After a week long agony of missed deliveries, bad weather and plane delays the Xbox 360 arrived at my house today. It was a long, hard journey but I knew sacrifices would be necessary when we launched Gamers With Jobs, it's the least I can do for my loyal readers.
I'll be adding impressions of the games over the weekend and leading up to launch but I figured a good starting place would be the hardware itself and a brief bit about the Windows Media Center capabilities.
*UPDATED* Some additional notes at the bottom of the article.
The first thing I noticed is that new console smell of fresh technology as I cracked open the box. It's the closest I think I can come to recapturing the wonder and excitement I felt as a kid when I would rip into a present I just knew contained a Super Nintendo. My nasal passages full of delicious scents likely to cause cancer, I pulled all the peripherals out of the box and stood over the array piled on my coffee table. Truly, this is what being a gamer is all about. The first thing you notice is that the external power supply is large enough to merit it's own separate review section. It's massive, so big in fact that I can picture some folks having a bit of trouble shoving it into their already tangled and cramped entertainment center rear areas. It's not insurmountable, just a bit fiddly if you're as disorganized as I am when it comes to the nexus of cables back there.
The actual console is a far cry from the large, black and American design of the original Xbox. It's slim and white, it's also pretty quiet but I can only imagine that has something to do with the console's lack of a manly internal power supply. Instead, the black monster resides outside, like the ghost of what was mocking the feminine new system's lack of balls. It's ok Xbox 360, I think you're ADORABLE! Hee!
The front of the system sports two slots for memory cards, the DVD tray, a button that lights up indicating how many controllers are actively connected it and two USB ports hidden away behind a swinging panel. It's nice and clean in design, it looks downright classy when stood next to my aging PS2.
It's like holding God's loofa after he's finished scrubbing down with it in the shower. That's a good thing! It's beautifully molded with a good weight that's not too heavy and not too light or cheap feeling. I especially like the touch of the smooth bottom edge where my middle fingers rest, it's a nice attention to detail. The removal of the dreaded black and white buttons in favor of two extra triggers on the top is a huge improvement as well. Throw in the fact that it's wireless (corded is still an option) and you can turn the console on remotely with it and you've got a winner. Great controller.
Included with the premium system (and available separately) is the DVD remote which also doubles as a nice peripheral to interface with the dash board. It fits nicely in your palm and has nice big buttons to navigate the menus available to you. With a single button press you can bring up the Media Center interface and access all your music, images and recorded TV. Of course, it also doubles as a channel changer and DVD remote for the usual navigations, what else could you want? Huh?! That's what I thought.
You've never had a better experience with a console dashboard. I dare say it's possibly the single best thing about my Xbox 360 experience so far. With an easy to navigate tabbed folder system, you can access every function you may need quickly and without much difficulty at all. The opening page shows options to view your friends list, messages, the Xbox Live Marketplace and of course, to play the game currently in your drive. In the messaging section you can choose to contact a fellow Xbox 360 owner for a live one-on-one voice chat, goodbye long distance charges!
A quick flip to the right brings up a games list, from here you can look at your various game achievements, the games you've been playing and the ability to play and download new Xbox Live Arcade games. You can also get to demos and trailers you've downloaded here too.
Another flip to the right brings up the Media Center interface. From here you can access your music list, pictures, videos or launch the full Media Center interface. I plugged my Canon digital camera into one of the front USB slots and I could immediately access the images contained on it from here, pretty slick and easy enough to do for most people.
One last flip to the right brings up the options screen, here you can set everything from your screen preferences, audio, language, parental controls, network settings and the computers you may have connected to the Xbox. The menus are all very easy to surf around in and don't leave you wanting for much at all.
Perhaps the centerpiece of the whole dashboard experience is the Media Center, presumably where one can access the images, music and videos on a Media Center friendly PC. The images and music thing works great, I installed the Media Center enabler on my desktop PC and within about five minutes I was on the 360 and scrolling through my music lists and the photos I took while stalking Pyro. The videos thing is where I encountered my first real disappointment. Here I was hoping I could just as easily access the videos on my computer and play them on the TV. It was not meant to be.
If you don't have the Windows XP Media Center Edition OS installed on your PC, you will not be able to stream videos from it. Period. Throw that daydream out the window. If you DO have Media Center you'll be pretty limited as to WHAT you can access. The primary function is to stream the TV shows you've recorded from your cable box to your Media Center PC. Want to play that AVI file you downloaded? Too bad, the 360 won't play that format. You're limited to MPEG's and WMV files mainly so think long and hard before you spend too much money to have the ultimate in porn streaming technology. I reserve the right to be wrong though, I need to do more testing with my laptop, which has the Media Center OS on it.
That limitation aside, I'm very pleased with the console design, the controller, the dashboard and most of the Media Center functions. It's all very slick, user friendly and packed with more features and information than you might ever need.
I'll be back later with some actual game impressions (Live Arcade games included) once I've spent more time with them. Stay tuned!
I wanted to add a couple notes to this space after a few more days with the system. One, this sucker can get LOUD. When the fan kicks on I'd say you need to have your sound up to a moderate level to drown it out. It's not a deal breaker by any stretch, but it caught me off guard when I first heard it after an extended session of Madden.
Connecting my Ipod to the USB port in the front worked like a charm, I could even stream music off it to act as background while I played Project Gotham Racing 3. Very cool!
I've had some luck with streaming certain video types through Windows XP Media Center Edition (again, you can't do video with regular Windows XP) although the file type support (MPEG and WMV) is still limited. Going to a wired network connection rather than wireless makes a big difference.