Last night Microsoft officially unveiled the new Xbox console via a special MTV program, ending weeks of rumours and leaks with hard facts. If you missed the show or don’t have MTV, check out this official video which sums up the console’s new features. The Xbox 360 is, for now, the most powerful and advanced videogames platform ever built, and we’ve collated all of the information you’ll need in one article. Read on and enjoy.
The console hardware
So, what’s under all of that plastic? The Xbox 360 packs three water-cooled IBM PowerPC processors, each running at 3.2GHz, resulting in the new console being about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor. There’s 512MB of RAM – the original had 64MB – and a custom ATI graphics card which runs at 500MHz. The memory bandwidth, pixel fill rate, shader performance and other equally mystifying technicalities also receive a substantial increase. The hard drive will be detachable and comes in a 20GB size to begin with, presumably with larger sizes becoming available as the years go by. The disk drive is a 12x dual-layer DVD-ROM, while wireless networking support is built in (although an adapter is required) and every game comes in high definition.
Things here haven’t changed a lot. The black and white buttons have disappeared from the gamepad’s face, relocated as shoulder buttons. Wired and wireless controllers will be available, while they will initially be powered by two AA batteries, which can be recharged via a cable. The central Xbox Guide Button gives you quick access to all your favourite Xbox 360 system activities, such as watching movies, listening to music, contacting friends on Xbox Live, and customizing your gaming experiences. A couple more interesting additions allow you to turn off the console via the gamepad and adjust the level of rumble feedback.
The Xbox Gamer Guide is a gateway that instantly connects you to your games, friends, music, movies and downloadable content. When you tap the central Guide button on the controller, the Gamer Guide gives you instant access to the experiences and content you want, from the gamer card of the player that just invited you to play online to new downloadable content for the game currently running. The idea behind it is to bring everything together in one place in the absence of a central operating system like you have on PCs.
As well as DVD/CD playback and custom soundtracks in every game, the new Xbox stream digital media stored on your MP3 player, digital camera, Media Center PC, or any Microsoft Windows XP-based PC. Another neat touch is the ability to share photos over Xbox Live, which we’ll move straight on to.
Xbox Live is now available in two packages; Gold and Silver. Every console comes with the Silver version of Live free, allowing players to share their Gamer Profile – comprised of user-generated information such as Achievements (rewards players have earned in games), Gamerzone (style of play), and a custom-created Gamertile (a visual icon to represent the gamer online) – with their friends in the community. And with the free level of Xbox Live, players can send and receive text and voice messages to friends, as well as engage in Xbox Live voice chat anywhere, anytime, even if one person is playing a game while the other is watching a progressive-scan enabled DVD movie. Also available is the Xbox Live Marketplace, a one-stop shop to download demos and trailers, new game levels, maps, weapons, vehicles, skins, community-created content, and more to the detachable Xbox 360 hard drive.
Xbox Live members who subscribe to the premium Gold service get the big advantage of being able to access multiplayer online gameplay. Gamer Profiles will provide a foundation for intelligent matchmaking, so players of similar skill levels and interests can quickly and easily connect and the Xbox Live Camera peripheral will let gamers add their own faces into games and see their friends while they play. Gold includes video messaging, online tournaments and ladders, and exclusive, original programming such as playing with celebrities online and joining sponsored tournaments to win prizes. All Xbox 360 owners who sign on to Xbox Live for the first time can kick-start their experience with a free month of the full subscription service, which will let them experience the full power of Live. Those who currently use Live on Xbox will also be able to transfer their subscriptions straight over to Gold.
From launch day, you’ll be able to pick up a number of peripheral devices and add-ons for the Xbox 360. The most intriguing has to be Faces, which are essentially swappable faceplates for the console, allowing you to customise the appearance of the actual hardware itself. Memory units will be available in 64MB sticks, letting you save your games, your Xbox Live profile and more. The Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote gives you access to all of your digital content like DVDs, CDs and pictures, while the Xbox Live Camera supports up to VGA 640×480 video at 30 frames per second and takes 1.3-megapixel still photos. With the camera, you can make use of the video messaging and chat, plus put your own face onto your Gamertag profile online. A headset for use with Live also returns, plugging directly into either the Xbox 360 Controller or Xbox Wireless Controller. Finally, the Wireless Adapter allows you to connect to your home network and the internet without pesky cables.
Prices and release dates
The Xbox 360 will be out by the end of the year, probably sometime in November. As for retail price, we really don’t know yet but Microsoft has a history of selling Xbox consoles at a loss, so don’t expect it to be more than about $350 or £300.
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