Xbox 360 Console Review

Posted in Reviews,Xbox 360 by Michael Pica on the December 1st, 2005

[this is a repost of the original article posted on Xbox-Scene.]

My Personal impression and review of the Xbox 360 Console
A lot of people have asked me for this so here it is… in all it’s glory… It’s a novel, I hope you have your reading glasses.

Launch Day Impressions:
Like many I braved a night out in the cold for an Xbox 360 console on launch day. I waited outside of a Sam’s Club for hours with a friend and we both plopped down our hard earned money for a Premium Xbox360 Console, an extra Wireless Controller, a Play and Charge Kit, and a copy of Perfect Dark Zero Limited Edition. Up until that point the only 360 item I had purchased was a Wired Controller from Best Buy’s PC department. I explicitly didn’t purchase any games or accessories prior to launch in case I would be required to purchase some on launch day to secure a console (as some stores were requiring).

This brings me to the first thing I’d like to talk about, Console availability. There was a literal UPROAR when MS announced that they would be making two versions of the console. I was a bit concerned at first but, like most became comfortable with the idea once the dust settled. I think most people simply decided they would be buying the Premium version. I was in the same boat as most but mostly because I had use for every last item bundled with the Premium version. I have a home theater room and I need wireless controllers, or wired controllers with 1 (sometimes 2) extenders. I have an Xbox Live account and need a headset and something like a hard drive for my game updates and downloadable content. And of course being a theater room the 360 was to be my crown jewel of HD content, so the component video cables weren’t just nice, but the only method I could use for attachment. My decision to go for the Premium over the Core wasn’t out of luxury or future-proofing so much as it was out of necessity.

Monday night I left work early to find a line to stand in and my friend and I went to 5 or 6 different stores and nearly all of them had tickets for those waiting in line, plenty for those who wanted a Core and none left for those who wanted a Premium. My disappointment is this. The Premium is designed for the hardcore, the hardcore are the ONLY people who will be waiting in line in the blistering rainy cold for one of these precious consoles. I can’t imagine anyone hardcore OR casual gamer that would suffer through that wanting anything less than the Premium version. I can understand why MS made 2 different versions, but on launch day, there should have been only 1. I think what irks me more then the fact that there were Cores available at all was the fact that MS claimed they would be forcing the Premium to Core ratio at about 85% to 15%. Most stores in my area were closer to 60% to 40% and some stores were even 50% 50%. Out of all the stores I stopped at and all the lines I saw only 1 person actually WANTED the core, and after mentioning this someone explained the differences to him and he promptly decided he’d rather have the Premium.

Launch Lineup Impressions:
The next day after some sleep and some quality time with the console and PD0, I went out to a few stores in the area looking for a copy of Project Gotham Racing 3 and Condemned: Criminal Origins. I ended up finding them at a local music store, and Walmart respectively.

The Games I wanted for Xbox360 were DOA4, PGR3, and PD0 in that order. When DOA4 was pushed back Condemned took it’s place as one of my launch purchases. My friend who waited in line with me ended up purchasing Call of Duty 2 and Madden NFL 06 over the next few days.

While I was disappointed with the fact that DOA4 was pushed back it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as Condemned is easily one of my favorite launch games, and all of those who have played it or watched it being played will usually agree.

Which brings me to the next thing I’d like to talk about, the Launch line up.
I don’t understand people lack of ability to count, but there are a total of 18 full games available at launch and 14 Xbox Live Arcade games available for download. There are some genres that are missing from the line up but the genres that are available are covered very well.

If you can’t seem to remember the launch games available are:
Amped 3
Call of Duty 2
Condemned: Criminal Origins
FIFA Soccer 06
Kameo: Elements of Power
Madden NFL 06
NBA Live 06
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Perfect Dark Zero
Perfect Dark Zero – Limited Edition
Peter Jackson’s King Kong
Project Gotham Racing 3
Quake 4 /Quake 2
Ridge Racer 6
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006
Tony Hawk American Wasteland

Live Arcade Games:
Bankshot Billiards 2
Bejeweled 2
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
Hardwood Backgammon
Hardwood Hearts
Hardwood Spades
Hextic HD
Mutant Storm Reloaded
Outpost Kaloki X
Smash TV
Wik: Fable of Souls

FPS, Racing, Sports, Extreme Sports, Action/Adventure, Puzzle, and Arcade game genres all have a very strong showing across all that’s available here, the lack of an RPG or Fighting game is somewhat forgivable seeing as both should be available before years end.

