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I only decided to purchase a 360 once the Microsoft 360 demonstration booths began to appear in local stores, and I could see first hand what all the hype had been about. Impressed, I sold a rare guitar I owned, and sat in the comfort of my own home wading through eBay listings until I found a realistically priced 'Buy it now' auction that had literally just been placed online.
Two days after launch, and exactly 24 hours after I had placed my eBay bid, I received the most eagerly awaited console to date. So, I can't claim to have even waited, unless you count 24 hour delivery as excessive!
My first thought was 'This is a very small box'. Indeed I had assumed the 360 would be hand delivered by Amazonian virgins dressed in very little. Sadly, it was just a box.
There are currently 2 versions of the 360 on sale (where?!)
1) Core pack. This consists of an Xbox 360 with a white DVD drawer. A wired controller, basic AV lead to plug into your TV (LCD, Plasma, projector) and a massive power pack.
2) Premium pack. Which is by far the better valued package. It includes the Xbox 360 with a silver DVD drawer. A wireless controller, HD AV cable, Media remote control (limited to first edition I'm afraid), 20GB hard drive, head phone/microphone for Xbox live. (If I've forgotten something, then please forgive me, I couldn't find this unit anywhere!)
Both units come with warranty card, instruction manual and adequate packaging.
Lastly, you are also currently given a months GOLD connection to Xbox live (more on this later).
Having only been able to get my hands on the Core pack, I discovered the following, which might be useful to anyone following in my footsteps.
At the time of writing this, your Xbox games WILL NOT automatically play on the 360. In order to get them to play you A: need a Hard Drive B: you need to update your 360, either by Internet access or downloading an update to your PC, burning it onto CD Rom, and popping that into your 360.
Why? Well, apparently the 360 has a completely different graphics engine, and this means Microsoft have a list of games (approximately 200 at the time of writing) which will work if you take the steps I have detailed. If not, tough!
Any benefit with this? Well, the graphics are improved as the old games are running on better graphics engines. So if and when you can locate a hard drive, it's fine, so long as you own one of the 200 on the list. Will they ever complete the list to all titles? Who knows; but out of 30 games I had for the original Xbox, only 5 worked once I bought a hard drive.
The hard drive is simple to install, and it can be used to save game data, MP3's, video's, and even downloaded games and content from Xbox live. An excellent idea, but why only 20GB? that will fill up in no time at all if you are a GOLD Xbox live user! Without a CD burner built into the 360 to burn this content onto, that ultimately means you'll have to be careful what you delete or keep.
The Wireless controllers are something I've not yet used as I don't need them. I have heard however, that they have had a few teething problems, such as the batteries running out quickly and the console losing connection.
A key feature Microsoft kept from the original Xbox is that the wired controller has a small connection along the cable, so if someone trips, yanks or tries to move the cable too quickly it un-clips without damaging the Xbox. Unlike the original unit, the new controller uses a USB connection (which leads me to consider trying it on my PC for PC gaming too).
The controller is probably the most comfortable unit I have ever used. It is very ergonomic and highly styled, it also remains straight forward; and for the first time the Sony controller is beaten (in my opinion) into second place (after years at top spot!)
Prior to buying the hard drive, I purchased a memory card (which is a reasonable 64MB at a reasonable price £25). This allowed me to save game data to the card, but nothing else. It is NO substitute for the hard drive. It is also not held very tightly in the memory card slot - in fact it wiggles, although the connection seems secure.
The wireless adaptor is incredibly simple and very secure. This is another additional accessory, but necessary, if like me there is no way you can connect to the Internet from your living room (and a category 5 Ethernet cable would be too interesting to our 2 year old).
Setting the wireless adaptor up to file share with the 360 and get online was a complete nightmare. Before you embark on this major feat, contact your ISP (AOL in my case; who were less than helpful) and see whether they can give you any advice.
What you do need is patience!
The 360 allows two types of connection to your PC.
1) File sharing, view a piece of software you are required to download (free) from Microsoft Xbox support. This means that your 360 can play MP3 audio files, certain video files and JPEG images etc., directly from your PC's hard drive.
I personally think this is a huge bonus, as although you can't send the files and save them on your PC, it certainly frees up space I would have normally used for MP3's on the 20GB hard drive attached to the 360. Most PC hard drives are miles bigger, and can easily be used to store all the music for the house.
2) You can use Windows Media Centre to view TV, film and all sorts, but this is not coming into my house, as I dislike TV and can't be bothered with the additional expense.
