Picture source: Microsoft
Various 360 faceplates
The new Xbox is here, and quite a beautiful machine it is. So far I haven't dropped the $400 + it takes to own one of these beauties, however due to my totally awesome game testing job I get to work with one every single day (with a very nice flat panel HD TV I might add. Damn my job rocks.) The graphics are sweeeet, the controls are niiiicee, the console is user friendly without being confusing. This is what you get when the richest man in the world makes a game system, utter perfection.
Well, almost. The console does have some logistical problems. It overheats. A lot. Many people have had to return launch units due to funky heating problems. The power supply is huge and takes up almost as much space as the console itself. At launch the Guide still had a few bugs that could lead to the patented Microsoft blue screen of death (avoid rapidly ejecting the disk and turning the console on and off. Or what the hell, do it for fun. ) Launch units had some problems with game saves. However the cool thing about a console that's designed with the internet in mind is that you can release patches and such to take care of problems without having to make people return their systems (which many people did anyway.) The console is also not 100% backwards compatible with all Xbox 1 titles, however support for very popular games (like say, Halo) is included.
Well, at least the thing looks rad. People had a lot of complaints about the original Xbox. Microsoft listened, and they delivered. The machine is smaller than the original (although still heavy as a brick) and looks a lot sleeker and sexier as opposed to the clunky shoe box design of the original. One of the things everybody hated about the OG was that it was too big and heavy to fit in with the rest of the home entertainment equipment. Problem is now solved. A lot of time and money went into the design of the controls. Gone are the huge funky boxes that look like they were made to fly Soviet spacecraft, in their place are small, sleek, sexy little boomerangs that work like a charm. No more not being able to work the right thumbstick and hit the black button at the same time unless you have giant lumberjack hands. All buttons are easily accessible. The controller is sturdy and can take a beating. And game control is so sweeeeeet...
Graphics kick ass. Textures retain detail and look real close up, no more fade in the background, no forced fog effects, no blurry loads of crapola when other characters get close, levels with objects that have no noticeable draw in, clothes that wrap around people realistically and have the texture of the fabric they're made of (the leather looks like leather, canvas looks like canvas, etc.) They are seriously the bomb in every way possible. The game I'm currently working on (the title of which I cannot reveal, non-disclosure agreements and everything) is a sequel to an Xbox 1 game. We put the new and the old next to each other one day, no comparison.
The console itself is full of little features and doohickeys of which it is almost worth getting for alone. All games will have a custom soundtrack feature, of which you can rip from a CDR (unlike Xbox 1.) The console of course plays regular DVDs, music CDs, etc (had some problems getting DVD-R to work, but then again the ones I was using were pretty cheap.) You can set controller preferences for certain genres of games. So say in racing games you like to have the brakes on the left trigger and the gas on the right, you can set it so that all racing games will follow that control scheme right out of the box. Xbox live service has some new features as well, such as the ability to set preferences to the type of player you would like to be matched with according to skill level, reputation, or achievements (unlockables which determine how far someone is in any particular game, of which all 360 games must have at least five.) So no more playing with noobs. And of course you can also download games, demos, movie trailers, etc. Maybe this time the fifty bucks a year might actually be worth it.
However not everything is wine and roses for dear old Microsoft. Due to the incredibly high price of the machine several different packages were offered at launch, a cheaper "core" system without a hardrive and the full 20 gb model. Problem is you can't do half the stuff without the hard drive, so why even bother? Kind of like selling a car without air conditioning. And while Xbox live is rad, having a console that is too dependant on internet acess kind of limits it for people who don't have it. You begin to see games that aren't any good without multiplayer *cough* Halo 2 *cough.* And while many people have suspected this, I have seen first hand that some developers are cutting content that would normally be in a game with the plan of selling it later on over Xbox live. Which is, in my opinion, bullshit.
Also they make you pay to change your gamer handle over Live. But since you couldn't change it at all before I guess this is an improvement.
Biggest problem so far for this console is that as of this writing (2-19-06) the library is still quite small and there is as of yet no "killer app" for the 360. Although I have seen some pretty sweet stuff for this machine (of which I cannot mention, NDS and all) so far Perfect Dark Zero seems to be the only near-launch title that takes advantage of the machine's capabilities. Give it time, the games will come. In the meantime some people out there might feel a bit ripped off.
One more thing, don't even think about buying a 360 unless you have a decent HD TV to play it on. Because on a normal crappy TV like 99% of us still have the games look horrible. That is to say they have been optimized for use on a high-def television, and a regular television doesn't have high enough resolution, which makes the game look crappier than it actually is. Some games (such as King Kong) appear too dark, others the textures will look all blurry and jagged, i.e. like an Xbox 1 game. So you have been warned.
The Good: Games look totally awesome. Machine does everything but take out the garbage. Incredibly user friendly, looks good, and control is spot on. You will not feel embarrassed owning one and don't need a mac truck to transport it.
The Bad: Way to expensive, and the Core system package isn't even worth getting as half the stuff you can't do because there's no hard drive. Some funky bugs in the operating system (this is Microsoft after all.) Sometimes has a tendency to stop working for no reason, just like your computer. It only comes with one controller, then they charge you $40 for another one. Plus the rubber tends to rub off on the thumbsticks.
The headset they give you is flimsy. It's made to break so they can sell you another one.
The Ugly: The system puts out a ridiculous amount of heat and must be well ventilated. Problem is people treat it like a game system and not a computer, which means they throw it on the floor, put drinks on top of it, stack it with the VCR and DVD player, then get all mad when it overheats and melts. Treat it like a computer and it won't blow up on you, dumbasses.
Back to Modern Systems
Custom IBM Power-PC Based CPU
Three symmetrical cores running at 3.2 GHz each
Two hardware threads per core; six hardware threads total
VMX-128 vector unit per core; three total
128 VMX-128 registers per hardware thread
1 MB L2 cache
ATI Graphics Processor
10 MB of embedded DRAM
48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines
500 million triangles per second
16 gigasamples per second fill rate using 4x MSAA
48 billion shader operations per second
512 MB of GDDR3 RAM
700 MHz of DDR
Detachable and upgradeable 20GB hard drive
12x dual-layer DVD-ROM
Memory Unit support starting at 64 MB
Support for up to four wireless game controllers
Three USB 2.0 ports
Two memory unit slots
Built-in Ethernet port
Wi-Fi ready: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g
Video camera ready
Support for DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD, JPEG Photo CD
Ability to stream media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP-based PCs
Ability to rip music to the Xbox 360 hard drive
Custom playlists in every game
Built-in Media Center Extender for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
All games supported at 16:9, 720p, and 1080i, anti-aliasing
Standard-definition and high-definition video output supported
Multi-channel surround sound output
48KHz 16-bit audio
320 independent decompression channels
32-bit audio processing
Over 256 audio channels