Video consoles have increasingly been viewed by industry analysts, as well as those who manufacture them, as an “all-around” home infotainment device and gateway to the digitally networked home of the near future. That and the onset of the holiday shopping season makes it an opportune time for a market research house like The Nielsen Co. to release its latest research on how people are using the three major game consoles.

“While gaming remains at the forefront of how users say they spend their time with a console, online play and movie/TV show-viewing represent important, but differing, aspects of overall use when comparing Microsoft Xbox 360 to Sony PlayStation 3 to Nintendo Wii. What emerges is a unique profile for each console,” according to a Nielsenwire post.

So what are people doing with these consoles? Eighty-seven percent of Xbox and Wii users aged 13+ said they use them for their original purpose: playing games. Eighty percent of PlayStation users 13+ said the same.

The majority of gaming activity takes place offline: 75% of Xbox users, 72% of PlayStation users, and 81% of Wii users said they use their consoles to play games offline. More substantial differences arise when it comes to online gaming, however. Fifty-four percent of Xbox users said they use their consoles to play video games online as compared to 46% of PlayStation users and 27% of Wii users.

Outside of playing games, watching DVDs and Blu-Ray discs garnered the greatest amount of their attention console owners said. PlayStation has the edge here: 72% of users said they use their consoles to watch DVDs or Blu-Ray discs. Forty-three percent of Xbox users said they did so. Wii doesn’t have this capability.

Between 20% and 25% of game console owners are also using these devices to watch video-on-demand and subscription service content, and watch movie or TV show downloads. Similar percentages of Xbox and PlayStation users are using the devices to listen to music–CDs, MP3s or other media–while between 20% (Xbox and Wii) and 27% (PlayStation) of console owners are using these devices to browse the Internet, for social networking, and to watch videos.

Nielsen researchers also use the results of metered console data, as opposed to users’ reported data, to get a handle on the subject. “Indeed, the total amount of time in hours differs markedly by console. Users 13+ spend 4.9 total hours per week on the Xbox 360, 4.1 hours on the PlayStation 3 and 1.4 hours on the Wii,” according to Nielsen.

“Males drive these averages for all three consoles, surpassing females in time spent. These differences in time, coupled with the nuances in how that time is allocated, underscore the unique profile of use for each console.”

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