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Monday, November 21, 2005

Xbox 360 Hits a High-Def Homer

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Xbox 360 Hits a High-Def Homer

"I lean back in my chair, press a button on my game pad, and the console turns on. Why hasn't anyone ever thought of this before?

Well, now they have. On Tuesday, Microsoft unleashes its next-generation video-game console, the Xbox 360. The $400 system promises a whole new level of graphics quality and a greatly refined interface with nice touches like remote on.

Microsoft apparently hopes to usher in a new high-definition era with the 360 -- the Xbox 360 is HD-compatible out of the box -- where everybody has expensive high-definition televisions.

Load a game like the Wild West shooter Gun, and in HD you can make out each individual leaf on a tree -- rather than the clumps of color you get with a standard television set.

Other games are similarly impressive in HD, although the 360 is still a far cry from photorealism. Yes, Tiger Woods looks as realistic as any game character I've ever seen, but the dozens of people on the sidelines of the fairway sure as heck don't.

It's a powerful system, but the leap in quality isn't nearly as pronounced as it was five years ago with the advent of the PlayStation 2.

And all this power comes at a price. The $400 console does include a lot of extras in the box: a 20-GB hard drive (necessary if you're going to download content from Xbox Live or store custom soundtracks), a headset mike and a remote control.

There's going to be a $300 version as well, with no hard drive, a wired controller and no HD cables, which is not a very good deal. (Especially considering how much the accessories are going to cost -- $50 for a wireless controller, $20 for the charge kit, $40 for a memory card, $100 for the hard drive.)

At least you're getting a lot for your money in terms of sheer bulk.

Like its predecessor, the Xbox 360 is a beast. Although the slim white design makes it look smaller, it's just as tall as and even wider than the original Xbox with the optional hard drive attached. But what's really gigantic is the external power supply, which looks about four-fifths the size of Sony's slim-line PS2.

What's impressed me most thus far about the 360 is how it streamlines and refines the user interface.

The standard controller is wireless, running on two AA batteries out of the box. An optional $20 accessory kit includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack and a USB cable that lets the controller charge while you play.

Even if the console is turned off, the controllers recharge if left plugged in. And since the headset microphone for online voice chat attaches to a port on the bottom of the controller, you can charge, play and chat all at once." [more]

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