The 360 backs these features with the another accessory - the remote control. Unlike the original Xbox you are automatically able to access DVD without the remote control (like the PS2), however the remote control no longer needs a dongle IR (attachable infra red remote sensor). The IR is built into the 360.
The controller is reviewed (no doubt elsewhere), but I feel that this is a key feature, especially if you plan to use the 360 with Windows Media Centre software, as it effectively completes Bill Gates' dream of making everything convergent in the living room, and is a quiet revolution in my opinion.
Once you have mastered the bits and pieces in the box, you finally get to the console itself. I've left the best until last.
I unpacked everything, set the 360 up (massive PSU power brick hidden behind the neighbours house!) and switched it on...
The immediate thing was that it demonstrated the RED LIGHTS OF DOOM! The front panel has 4 separate lights arrayed in a circle. They should create a chase effect, which Microsoft call 'The Ring of Light ' - cheesy or what?
If your console shows a red light, it spells trouble. I quickly discovered that ALL the connections at the rear of the unit are required to be very tightly inserted until they click. A bit more force was required, which I had been afraid of just in case I broke something.
The Ring of Light doing it's light ring thing, and up pops the new 360 load screen, then the new Xbox dashboard. Dashboard is where you select, update, configure and start every 360 experience.
I don't think this review is really meant to ramble on so long, but hell lets be in-depth eh? After all you are considering spending £300 on a console so you want to be sure!
Dashboard comprises the front end of the consoles operating system, so it's the equivalent of Windows Desktop (the bit where you select which programmes to launch).
Microsoft wisely designed the same features without it looking like you were actually using a PC. It's colour coded into sections, so you always know which areas of Dashboard you are cycling through.
It depends on what accessories are attached to the 360 as to precisely what options are available in Dashboard. The more you add, the more areas you can use or configure.
If you just set up the 360 on it's own (Core system), then the most important thing to do is just pop a game or DVD into it and load.
You are required to set up a gaming name straight away. This creates a means by which you can save the details of your gaming exploits and levels. Without a hard drive or memory card this is pointless, as nothing is stored internally, and you will just have to start at ground zero each time you load in the game. Not an option in my book.
Dashboard looks better and operates more like a PC in my opinion, which could be a distinct disadvantage to anyone unfamiliar with Windows operating systems (1% of the population surely).
So now the hardware and software of the system are covered; what about the actual operation of the unit?
I decided that in this type of review there is no point detailing the technical specifications of the console as they are available in 1 million other places. What I would want to know prior to buying a console like this is, 'Does it rock like they say it does, or is it a pile of poo?'
Rightly, you might consider me biased, after all I own one, and I am hardly going to say it's rubbish after spending the best part of £500 on this thing. Correct! My wife would go NUTS if I said 'It wasn't worth it', 'waste of money', or 'I think I'll get the PS3 instead'. What I will add however, is that I am a games console owner, not a Microsoft or Xbox enthusiast.
There are a certain number of grumbles.
1) The unit generates more heat than a furnace and needs more cool ventilation than available in Alaska. Although my 360 is housed in a TV cabinet, I have to open the doors whilst using it - close them and you could literally cook an egg on the console case.
2) The 20GB hard drive is a necessary addition, but it should have been half the price.
3) The build quality of the case is worrying, as it seems brittle.
4) It really should have been compatible out of the box with original Xbox games. No excuses, it's a major blow to someone like me who loved the original Xbox.
5) You need a degree in metaphysics to get this blasted console on-line. Once on-line, there's a wonder world of purchasing other games and downloads. This could be utterly abused by your kids if they learned how to do it. Suddenly the access to purchasing things on a games console seems insane.
The pros however, are as long as your arm, but come down to one phrase:
The 360 is amazing! In a nut shell, that's it! At this point I could say 'review over' and leave you wondering why, which is probably what you want as this review is akin to War & Peace, and I've only said 1 thing about the 360!
Once you obtain a software title you enjoy (which in my case is Need For Speed: Most Wanted, then you'll never look back. The processor speed, the graphics, and the attention to detail are breath taking.
Microsoft have managed to achieve my childhood dream. A means of playing arcade quality games in my living room.
The 360 is by far the most exciting and impressive games console around. In spite of the minor niggles and teething problems, I give the 360 a score of 9/10.
Nice work. It's nice to see a fairly balanced review of the xbox - most I have seen so far rant either about how wonderful it is, without mentioning things like the hard drive, or go on anti microsoft drives (which, admittedly, would be closer to my tack).
Thanks anyway. I may even buy one, but probably not - it's £300!!!