The important thing to mention here is that almost none of these games disappoint. Sure there are a number of people who aren’t happy with “Game X” but for the most part people knew what they were buying and I’ve yet to hear anyone who is overwhelmingly disappointed with any game available at launch. Be it a full retail title or a Live Arcade Game. Even the Live Arcade games are wickedly fun. I’ve found myself playing just as much Hextic HD and Geometry Wars as I do the full retail games I’ve purchased. I’m just as excited about what will be coming down the pipe in terms of Live Arcade titles as I am the full retail titles.

Initial Impressions:
After coming home from pulling an all nighter in the Sam’s Club parking lot I stayed up for a few more hours, checked my email and the XS forums, then took a nap for a few hours. I got back up that afternoon got some food and tore into my brandy new console. The first thing I noticed was that the box was designed very different from other consoles. Having recently moved I actually had 2 versions of Xbox 1 boxes, 2 versions of PS2 boxes, a PSOne box, and a Dreamcast box, All used a single flap on one end with a cardboard hook to secure it. The Xbox360 box had two whole sides unfold, similar to what you’d expect of a cake box. Everything inside was rapped in plastic but interesting enough is each plastic bag was color coded and had the name of the item it contained written on it in many different languages. It’s a small detail but I found it kind of cool and felt it was worth mentioning.

The Console itself feels VERY sturdy and I was impressed with the fit and finish, one need only look back a generation or two to PS1s, Saturns, and Dreamcasts made of cheap plastic that not only looked but felt like children’s toys. Consoles have been maturing and improving dramatically in this department and I feel the 360 is the peak of this. It feels solid and the buttons have good feedback and action. More of an adult electronics device than a child’s toy.

The AV Cable included with the Premium package is a combination Component/Composite with an Optical toslink port for surround sound and analog stereo RCA plugs. Comparing this cable to the Component cable I have for my Xbox 1 the new cable looks and feels cheap. It features a switch to go between the component and composite outputs. The switch wiggles around and doesn’t click assuredly in either position. Regardless of looks and feelings however the cable seems to be much better than the one I have installed on my Xbox 1. The Xbox 1 cable picks up interference and it can be seen in the picture of my DLP projector. The picture produced by the 360 using it’s cables however is crystal clear. I can live with cables feeling cheap if they function properly.

The Power Supply is big, being big isn’t so bad as the fact that it has an active cooling system. This means that not only do you have to find some place to put the PSU but that the area around it must be clear, so as to not block air flow, and that the PSU should also be oriented properly so the the air radiates from it’s parts properly. There are some nice things about the PSU though. There is a standby light, which is great, it lets you know that the PSU is getting power ok. It has a grounded plug (FINALLY a console with a grounded plug). A Grounded plug might not seem like anything special but it means a lot to AV enthusiasts because properly grounding things is key to ensuring the highest quality of signals possible. And finally the fact that it’s external means that if the PSU should ever fail you simply replace it as opposed to cracking open the console, or worse, buying a new one. It also means that if you take the console from country to country you can simply buy the PSU for the appropriate country instead of needing to buy a whole new console. It also provides the opportunity for MS to downsize the PSU down the road. If they had made it internal at it’s current size the console would have been much bigger and even after downsizing the PSU the console would have remained the same size. The only problem with an external PSU is the fact that it becomes costly if I want to have power and AV leads in several different rooms and move just the console around (which is something I do with my Xbox 1 a lot)

The Controller is nice, the Xbox360 controller is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever held. The fact that it’s wireless is worth the price of the new console alone. Ever since I got a Gamecube with a wireless WaveBird controller I’ve wanted ALL of my first party controllers to be wireless. I actually bought a wired 360 controller when they went on sale as PC controllers and I wish I didn’t because the Wireless ones are just so much better. I was also hesitant at first with the moving of the black and white buttons to shoulder buttons. I despise the Playstation controller layout (particularly the placement of the analog sticks and the dual shoulder buttons). But after playing with the 360 controller the shoulder buttons work much better than the Black and Whites ever did. One major disappointment with the 360 controller is poor action of the ABXY buttons and the D-Pad. MS removed the analog functionality of the ABXY buttons, which is good because I hate squishy buttons, but the new ones don’t always register. To make matters worse the D-Pad isn’t centered properly and when I push right or down it hits the surrounding plastic before actually registering the push, meaning that if I don’t hammer on it, it wont register. This is a problem on all 3 of the controllers I have and it seems others have that problem as well. One thing I noticed is that the controller does NOT have a switch to toggle it’s rumble sensitivity. Pre-release the official MS website claimed that it would but the final units both wired and wireless are absent of said switch. At least you can still control it through the dashboard.

