The announcement this week at Germany’s GamesCom trade show that the PlayStation 3’s retail price is dropping to $300, combined with the anticipation of a similar move for the most expensive version of Microsoft’s Xbox 360, means the days of paying $400 for a video game console are nearly over, at least until the next generation of hardware.

While $200 is the “sweet spot” that video game industry analysts bandy about as the key to mass adoption, getting down to $300 should kickstart flagging PS3 sales immensely. In addition, the price drop makes the console look more attractive to those thinking about buying the machine for its Blu-ray high-definition movie capability, as it brings its price more in line with the price of standalone Blu-ray players that don’t play video games.

For gamers, the $300 PS3 is a great deal. While you can still get an Xbox 360 or Wii at that price, the PS3’s improving lineup of exclusive games (“LittleBigPlanet,” “inFAMOUS” and “MLB 09: The Show,” to name a few), Blu-ray player, free online play and a controller that has its own internal, rechargeable battery mean you can pick up a console and a game and get pretty much everything you need, no additional outlay acquired. The only thing puzzlingly missing from the whole package is a cable with the capability of outputting high-definition video.

But Sony announced more than a PS3 price drop. In early September, the PS3 Slim will join the current, George Foreman Grill-inspired PS3 at retail. This redesign of the console is 33 percent smaller than the current version and uses about a third less electricity. Featurewise, it’s pretty similar to the current iteration. In other words, it still won’t play your PS2 games, as early versions of the console did. For some reason, Sony doesn’t regard playback of PS2 games as a high priority. While it’s true that the PS2 is the best-selling console of all time, and that a new one costs just $100, there have to be a lot of PS3 owners who’d love to play “Shadow of the Colossus” or “God of War” without shelling out for a separate system. And I, for one, would love to banish my PS2 to a closet somewhere.

In addition to continuing to lack backward compatibility, the PS3 Slim won’t allow you to install the Linux operating system, a feature I doubt most PS3 owners even knew existed in current models, let alone used. The PS3 slim will carry the same $300 price tag and should be in stores the first week of September.

What’s more, the console’s operating system is set to get an upgrade that will make it easier to see when new game add-ons become available, as well as keep an eye on what your friends are up to and who’s sent you messages.

As for the possibility of price drops on the Xbox 360 and Wii, don’t be surprised if you see some movement in the price of the most expensive Xbox 360 soon. Over the past few weeks, photos posted to gaming blogs of the Xbox 360’s retail packaging suggest that Microsoft is planning on discontinuing the Pro console, the mid-priced version that sells for $300. There’s been considerable anticipation that this move will be accompanied by a price drop for the Elite, which features a larger hard drive and currently sells for $400. As for the Arcade, the budget-priced version that sells for $200, I wouldn’t hold my breath for much movement there.

Nintendo has less incentive to drop the price of the Wii. At $250, it’s been the runaway hit of the current console generation since it debuted at that price in November 2006. While it’s possible slowing sales of the console could lead to a $50 price cut, it’d almost be a more welcome move if Nintendo were to start bundling an extra Wii remote and nunchuck, or the Wii MotionPlus controller enhancement, with the $250 package.