the Gameboy, or will it bomb? From what's been reported, Nintendo's plans aren't necessarily predicated on the DS cannibalizing sales of its existing handheld line -- it would like to exploit new demographic markets with its unique appeal. Nevertheless, even if the DS is supposed to exist in its own universe, I can't help but think that the overall video game audience will view it as another Gameboy. And if they do this, then that second screen may not be as revolutionary as hoped -- it could end up being freakish and off-putting (I'm not saying this will certainly be the case, but anecdotal evidence I've heard suggests that people do wonder about how that screen will affect the value of their gaming experience).

I haven't seen it in person, so my speculation on its reception could be premature (I have seen images, however). Still, to echo a corollary to an earlier thought, speculation is what this is all about. There is word that the economics of the DS are currently under question because of exorbitant costs associated with the unit's display components due to a potential shortfall of LCD screens, so that could have an effect on the launch as well. Time will tell.

Nintendo could use a huge success at this point, since its Gamecube system hasn't captured video gamers like it was supposed to. And with Sony's handheld due to compete with the DS, things could become very contentious. It's become a cliché by now, but I'll say it anyway: Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of these wars will be the providers of "content" to these different platforms, such as Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI). Content is king, as they say.

David Gardner has recommended both Electronic Arts and Activision for Motley Fool Stock Advisor subscribers. Sign up for six months, risk-free, to learn more.

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned.