For the first time, I'm covering Xbox-related developments here on the SuperSite for Windows. My initial entry: The Xbox 360 FAQ!
Q: What is the Xbox 360?
A: Xbox 360 is Microsoft's next-generation video game console and the successor to the original Xbox, which was released in 2001. Codenamed "Xenon," the Xbox 360 enables HDTV-resolution graphics and multichannel surround sound in games and functions as a Media Center-type hub in your home network, streaming content from Windows XP and Media Center-based PCs.
Q: Why Xbox 360? Why didn't they call it Xbox 2?
A: As various Microsoft executives have noted, Xbox 2 is a fine name until you realize that Sony's next machine will be called the PlayStation 3, which sounds newer and more powerful. The Xbox 360 name was chosen to imply that the gamer is at the center of the Xbox experience.
Q: What makes the Xbox 360 better than the original Xbox?
A: The two systems couldn't be more different from a technological standpoint, though they are comparable, roughly, in that they are both the most powerful and capable video game system from their respective generations.
"With the first generation of Xbox, our ambition was to change the way people think about video games," says Robbie Bach, Microsoft's chief Xbox officer. "Starting today with Xbox 360, our ambition is to revolutionize the way people think about fun."
At a high level, Xbox 360 is a video game console that plays the most realistic and stunning video game titles available anywhere. It is a digital media hub that plays DVD movies and CD music, and lets you rip CD audio to the device's hard drive. It includes the full Media Center Extender 2.0 user interface, allowing you to easily and elegantly push PC-based digital media content--including recorded and live TV shows, in HD and standard definition formats--over your home network and into your den.
Xbox 360 is also more customizable than the original Xbox. Instead of the monolithic black brick design used by the Xbox, the Xbox 360 is more elegant looking and can be modified with custom faceplates that will let the device match any mood or room style. Its wireless controllers will also let the device integrate more casually into your home, removing the need for messy wires and cables.
Q: What makes the Xbox 360 better than the Sony PlayStation 3? Or the Nintendo Revolution?
A: We're still waiting to hear about the details of Nintendo's next generation game systems, so it's impossible to say anything about that just yet. But Sony has released information about its PlayStation 3 console: You can see how it compares to Xbox 360 in my tech showcase, Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3: A Technical Comparison.
Regardless, Microsoft has a long road ahead of it. Currently, the PlayStation 2 dominates the video game world with 56 percent of the market in North America. Microsoft controls 25 percent of that market, and Nintendo mops up the remaining 19 percent.
Q: The Xbox 360 looks quite different from the Xbox. Was it inspired by Apple's iPod?
A: Somewhat, yeah. Microsoft wanted to ensure that Xbox 360 was more beautifully styled than the previous Xbox, so it went with a white case design that can stand vertically or lay horizontally. It's quite a bit smaller than the original Xbox at 3 inches thick, 10 inches deep and 12 inches long.
In the center of the Xbox 360 console is a "ring of light," a combination power button and notification center that alerts you to messages and other in-game information by lighting up portions of its circle, called quadrants.
Q: I heard that Microsoft was going to sell more than one version of the Xbox 360? What versions will be available?
In August 2005, Microsoft announced that there would be two versions of Xbox 360. The first, simply called Xbox 360, but often referred to as the "premium system" or "premium bundle," comes fully loaded and includes the Xbox 360 console, a 20 GB hard drive, a wireless controller, a removable Xbox 360 faceplate, an Xbox 360 headset, a component HD-AV cable, and a Media remote control. The second version, called Xbox 360 Core System, includes the console, a wired controller, an Xbox 360 faceplate, and a standard AV cable. Neither bundle includes any games. For more information about these products, see my Xbox 360 Launch Lineup showcase.
Q: I heard that Xbox 360 was more closely integrated with Xbox Live? What does that mean?
A: With the original Xbox, you needed to pay to subscribe to Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming service in order to interact with other Xbox owners over the Internet. With Xbox 360, Xbox Live has been dramatically overhauled. First, Xbox 360 natively connects all users to Xbox Live Silver, a free new version of the online service. Xbox Live Silver lets you create an online identity, called a Gamertag, through which you can communicate with other games, talk with others Xbox users using voice chat, and access Xbox Live Marketplace, where you can make micropayments with a currency called Microsoft Points to purchase game add-ons and other downloads. You can also use Xbox Live Silver to access all of your game achievements and statistics. (Note that you must have an Xbox 360 hard drive in order to use Xbox Live.)
A new service level called Xbox Live Gold replaces the previous Xbox Live subscription, and comes with a monthly (or yearly) fee. Xbox Live Gold lets you compete with other gamers in multiplayer online games, perform video chat and video conferencing with other gamers (using an optional Xbox 360 video camera at a later date), and other services.
Q: But what if I already have an Xbox Live subscription? Will that transfer to Xbox 360?
A: Yes. All existing Xbox Live subscriptions can easily be transferred to the Xbox Live Gold service. The first step is to create a Passport account (which you probably already have; all Hotmail users already have Passport accounts). Then, you can link your Xbox Live Gamertag to your Passport account at the Xbox Live Web site. Any existing time credit you have on your existing Xbox Live subscription will be applicable to Xbox Live Gold.
Q: The digital media stuff sounds interesting. How will Xbox 360 compare to today's Media Center Extenders and other similar devices?
A: Xbox 360 includes the same capabilities as Media Center Extender 2.0 devices, meaning it provides a Media Center-like experience, and will display live and Recorded TV shows, photo slideshows, music, and other content, assuming you have a Media Center PC on your home network. One differentiator between today's Media Center Extenders and the next generation (and Xbox 360) is that the Xbox 360 also natively supports live and recorded HDTV broadcasts.
Additionally, the Xbox 360 also plays DVD movies and can rip audio CDs to the device's hard drive. You can also plug portable devices, like iPods, Sony PlayStation Portables (PSPs), and Portable Media Centers, into one of the Xbox's USB ports, and interact with the content on those devices. Xbox 360 cannot, however, access Protected AAC format music purchased from the iTunes Music Store.
Q: What are the technical specifications of the Xbox 360?
A: They're impressive to say the least. In my mind the most important technical aspects of Xbox 360 include:
CPU. A custom-made IBM PowerPC microprocessor running at 3.2 GHz and offering three symmetrical processing cores, essentially providing the power of three CPUs to the system. This system is capable of 1 teraflop of computing power. By comparison, Apple's fastest PowerPC-based computer, the PowerMac G5, is offered at speeds up to 2.5 GHz, with only a dual processor core, and that system costs $3300 without a monitor.
Graphics. Xbox 360's powerful graphics are driven by a custom 500 MHz ATI graphics processor with 10 MB of embedded DRAM and an advanced shader architecture. This is enough graphical power to deliver video-quality HDTV graphics at 1920 x 1080 (1080i), Xbox 360's highest available processing mode, and at 1280 x 720 (720p). Xbox 360 also supports widescreen (16:9) standard definition video output for users with pre-HDTV television sets.
Sound. Xbox 360 provides multichannel sound output with over 256 possible channels.
Memory. Xbox 360 includes 512 MB of RAM, more than most PCs.
Hard drive. Contrary to rumors, Xbox 360 includes a 20 GB, externally-mounted hard drive, which can be removed and easily carted for use on other systems.
Optical drive. Xbox 360 includes a 12x dual-layer DVD drive that can play back Xbox 360 games and is compatible with virtually every DVD- and CD-based optical disk format on earth, including DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD, and JPEG Photo CD. However, Xbox 360 is incompatible with the coming generation of optical disks, including Blu-Ray and HD DVD.
Memory cards. Xbox 360 supports small memory cards that will offer a storage capacity of 64 MB initially. There are two memory card slots on the front of the device.
Controllers. Xbox 360 supports up to four wireless or wired controllers, which are also be Windows XP-compatible, providing players with identical controllers on both platforms. Xbox 360 also includes three USB 2.0 ports for additional expansion and controller options.
Networking. Xbox 360 includes a built-in 100 Mbps Ethernet port, and is "Wi-Fi ready" (meaning you'll need an external adapter) for 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11a wireless networking.
You can find out more about the complete technical specifications of the Xbox 360 on my showcase, Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3: A Technical Comparison.
Q: Wireless controllers seem nice, but is there a catch?
A: Maybe not. The Xbox 360 wireless controllers interact with the system in the overloaded 2.4 GHz wireless spectrum, making them susceptible to interference from 802.11b/g wireless networks, many cordless phones, X10 home control transmitters, Bluetooth-enabled devices, and other devices. However, Microsoft is using a technology called "frequency-hopping spread spectrum" to cut down drastically on the amount of interference you'd normally see. And if the controller senses that one frequency is always blocked, it will simply stop trying to use it. In my extensive testing of Xbox 360, the controllers have worked flawlessly.
Q: How many games will be available at launch?
A: 18 game titles were available when Xbox 360 first shipped in November 2005. But over 160 Xbox 360 game titles are known to be in development. Some of the expected games include:
2 Days to Vegas (Steel Monkeys)
Alan Wake (Remedy)
Amped - screenshot gallery
Blue Dragon (Microsoft)
Bomberman ? Act Zero (Hudson Soft)
Call of Duty 2 (Activision) - screenshot gallery - my review
Castle Wolfenstein "3" (id Software/Raven)
Condemned: Criminal Origins (Sega) - screenshot gallery - my review
Crackdown (Microsoft/Real Time Worlds)
Dark Sector (Digital Extremes)
Dead or Alive 4 (Microsoft) - screenshot gallery
Dead Rising (Capcom) - screenshot gallery
Demonik (Majesco) - screenshot gallery
Dynasty Warriors 5 Special (Koei)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Bethesda) - screenshot gallery
Far East of Eden ? Ziria (Hudson Soft)
FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup (Electronic Arts) - screenshot gallery
Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix) - screenshot gallery
Frame City Killer (Namco) - screenshot gallery
Full Auto (Sega) - screenshot gallery
Gears of War (Microsoft) - screenshot gallery
GUN - screenshot gallery
Halo 3 (Microsoft) - March 2006
Kameo: Elements of Power (Microsoft) - screenshot gallery
King Kong (Ubisoft) - screenshot gallery
Lost Odyssey (Microsoft)
Madden NFL 06 (Electronic Arts) - screenshot gallery
Mass Effect (Microsoft/Bioware)
Mobile Suit Gundam (working title) (Bandai)
MotoGP Ultimate Racking Technology (URT) 2006 (THQ)
NBA 2K6 (2K Sports) - screenshot gallery
NBA Live 06 (Electronic Arts) - screenshot gallery
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Electronic Arts) - screenshot gallery
NHL 2K6 (2K Sports) - screenshot gallery
Ninety-Nine Nights (Q Entertainment)
The Outfit (Relic)
Perfect Dark: Zero (Microsoft) - screenshot gallery
Project Gotham Racing (PGR) 3 (Microsoft) - screenshot gallery
Quake 4 (id Software/Raven) - screenshot gallery - my review
RalliSport Challenge 3 (Microsoft)
Resident Evil 5 (Capcom)
Ridge Racer 6 (Namco) - screenshot gallery
Rumble Roses XX (working title) (Konami)
Saint's Row (THQ) - screenshot gallery
Shutoku Battle (working title) (Genki)
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega)
Superman Returns: The Video Game (Electronic Arts)
Test Drive: Unlimited (Atari) - screenshot gallery
The Darkness (Majesco) - screenshot gallery
The Godfather (Electronic Arts) - screenshot
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 (Electronic Arts) - screenshot gallery
Tomb Raider: Legend (Eidos)
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 3 (Ubisoft) - screenshot gallery
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 4 (Ubisoft)
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (Activision) - screenshot gallery
Too Human (Microsoft/Silicon Nights)
Unreal Tournament 2007 (Epic)
World Air Force (tentative title) (Taito)
Wrestle Kingdom (Yuke's)
And yes, Halo fans, Microsoft is busy working on an Xbox 360 native version of Halo 3, which will ship in early- to mid-2006 with the second generation of Xbox 360 games.
Q: Will Xbox 360 play games from the original Xbox?
A: Yes, but not all of them. Please visit my showcase, Xbox 360 Software Compatibility List, for details.
Q: What about online play? Will Xbox 360 users be able to deathmatch Xbox titles with original Xbox users via System Link or Xbox Live?
A: Yes, absolutely. You can even communicate via headset, and send invites to each other, just as you would if everyone had original Xboxes. Now, this assumes that the game you're using is compatible with Xbox 360, of course. (See the previous question.)
Q: Can I copy Xbox saved games from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360?
A: Sadly, no. The Memory Unit format used by Xbox 360 is different from that used by the original Xbox, and Microsoft hasn't supplied any way to moved saved games or other content from the hard drive of the original Xbox to the Xbox 360. For now, at least, you're going to have to complete in-progress games on the original Xbox. On the good news front, premium paid content for games such as Halo 2 and Project Gotham Racing 2 is now available for free to Xbox 360 users via Xbox Live Silver or Gold. So you won't have to pay to download all those Halo 2 multiplayer maps again.
