The successor to Microsoft's first video game console, the Xbox. The Xbox 360 expands upon the original's strong PC roots while being positioned as the complete center of media integration with many built in functions and a high level of Internet connectivity. The 360 is the first next-gen console in what Microsoft touts as the HD-Era, the seventh generation of consoles, which includes the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii.
With the Xbox 360 Microsoft has advanced graphical capabilities to the next-generation featuring a 3-core CPU from IBM and a new custom-built graphics card from ATi. Out of the three seventh generation console from a hardware perspective the 360 shares the most similarity to consoles in the sixth, there are no drastic changes to the controller, a standard DVD drive and the use of memory cards. One of the biggest changes that Microsoft made in its transition from Xbox to 360 is in removing the standard hard drive and making it optional. The Premium and Elite versions of the console come with a 20GB hard drive and 120G hard drive respectively, but the Core does not come with a hard drive at all.
While the hardware hasn't changed much aside from the graphical and processing capabilities, the 360 features a major advancement in its software, online integration, and other services such as iPod playback.
Wireless is common to all three seventh generation consoles. The 360 supports up to four connected controllers at the same time, these can be connected either wirelessly or wired through one of the three USB ports. Connecting to your LAN or the Internet is done through either the standard ethernet adapter, or optionally through wireless. You can use the official wireless adapter, which is the only adapter that connects through USB, or through an ethernet to wireless bridge.
DVD playback comes standard, and if you connect to a display through VGA or HDMI (Elite only) then the 360 will perform upconversion to high-definition resolutions.
Audio/visual output possibilities are very broad as the 360 supports composite, component, S-Video, VGA and HDMI. Both stereo and optical audio out are also supported. If you're using component, VGA, or HDMI outputs then high-definition resolutions are available with the built-in scaling chip performing the scaling options instead of your television. The standard resolutions of 720p and 1080i are supported, and with the latest firmware 1080p is possible. With a VGA connection a variety of non-standard resolutions are supported as well.
For backwards compatibility no Xbox controllers or peripherals are supported on the 360. Xbox games are compatible only through software updates which are automatically downloaded from Live if your Xbox 360 is connected to the Internet, or you can download a CD with the proper software and install the update manually (full details at Xbox.com). Due to the nature of the emulated compatibility only a subset of Xbox games are properly working with updates to the list coming sporadically, the list of working Xbox games can be found on Xbox.com.
Access to all of the services and media functions that the Xbox 360 offers is accomplished through the Dashboard interface. Various options are categorized according to their function and placed inside of "blades" which can be "flipped" through.
Playback of digital media such as mp3s, videos and photos is accomplished directly from the Dashboard interface and allows playback from media stored on the 360 hard drive, devices connected through USB, and media streamed from networked computers. The 360 can also act as a Media Center Extender which enhances media functionality. In the future Microsoft has stated that the 360 will act as an IPTV set top box, working with various IPTV providers around the world.
Xbox Live is prevalent throughout the entire Xbox 360 experience as the Dashboard Guide can be brought up at any time through the press of the Guide button. From the guide you can interact with all of the people on your friends list, track your downloads, and play custom soundtracks. Both voice and text messaging are supported standard, and if you have the Xbox Vision Camera then you can also send video messages.
Xbox Live Marketplace is a feature similar to the Playstation Network Store and the Wii store. From the Marketplace you can download free playable demos, game and movie trailers, and gamer pictures and themes to customize the look of the dashboard.
Xbox Live Arcade is accessed from the Marketplace or through its own Dashboard blade and allows you to play classic games that have been upgraded with new features, or new games that have been developed solely for the XBLA service.
Available only in the United States with the promise of a worldwide release, the Xbox Live Video Marketplace was added in the fall of 2006. High definition and standard definition television shows and movies are available for purchase and playback. Television shows are owned and can be redownloaded an indefinite number of times with the same GamerTag, while Movies expire after 24 hours.
All Xbox Live Marketplace content is purchased through the use of Microsoft Points. Microsoft Points themselves can be purchased in 500, 1000, 1600, and 2000 segments at an exchange rate of $1.25US for every 100 points.
The Xbox 360 is available in three different configurations, all with the same graphics and processing capabilities, the differences being mainly in some extra features and what comes in the box. Xbox 360s that are manufactured after July 4th, 2007 contain an HDMI port built-in, and cooler and quieter running hardware.
Xbox 360 Arcade ($199) - contains the Xbox 360 console, wired controller, 256MB memory, composite cables and no Hard Drive.
Xbox 360 20GB Premium ($279) - contains Xbox 360 console with chrome trim, wireless controller, wired headset, component/composite shared cable, 20GB hard drive. Discontinued. The drop to the $299 price is to clear stock and make room for the 60GB premium.
Xbox 360 60GB Premium ($299) - releases August 1st, 2008 contains everything from the 20GB premium except the included hard drive is larger at 60GB.
Xbox 360 Elite ($399) - released April 29th, 2007 the Elite version comes with a 120GB hard drive, is all black. A component and HDMI cable is included in the package.
Since launch the 360 has been plagued with complaints of shoddy hardware construction, resulting in a defect rate that some reports are putting as high as 25%. In 2006 Microsoft extended the original 90-day warranty to a full year making it equal to Sony and Nintendo's warranty periods. As of July 5th, 2007, the Xbox 360 comes with a 3 year manufacturer's warranty. The warranty is retroactive and any payments given to Microsoft to fix a console previously will be refunded.
Consoles manufactured after July 4th, 2007 contain chips based off of a 65nm process. This results in the console running at much lower temperatures. Reports indicate that a quieter DVD drive is included in these new versions as well. These consoles also ship with an HDMI port built in.