It’s kind of hard to be surprised with anything about the Xbox 360’s announcements as the specs have been all over the internet for the last few weeks. Tonight’s announcement was almost anti-climactic. The specs are still impressive though. Three symmetrical processors with two hardware threads is nothing to sneeze at (this means the unit can handle six tasks simultaneously). Combined with 512 MB of system memory and a 1MB cache there aren’t a lot of other devices out there that are packing that kind of processing power. Hell, even the video processing unit tops almost everything on the market right now. It will be interesting to see how well developers use this all to do something other than shinier, higher definition graphics.
Compared to ATI’s X850 XT card, the Xbox 360’s video processing power stacks up nicely. It’s clocked the same with a 500MHz processor but has three times the pipelines with 48. The fact sheet states that it has a 48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines. It only has 10MB of embedded DRAM so it will most likely use ATI’s HyperMemory technology to share the 512MB of onboard memory. This reduces costs as you’re not producing video cards with expensive memory.
The fact that the device can also be skinned with new different skins has also been well documented but it looks like that feature will apply to both the inside and the outside of the box as users will be able to customize the look and feel of the Xbox menu structures. It’s a nice feature and it continues to push the customization concept. I also think we’ll see a lot of skins for sale on the Xbox Live Marketplace which will allow Microsoft to make money off of this feature.
Various companies sell Media Extenders but the Xbox 360 will be one right out of the box. You’ll be able to stream music and videos to your Xbox 360 if you are running an XP Media Center 2005. Access pictures that are stored on your server as well. You'll even be able to watch TV that's streamed to your console with DVR functionality. Combine with the Universal Remote, you’ll have a very nice TiVo like setup making the Xbox 360 a complete multimedia and gaming appliance.
I was really hoping that Microsoft would ship the 360 with built in wireless but it looks like gamers will have to purchase a separate unit or migrate the solution they have for their current Xbox. We’ll see if this is something they bundle in a premium package or not. I just hope they price it for less than they did the last adapter as $99 was a bit hard to justify.
With the success of the Wavebird for the Nintendo GameCube and with a plethora of companies producing wireless controllers, it was natural for the Xbox 360 to move to a wireless solution. With that, the Xbox 360 will support up to four wireless controllers. Running on 2 AA batteries, the controllers are based on the S design and has a 30-foot range. You can play up to 40 hours on a single charge and when running low on juice it will warn you. A great design by Microsoft is that you can plug the controllers in to the console to recharge the batteries and still use them as if they were regular wired controllers. The control works on the 2.4GHz range so if you don’t have success with current wireless controllers using that technology, you might have some problems with this one as well. It’s a crowded band with phones and wireless routers but the controller will feature “frequency-hopping spread spectrum” technology to cut down on the chances for interference.
A headset jack on the controller is an improvement over the original Xbox design where you had to plug it into an expansion port. A few companies released wireless headsets but the new design will now only tether you to the controller rather than the console.
In the center will be a new Xbox Guide Button in the shape of the logo. This context sensitive button lets you access various functions such as jumping into the Gamer Guide, Live Marketplace, contacting your friends, and accessing multimedia to name a few. Say someone sends you a message during a game. You can press the button to bring that message to the front. Depending on the situation, the button will function differently. You’ll see this button on other controllers such as the DVD remote. You can also use the button to turn the Xbox 360 on and off.
I remember talking to Logitech at an E3 a few years ago asking if they could make a controller with the white and black buttons moved to the trigger position. Fast forward a few years and that’s going to be the design for the controllers for the Xbox 360. In my opinion, this change will make the buttons a lot more useful since they will be easier to reach. It’s about time I say and one change I’m really glad to see.
Microsoft’s not in any trouble with Immersion so the controllers are going to rumble on. With that you can set different levels of rumbling. I’ve seen this in a few Mad Catz controllers and by changing the strength or turning it off completely, you can lengthen the battery life. There will be four modes: Full, Medium, Low, and Off.
If you don’t want to use a cordless controller and long for a wire, Microsoft will be offering the traditional wired controller. There will be a long 9-foot card with the same break-away feature that was in the Xbox controllers. Other than the cord, it will have the same features as the wireless one.
Were you jealous of the EyeToy for the PlayStation 2? Want to put yourself into the game? Fear not as there will be a camera for the Xbox 360. The Xbox Live Camera
features a VGA resolution of 640x480 with video of 30 frames per second. If you want to use it like a digital camera, it will be equivalent to a 1.3-megapixel one. The included microphone will let you use the camera for video chat and video messaging. And for those that really want to be in the game, you’ll be able to use it to put your face in those games that will have that feature. Can a Dance Dance Revolution game that lets you use the camera in conjunction with the dance pad be far off for the Xbox 360? Network Adapter
The console will be WiFi ready taking advantage of 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g networks. It won’t be access out of the box but Microsoft will market a wireless adapter, like the old Xbox. The fact sheet does state that the network adapter will support all three whereas the original Xbox had a 802.11b version and an 802.11g version. You’ll probably want to have an 802.11a network for a better experience in streaming media to your machine. My experience with 802.11g with my various Media Center machines wasn’t too bad, but since 802.11a works on a different band there’s less of a chance for interference with other wireless products. If you have an old wireless network adapter, you can still use it with the Xbox 360. But the ability to have all three standards in one package is pretty nice. I’m sure once 802.11n becomes standard and more popular, we’ll see an adapter from someone using that as well.Universal Media Remote
I’m a big fan of Windows XP Media Center and the console’s built to take advantage of the OS. The Xbox 360’s Universal Remote will let you control the console from afar. Unlike the previous console, you’ll be able to play DVDs out of the box and use the controller to get around. But for the best way to control your Xbox 360 in a multimedia function, you’ll want the remote.
With the remote, you’ll be able to turn the console on and off; something you can’t do with the PlayStation 2. And since the console’s integrated with Media Center functionality, there’s the famous green button on the remote that’ll bring up Media Center options. You’ll also be able to program the volume, channel, and power button to operate your TV so you can truly sit back and use the remote to do the basics with your multimedia center. The remote will also be backlit so that you’ll be able to read the buttons in the dark. For those with a more complex setup, you’ll need to pick up something with more options such as a Harmony remote. But simple setups with just the TV and console will be happy with this remote.