Q: What add-ons and peripherals will be available for Xbox 360?
A: Microsoft has shipped a number of Xbox 360 peripherals, including:
Faceplates. The front bezel of the Xbox 360 is removable, allowing customers to interchange faceplates as desired. These faceplates let you customize the look of the Xbox 360 to match your style.
64 MB Memory Unit. Like the original Xbox, the Xbox 360 supports small memory cards that can be used to cart around saved games and other data. The initial batch of Xbox 360 Memory Units sport 64 MB of storage and will cost $39.99.
20 GB hard drive. For users that purchase the Xbox 360 Core System, Microsoft offers an optional 20 GB hard drive (this ships standard with the normal Xbox 360 bundle). It will cost $99.
Universal Remote Control. The Xbox 360 Universal Remote Control works similarly to the Media Center/Media Center Extender remote control, providing easy access to Xbox 360's multimedia features. It will also control Media Center PCs; the cost is $29.99.
Xbox Live Camera. This wired video camera supports 640 x 480 resolution at 30 frames per second and is designed for use in online games using Xbox Live. It can also take 1.3 MPX (megapixel) still images, and includes a microphone for audio chatting during games. This camera did not appear at launch, but is now expected in the first half of 2006.
Xbox 360 Headset. Similar in form to the Xbox Live headset that's currently shipping for first generation Xbox Live users, the Xbox 360 Headset supports in-game chatting and noise canceling features. The headset costs $19.99.
Xbox 360 Wireless Network Adapter. Yes, Microsoft dropped their entire line of home networking devices, but they're back with an interesting option that supports 802.11a,b, and g on the Xbox 360. It's USB-based and powered completely by the Xbox 360 console, so you won't need an external power supply. It will cost $99.99.
Xbox 360 Wireless Controller. Naturally, you can purchase addition Xbox 360 controllers. The wireless versions include 2 AA batteries that allegedly last for 40 hours of game play. A wireless controller will set you back $49.99.
Xbox 360 Play & Charge Kit. This kit provides provides a rechargeable battery and lets you connect the wireless controller to system with cable for uninterrupted play and charging. The cost will be $19.99.
Xbox 360 Wireless Controller rechargeable battery pack. Provides up to 25 hours of game play for wireless gaming fun. The cost? $11.99.
Xbox 360 (Wired) Controller. A wired version of the Xbox 360 controller is also available. Like the wireless version, it is very similar to the current Xbox Controller S. For some images of the Xbox 360 wired controller, see my Xbox 360 Controller for Windows Photo and Screenshot Gallery.
Xbox 360 S-Video AV Cable. This cable provides S-Video and composite video inputs and will cost $29.99.
Xbox 360 VGA HD AV Cable. With this cable, you can use a standard PC display or flat-panel TV with your Xbox 360 at HD resolutions. The cost will be $39.99.
For more information about Xbox 360 accessories, please see part 9 of my Xbox 360 review, Xbox 360 accessories.
Q: Will any original Xbox peripherals and other add-ons work with Xbox 360? Or vice versa?
A: No, the accessories for Xbox and Xbox 360 are almost completely incompatible. The one exception is Microsoft's Xbox Wireless Adapter, which will work with both Xbox and Xbox 360.
Q: How much will Xbox 360 cost?
A: Microsoft is selling two versions of the Xbox 360. The first, known simply as Xbox 360, will cost $399.99 and include the Xbox 360 console, a wireless controller, a 20 GB hard drive, a removable Xbox 360 faceplate, an Xbox 360 headset for communicating with other gamers on Xbox Live, a component HD-AV cable, and a bonus Media Remote (which will be bundled with Xbox 360 for a limited time). The second, called Xbox Core System, costs $299 and includes the Xbox 360 console, a wired controller, a removable Xbox 360 faceplate, and a standard AV cable for standard definition TVs. For more information about these products, see my Xbox 360 Launch Lineup showcase.
Q: When will Xbox 360 be available for sale?
A: Xbox 360 shipped on November 22, 2005 in North America, and on December 2, 2005 in Europe. The system will launch in Japan on December 10, 2005.
Q: Both Nintendo and Sony are also competing with handheld video game systems. Will Microsoft ever ship a portable Xbox?
A: At this time, Microsoft has no plans to go head-to-head with Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS devices. However, an upcoming second generation of Portable Media Center devices--due in 2006--will include more form factors and new capabilities, and newer Windows Mobile-based PDAs make for decent game machines.