The Xbox 360 is the second generation console in Microsoft's Xbox line of consoles. The console comes with a single wireless controller, 20GB hard drive, corded headset, Ethernet cable and an AV cable that can connect to an HD monitor. In order to get the full enjoyment out of the console you need to be able to connect it to broadband, either cable or DSL will work.
All Xbox 360 consoles offer a free version of Xbox Live called Silver membership while you can pay for the Gold membership. The key difference between the two levels is online play. If you want to play your games online you have to pay for Gold membership. It's not very expensive but it is an annoyance. Another problem is that the membership is user level not console level. This means that if both my daughter and I desire to play games online we either have to share an Xbox Live account OR pay for two accounts to work at the Gold level.
Playing games is not the only thing you do with an Xbox Live membership. The Xbox Live Marketplace does allow you to download game demos and purchase downloadable content but it also allows you to watch movies and TV shows. Yes, the Xbox 360 can be used in a similar fashion as the Apple TV product.
The movies and TV shows can often be purchased in either standard definition or high definition. Not all content is permanent but if you just have to watch a movie that is offered in the Marketplace the option is there.
Prices are listed in Microsoft Points. These points do not have a set monetary value because you can buy more points for less money when you buy a whole lot at once.
When you create your first Gamertag you will be given a complimentary 30 day gold membership. Xbox Live also has the occasional Gold weekend where everyone gets the benefit of a Gold level membership.
A lot of people have talked about achievements in the past. Some think they are awesome while others consider them worthless. Some achievements are good while others are bad. I like to think of them as little trophies you get for playing the game. I'm not going to bust my ass to earn them but I do think they are a nice bonus feature of the system.
In the past gamers had to keep a camera near the TV for when they hit a high score or did some other amazing thing. With the achievement system in place many of those great moments in gaming can now be bragged about and backed up just by pointing at the achievement.
Not all things worth bragging about have an achievement and not all achievements are worth bragging about but... It's still a nice system and I have no ill feelings towards it.
Unlike the Nintendo Wii the Xbox 360 does not come with built-in Wi-Fi. There is a Wi-Fi adapter you can purchase but it is not cheap. I don't know if you can stick any old Wi-Fi adapter into one of the system's USB ports but it would have been nice if Wi-Fi was built-in.
I have a wired and Wi-Fi network in my home so it was no big deal to plug the system in directly. The included Ethernet cable is not very long so it is still sitting in the box. If you keep a router in your AV cabinet you can make use of the Ethernet cable included with the system.
I dispensed with the included AV cable right away. It is very large and bulky and I did not want such a large cable cluttering up my TV cabinet. Because I had been using an upscaling DVD player I simply put that away and reused the HDMI cable.
Over HDMI the Xbox 360 is a beautiful thing. It runs in 1080P and upscales DVDs. The sound is also excellent and I have no complaints.
When watching DVDs you can choose to watch them in pan-and-scan, widescreen or zoomed formats. I prefer to have my movies take up the full screen on my TV so I always set them to stretch over the full screen. Some things look a little fat but it is not that bad.
When I saw that the Xbox 360 had parental controls the first thing I looked for was not a rating system (I choose what games come into the house) but a timer system. The console does include a timer system but it is broken.
It is broken because you can not tie a timer to a Gamertag! What good is setting a timer for the kids if it is a global timer? Not only that but playing DVDs also counts against your usage time!
Some of you may not see this as a complete failure but for me it is. The Xbox 360 is not just a game console for me, it is also a DVD player replacement. If watching movies runs the timer down than the the timer is useless.
The Xbox 360 can also connect to one Media Center PC in your home. This allows you to access the media content on the PC through the Xbox 360.
One of the first things I did was to try and get the Netflix plugin to work. After spending about an hour fiddling with it I got it so I could watch the on demand Netflix movies right on my TV. Then I got greedy.
When I tried to connect the console to a second PC running Media Center everything went wrong. For some reason Microsoft has decided that the console can only connect to ONE PC running Media Center. I have not been able to get the Netflix plugin to work again since.
Microsoft also offers a remote control for easy access to DVD playback. Buy it. It is $20 well spent.
Where's The Web?
For a console with such a large devotion paid to its online side I have to ask one question: â€œWhere is the web browser?â€
Even the Nintendo Wii offers a web browser. Why did Microsoft skimp on this? Don't they make Internet Explorer?
It's not a deal breaker but I would expect Microsoft to allow its customers to cruise the web with the console. The console already offers a mini keyboard of sorts and a camera attachment. Why is this missing?
The Xbox 360 is a very good console. It is clearly designed not just to be a gaming system but also to be the hub of your home entertainment system.
Between Media Center, DVDs and the Marketplace you may never need to leave the house to enjoy watching movies. Once the Netflix Microsoft partnership is complete later this year and the official Netflix support is added the Xbox 360 will attain dominance in the console market.
- The Good
- HD Graphics
- Online Gameplay
- Multiple user accounts (Gamertags)
- Wireless controllers
- Media Center
- Wide selection of games
- The Bad
- Not 100% backwards compatible with original Xbox games
- Xbox Live membership is account based not system based
- Wired Ethernet standard
- No web access
- The Ugly
- Timer is console not user based
- Media Center is ONE PC only