Blurring the lines between computing and console gaming more than ever, the Xbox 360 is far more than a games machine. Some may cynically observe that it's a device that's allowed Microsoft to bring all manner of non-gaming, Microsoft-branded services and media functions into the living room (replete with tie-ins to Windows Media Center Edition and XP, naturally), but there's still no denying it's a capable beast.
Initial observations are that it's slightly smaller than the original Xbox, and heavier. The huge power pack takes us back to the days of the Spectrum +3 - and then some! - and the controller is far better than it looked on paper.
We should point out that it's the Full edition we're looking at here, replete with in-built 20GB hard drive and wireless controller. A 'Core' edition is available without these and a couple of other items for £70 less. There doesn't seem much point in opting for that, though, as a hard drive is pretty much a necessity here. That said, you can add a drive later, and with the various USB ports there's significant upgrade potential.
After a solid weekend with the machine, several pros and cons emerge. Certainly the power packed inside is immense: Call Of Duty 4 was playing easily as well on the Xbox 360 as it had done on our test PC the week before, and looking the business too.
We'd also managed, with consummate ease, to get the Xbox 360 connected network. We tried both wired and wireless connections and in both cases we were up, running and taking advantage of a shared broadband connection in little time at all.
And that sums the Xbox 360 up to an extent. The things it does well, it does exceptionally well. Its interface is clean, it's as simple as you'd expect to set up, and we even managed to buy and download a small game from Xbox Live Arcade in a matter of minutes. Smashing stuff.
Sadly, our boxed review copy of Project Gotham Racing 3 exposed a flaw or two. Namely, the machine kept crashing. Now we couldn't replicate the Web-reported cases of the machine overheating (although given the cooling system inside, we were inclined to give the machine a little space), but when a launch title crashed four times in the first hour after being taken from a previously shrink-wrapped box, we weren't impressed.
In fact the launch line-up looked better on paper than it appears in reality. Perfect Dark Zero was a slight disappointment, Kameo we didn't warm to at all, and ironically it was a PC game that we'd played the month before that we enjoyed the most. That said, in spite of the hype, it's rarely the launch line-up that defines a console, and we expect lots of better games in 2006.
Other mild grumbles? We can see that 20GB hard disk filling up quickly for anyone who uses the online functions, and we wonder long term whether a DVD drive will be ample (perhaps Microsoft is looking for upgrade sales there). And it would be nice if a console manufacturer could one day make enough units to satisfy demand from the start.
Yet the Xbox 360 is a strong and important console, with plenty up its sleeve. Clearly technically superior to the Xbox and PS2, its real challenge is still cloaked in a degree of secrecy, with Sony's PS3 still months away at the time of writing. Thus we can only conclude that in the Xbox 360, Microsoft has delivered an astonishingly competent machine at a price that - if you tried to replicate the technology in a PC - looks an absolute bargain.
Now if you'll excuse us, it's Call Of Duty 4 time again...
Overall, the Xbox 360 is still the console left to bet. its price is really reliable and iwht the new console you dont get the "ring of death"