Microsoft Xbox 360

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Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Microsoft Xbox 360

Pros

  • Sexy Design, Incredible power, Music streaming and integration, Great controller

Cons

  • Some unsupported file formats, No HD-DVD drive, no non-MSC support, average launch line up.

Bottom Line

The Xbox 360 is an incredible piece of hardware with very little great software to choose from. In the end, the potential for future brilliance far outweighs its immediate appeal.

Would you buy this?

Xbox Live

If you have never played a game on Xbox Live you are really missing out on the potential of the Xbox. Single player games are fun for personal entertainment but the community interaction and limitless fun of playing with people from around the world while being able to speak to them in real time is quite an experience. With the original Xbox, Microsoft dominated online console gaming with a unified service, across all games with one ID that gamers used for all Live interactions. The Xbox Live services available from game to game varied but features like OptiMatch were universal. With the Xbox 360 they have expanded upon the success of Xbox Live and have created an expanded service with more downloadable content and web integration. User profiles have become more important with statistics tracking, gamer score, achievement tracking and gamer reputation with all gaming stats available to view on the xbox live website.

A user can now choose the style of gamer they are, whether they fit in the underground gamer community or are playing just for fun and this choice will directly affect who they play with. A search that excludes people with low reputations will mean you will only end up playing with respectable gamers, instead of the cheaters and abusers who litter the service like a disease. People on your friends list can also be examined more closely and all their achievements can be viewed and compared with your own. You will be able to see specifically where a player is up to as they are playing with accurate reporting of their progress on your friends list. Also, the audio chat function has been immensely improved. Since the higher functions of Xbox Live are no longer controlled within the individual games, you can be talking to someone in a game, still talk to them as you eject the disc and continue the conversation uninterrupted as the next game starts. This is quite incredible to experience and a huge improvement on the Live service.

The two biggest changes to the online service have to be the Xbox Live Marketplace and the Xbox Live Arcade. The Marketplace is like a shop for each game title where you can purchase additional levels, desktop images for the operating system, clothing for your favourite Tony Hawk skater, Cars for your favourite racing game and so forth. Developers can also make demo versions of games available to download for free and movie studios can make film trailers available too. The possibilities of this service are enormous. Imagine a time when a game developer has a project that may be a little risky to make. The way it at the moment, they would make the game and hope it sells or not take the risk at all. With the marketplace they could make only one level of the game and see how popular it is with the community before the green light is given for the entire game to be produced. This service has the potential to re-define how developers interact with gamers and if it's a change for the better, this is definitely something to get excited about.

The other service is the Xbox Live Arcade. Old school arcade games like Joust, Gauntlet and the like can be downloaded for a small fee and played with full Xbox Live multiplayer support via Live Arcade emulation. Since the launch of 360 in the USA the Live Arcade has exploded, with a huge number of users enjoying 80's arcade games and advanced puzzle titles like Geometry Wars proving that incredible graphics don't necessarily outweigh addictive game play.

Media Player and Connectivity

One of the big selling points for this console is its media playback features. The unit can be connected to a Windows Media Centre PC either via cat-5 cable or WiFi and can stream all the media on that PC to the console for playback either in the main menu system or during game play. Windows XP users can stream music but no video content. CDs can be ripped to the 20GB detachable hard drive or video files can be stored for playback as well. Most media formats are supported and at decent resolutions. We were unable to test DivX and High Definition video file support but will do so once the console has launched in Australia and provide an update to this review. All the media features can be accessed at any time by pressing the big Xbox button on the controller. By doing so, you can select a song to play, even while in a game. Since most in game music is generally annoying, being able to play your own music is a welcomed change. The music is blended into the game just as the usual soundtrack would be, so it seems completely normal and flawless.

This feature is particularly useful if you own a compatible USB device. The Xbox 360 connects to the iPod and PSP without a problem and our tests for these connections were successful. It finds them easily and can access their music databases without any problems. We tested it with some other devices and found that unless your MP3 player is a classified as a Mass Storage Device the Xbox will not find it. We tested it on the Rio Karma, a Non-MSC Mp3 player and the Xbox did not find it at all. The same happened with the Sony MiniDisc player. However, any standard USB flash key works a charm. We also found that some MP3s didn't work when playing from the iPod. As hard as we tried, we couldn't work out why. Microsoft informed us that songs downloaded from the iTunes service will not work on the 360 but the songs in question were ripped from our own CD. Whatever the source of the incompatibility, consumers need to be aware that there will be some audio files that will simply not work, no matter how hard they try. In the end, pumping up "Flight of the Valkryies" or some heart thumping Rammstein during an intense firefight is very cool and being able to use your own music is a feature gamers are going to love.

DVD Playback no longer requires an exterior dongle and works right out of the box. The image quality of the DVD player is what is to be expected and is on par with most middle of the range standalone DVD players. It isn't terribly amazing but isn't horrible either. At this time there is no HD-DVD player in the console but Microsoft has announced an external HD-DVD player that will be available for purchase so users will be able to play the next generation DVD format. Unfortunately, with PlayStation 3 having a Blu-Ray drive as standard, the Xbox 360 may have already faltered with respect to next-gen video entertainment, especially if Sony's track record is anything to go by.

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