and . . . Yes, More Features
The 360 has so many
capabilities that it is almost hard to decide where to start, so let's just
go over some of the features in general. The 360 is definitely the first
console gaming system that has taken convergence seriously. This is more
like an entertainment hub, not a console gaming system. Sure, it represents
the pinnacle of console gaming at the moment, but for the coin, you get a lot
of REALLY cool multi-media features.
The 360 will tap right into your home
network and allow you access to your music collection, photo collection,
videos, and more. If you have a Windows Media Center PC in your home, the
360 complements it. With Media Center
in the mix, you can view TV, plus store movies and videos.
This can basically
make the 360 a remote hub for a PC based media server that includes PVR
functions, movie storage, and music library management. All of that for less
You could realistically store your entire DVD library and music
library on a media center PC and have full access to it through your 360 in
a completely separate room. Unfortunately, I do not have a Media Center PC at
this time (on the wish list!), but I am using the 360 to access my entire
music collection via my home PC, and it works perfectly. I can tell the 360
to play back any CD or track with just a few clicks, or I can have it just
randomly shuffle through my entire music library for those days that I just want
some tunes in the background.
If you don't have a home network (shame on you), you can still
do the same thing with any portable media device like an iPod or MP3 player.
Simply hook it to the console via USB, and tell the 360 that you want to
listen to the tracks on the portable device. Very nifty!! I tried this with
my Creative Zen Vision M MP3 player, and it worked without a single hiccup.
With photos, you can
literally set up custom slideshows and have them shown with music that you
want for when family or friends come over. That way, your vacation photos can
be shown in a particular order on your TV with a soundtrack of your choice.
If your 360 has a hard drive, you can even play back video that you store on
the drive. This can be done by simply connecting a video device to the USB port and
uploading the data.
The Xbox 360 is also
a very capable DVD player and definitely a step up from the consoles I've
tested in the past. The original Xbox only supported 480i playback of DVDs,
and the MPEG decoding left a lot to be desired. The Sony Playstation 2
eventually offered progressive playback in its later revisions, but its
de-interlacing was mediocre at best and could be bested by most of the cheap
players on the market.
The 360 supports DVD playback at 480p if you have the
HD playback kit (component video connections only; standard with the Premium
Kit) and uses a de-interlacing solution that was designed by Microsoft. I
had the chance to run the 360 through our intensive Benchmark tests a few
months ago, and it did quite well. You can find those results and some
comments on DVD playback
here. I was a bit bummed
that the 360 wouldn't scale images to 720p or 1080i, but since the 360
does not offer a digital video output, this is a limitation imposed by the
Another great feature
that the 360 introduces is the Xbox Live Marketplace. This is completely new
and offers an unprecedented number of features to the consumer.
subscribe to Xbox Live at different levels. If you buy the Premium Kit, you
get a lifetime Silver membership for free. The Silver level offers you full
access to all of the features in the marketplace. Its only limitation is you
cannot play online against other players with games. This is reserved for
the Gold membership level.
A Gold membership is free for the first month if
you buy the premium kit and costs about $50 a year after that. The
membership can be purchased on a monthly basis as well if you don't want to
spring for the full year or want to kick the tires a bit before you invest
in a full year.
With the Live Marketplace, users can download all sorts of
things. This includes music videos, HD movie trailers, game previews, fully
playable game demos, and even full games!! You can also download skins and
artwork to personalize the 360 user interface.
I really liked the
Live Marketplace. I can literally download whole levels of games and try
them out for free before I decide to spring the $50+ for the game at the
store. I can also check out the latest trailers for upcoming movies in full
720p and 5.1 sound. The Marketplace has a few music videos on it, but
most are limited to 480p and stereo sound at the moment.
Microsoft plans on
offering full game downloads very soon with the popular Halo rumored to be
the inaugural entry. Price and features still have not been determined, but
the idea is pretty cool!
Another new addition
to the Xbox 360 is the Xbox Live Arcade. This is a groundbreaking
feature that has to be one of the coolest additions I've ever seen for a game
console. The Live Arcade is a place where you can download arcade games onto
your console or just download sample levels of the available games. These
games aren't quite as large as the normal games you buy at stores, but some of
them are really good. There are a lot of familiar games that are popular on
the Internet, including Bejeweled and Zuma, plus old classics like Joust and
the upcoming Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting.
These games can be bought and
downloaded for anywhere from about $5 to $15, and download times are pretty
quick. My personal favorite is Geometry Wars, which is similar in some
respects to the classic Asteroids game. The graphics start out simple, but as
more and more bad guys get on the screen, the polygon count gets insane. So
don't judge the simple games from their cover, they can get addicting and
impressive fast. There are more arcade games in the works, including
some old classics like Paperboy, Pac Man and Contra. All of these games
support the full HD resolutions of the system and 5.1 sound! This is without
a doubt one of the best features of the console so far, with lots more to
Click Here to Go to Part III.