The Headset is probably the biggest hardware disappointment included with the premium edition. The strap that goes over your head just feels cheap, and the Vol/Mute control is even worse… The Xbox 1 communicator was nice You KNEW for a fact if you were muted or not from the LED, and the volume control was easy to find. Since I play in the theater room (meaning in the dark) I can never tell if I’m muted or not, and I can never determine which direction is volume up and which is volume down. The dongle that plugs into the controller is made of very cheap plastic as well and while it clips into place well it doesn’t look like it fit snugly against the curve of the controller. I do really like the fact that the headset is over head now as opposed to behind the head, and it is MUCH more comfortable than the old headsets. Also the clarity seems much better, Most Xbox 1 games, voices sounded grainy or distorted, now I can actually understand people much better. Pre-launch the headsets were supposed to feature noise cancelation… I don’t know if this is actually implemented or not but I didn’t seem to notice any. Again this is similar to the AV cable issue where the item looks and feels cheap in comparison to but actually functions better than the Xbox 1. I still wish the volume/mute controls were more intuitive, or more like the Xbox 1 version. Perhaps there will be a 3rd party device available that fits this need.

The Media remote is nice, I haven’t really used it much but it feels really nice in my hand. The universal remote available looks like a much nicer remote, as it’s programmable, has a full numeric pad, and a back light. My only wish is that they lit up the Xbox Guide button like on the controllers, though that’s really not that important.
The most important thing about the media remote is that the IR receiver NOW BUILT IN HOORAY! You may remember I wrote a tutorial for how to hardwire the DVD dongle in the Xbox1… just to give you an idea of how much not having wireless dongles means to me.

Audio Video outputs
First of all HIGH DEFINITION! FINALLY WE HAVE HIGH DEFINITION! I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited and wanted some HD content to put my home theater through it’s paces. AT LAST! I was also ecstatic that VGA would be available. My Projector accepts VGA. In an ideal world I’d pass my projector a VGA signal in it’s native resolution. Unfortunately the Xbox360 in VGA mode doesn’t support it’s native resoltuion… Further, even if it did it doesn’t support letter boxing so games would show in full screen rather than my preferred widescreen. This was VERY disappointing to me as I have links to interviews with MS people going on and on about how the user will have so many choices in letter boxing or zooming, cropping, etc. etc. etc. The Xbox 1 supports letter boxing and the 360 doesn’t. In my opinion no sequel device should leave out features of the original, particularly those that by their exclusion would worsen the form fit or function of the product.

Speaking of things that the original Xbox could do but the 360 can’t DTS audio… the 360 just doesn’t support it, the Xbox 1 did, just like Letter boxing, there’s no good reason to stop supporting good features. Unfortunately the only thing they actually added was support for Windows Media Audio, a proprietary MS format that I can’t even think of a single device that supports. Another disappointment is the lack of digital output. Currently no digital signals have been found from the AV port, however there is still hope that it can be somehow activated. Even still there are no 1st or 3rd party digital AV cables available yet… oh well, they never really promised this and no other console in history has ever supported it so I guess I can’t be TOO mad about it.

Multimedia Functionality
While I’m an Xbox Modding Veteran and somewhat spoiled when it comes to what I expect from an Xbox’s media capabilities the Xbox360 does pretty well for itself. First let me get it out of the way that the Xbox 360 on it’s best day couldn’t hope to hold a candle to XBMC on it’s worst. XBMC aside MS has included some very nice media features with the 360. You can download game and movie trailers from Xbox Live for free, some even in High Definition (which is AWESOME). You can stream music and picture files in some popular formats from ANY USB mass storage device (llamma hooked up a whole friggin hard drive right into the USB port). As for streaming from a PC, using Windows Media Connect you can stream music and pictures from any Windows XP machine on the network running that program. Some people seem to be having problems getting it to work but I didn’t have any problems at all, Works great and I can use the music right on my PC as soundtracks in game (which is REALLY cool). The best part is that it’s easily managed in that I can push the Xbox Guide button and managed my streamed music on the fly in game.

