The launch of the XBox 360 must have felt as good as launching a second version of the Titanic after knowing the fate of the first, and getting a chance to redesign. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge XBox fan – the console rocks. The new console essentially enhances every feature on the console.
The expectation however, from a new version of a gaming console – one supposed to herald the next generation of gaming – is a lot more than new wine in a spruced up PC-style bottle. The launch of the XBox 360 on Thursday over MTV, while demonstrating a cool, fast, spiffy device, was not quite next-gen, IMHO. This is more the fault of the launch than the console. The true power under the hood of the new console barely showed in the few glimpses we got in the launch party.
The new XBox 360 HD’s key new feature is native high-resolution display – it can display up to 16:9 1080i resolution. It comes with cable-free controllers and in-built wifi. It can also play multiple media formats, and has a 20 GB drive, along with USB ports. The hard drive will be upgradable. It will execute a trillion FLOPs a second, uses a customized IBM PowerPC processor (Apple iPodBox anyone?) and is apparently water-coholed. According to Tom’s Hardware Guide’s excellent and detailed insider review of the XBox 360 HD, there are three 3.2 GHz cores, which can run two threads each. The graphics processor is a custom ATI chip that can display upto 500 million triangles per second. This is beyond current high-end gaming PCs, which are $3000+. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft will package this into a consumer-friendly <$500 price. Perhaps this will induce a decline in gaming PC prices (I hope)
Other consumer-oriented features include swappable faceplates, a remote control and a webcam. It comes with multi-channel digital audio, as is expected.The video is very clear, almost indistinguishable from live-action cinema, and the games demonstrated, which ranged from Project Gotham Racing 3, Quake IV, & Perfect Dark 0, looked really good. Neither Blu-Ray nor HD-DVD will be supported, interestingly. This is perhaps to conform to currently available hardware and one of the risks of launching a new generation too soon. There is Windows Media Center integration, but not TiVO style features. XBox Live "Silver" will be provided free with the console, enabling content download. Gaming Publishers have promised a bunch of new titles for the system in sync with the launch, making it more attractive. Halo 3 - here I come!
The console will be available in the holiday season by the end of 2005. Various games have already been announced, including the ones demonstrated, and Tiger Woods 06, Tony Hawk, Full Auto, and more - watch for announcements at E3 next week
The launch on MTV itself was terrible - poor cross-cutting, and very little emphasis on the actual next-gen console. Being on regular MTV perhaps took away some of the HD richness. E3 will be a better better of the power of the console. The brief history of gaming consoles pre-launch omitted even mentioning the PlayStation and GameCube. The voice-overs and music selections did not drive home the hype. The best part of the launch was probably the laff-out-loud Star Wars ads from Burger King
The XBox 360 HD is positioned as a more fully integrated consumer media center than merely a gaming console. The ability to connect most devices like digital cameras and MP3 players means much convenient streaming of media. You could even, I think, play a Sony PSP movie via the XBox 360 HD console. Microsoft is well-positioned to compete in the next-gen console wars, having finished second in the current, and first off the starting block this time around. This could be a tipping point for the penetration of gaming technologies into the living room. The convenience of using almost all standard hardware rather than proprietary technology will mean greater competition and leveling in the marketplace, and could provide much the same boost for Microsoft as did the PC.
Call this PC Next.
Update: The XBox 360 fact sheet is quite informative.
Also, the Engadget-leaked ourcolony video has more info and better pictures of the XBox 360
Finally, a torrent of the MTV special is available on request