The addition of the DVD player built in, and in progressive scan is nice… just… nice. While stacked up against a stock Xbox it IS better seeing as you don’t need to buy a “DVD playback kit”, DVDs can be controlled by the controller OR the DVD remote and the fact that it’s progressive scan instead of interlaced only. But compared to XBMC’s DVD playback functionality, or that of a decent DVD player there is no contest, the 360 is junk as a DVD player by AV-phile standards. If they had simply gone the extra step and implemented up-scaling to HD I would have been as happy as a hog, thought they didn’t, so I’m still required to hold on to another device for DVD playback. Not to mention it doesn’t support DTS so there’s that knock against the DVD player feature too.

Media Center Extender functionality looks very intriguing, I don’t own a media center PC though I’ve been debating buying Windows XP MCE for a while and I just might do that so I can start streaming videos and APPLICATIONS to the 360. the MCE integration looks slick and I’m chomping at the bit to try it. Again the fact that this is built in without the need to buy extra hardware/software like you did with the Xbox 1 is great.

Xbox Live integration
This is the CROWN JEWEL of the Xbox 360, this is what makes the Xbox 360 next gen, screw jaw dropping graphics, screw wireless controllers, screw media streaming and custom soundtracks. The integration with Xbox Live ALONE is what makes the Xbox 360 worth buying. I’ve had an XBL account for over a year now and I played the occasional game on my Xbox 1 and downloaded a new level or two here or there. But the 360′s integration with live is just amazing. ANYTIME ANYWHERE I get alerted when a friend logs on, I get alerted when they send me a message, I get alerted when they invite me to play. I was watching a movie with my Girlfriend the other night and a friend sent me a message, the alert non-intrusively popped up on the bottom of the screen. I was able to wait for a good pause spot and read it with a single push of the Guide button. Then go back to my movie. When I Project Gotham Racing 3, after each race in Solo Career I’m ranked against the other drives across the world for that track. Things like that make me want to be a better player. Typically I’ll get Gold on a PGR track and meh, that will be it, now, even after I get Gold, or Platinum, hey I’m only a few points away from being ranked a whole league up… let me see if I can eek out a few more points on that track. When I’m between races in the Menu there’s a ticker across the bottom of the screen the tells me when other, currently active players have ranked up, what rank they achieved, and what track they did it on.

Back in the Dashboard I can enter the marketplace and buy Xbox Live Arcade Games. Before I got a 360 I scoffed at the idea of Live Arcade games. they had a few available for the Xbox 1 and I never played any and I’m not typically a fan of those “Classic” collections I see in stores for $20. But Hextic HD came loaded on the Xbox… It was addictive as hell. I’ve since purchased 2 other games from the Xbox Live Marketplace and I’m thinking about purchasing a second. Also the marketplace keeps track of what you’ve downloaded and what you haven’t. If a file is really big you can cancel the download and finish it days later. Or delete it from your machine completely to free up space and download it again some other time when you want it back. You’re not actually purchasing the files but the right to use them, which in this case works out to your advantage. As if that wasn’t enough most games also have demos available, no more need for an OXM disc XBL has all the content I need and RIGHT NOW. The Achievement system is awesome too. Another thing I scoffed at pre-launch I find myself constantly comparing my achievements to other people on my friends list and saying to myself “ha-ha I’m further along” or “CRAP, I need to play more of that game tonight”. Past the new Xbox Live now has chat options, in that you can text or voice chat with a friend or group of friends, even further the Xbox supports USB keyboards so you can REALLY text chat. No more filling up an arbitrary lobby to talk to your friends. The absolute best part of all this is, everything I’ve mention so far about live is completely FREE through the Xbox Live Silver service. I have a gold account but my Girlfriend was able to create her own Silver account without a credit card or anything and participate in all the features I’ve already mentioned. Simply amazing.

The next gen is here… and with power… and it’s called Xbox360, Honestly just the wireless controllers and XBL features are enough to sell me on next gen, the graphics could have been worse than Xbox 1 and I would have been impressed and felt like a part of next gen. If Sony or Nintendo are going to get me to buy their consoles, they have a lot of catching up to do in the online department.

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