Microsoft Xbox 360
It's here. It's impressive
Do I have any gripes about the Xbox 360? Maybe a few. First off, I would have really liked to have seen integrated Wi-Fi networking in the console - the fact that I'm still having to plug the 360 into a wireless bridge like the old Xbox is a little disappointing. I understand that wireless standards will change during the life of the console, but you could always use a bridge then if you wanted to, it just would have been nice to have a seamless connection to your router and the Internet.
Then there's the backward compatibility question. As it stands only a limited number of Xbox games will run on the 360, and when I loaded Halo 2 up I had to download data from the Live server before I could run it. The good news is that you get the chance to run games like Halo 2 up-scaled to HD, while anti-aliasing can also be applied. Of course, there will always be people that will complain about not being to play all their old Xbox games on the 360, but how much of an issue is that really? Do you really buy a next generation games console so that you can play previous-generation games? A lot of fuss was made about the PS2 being able to run PS1 games, but I don't think I ever bothered to play an original PlayStation game in my PS2.
My final issue is availability - quite simply, there won't be enough of these babies to go around today. Add to that the fact that most of the consoles that will be available to purchase will be Core systems - no hard disk, no wireless controller, no remote, no HD AV cable - and the situation looks even worse. The Core package costs less, but believe me, you want everything that ships in the Deluxe box. Hopefully it won't be long before stock starts to roll into the retail channel, but even then I can see 360s selling out before they even hit the shop floor. Ultimately, I think there will be a lot of tears on Christmas morning!
When you've been anticipating something for a long time you often find yourself disappointed when you finally see/touch/use it - that won't happen with the Xbox 360. Microsoft has succeeded in pushing back the boundaries of gaming, and bringing media playback and streaming functionality into your living room. Thinking of buying a media adaptor for your living room? Forget it, the Xbox 360 will do that for you.
With a significant lead on the forthcoming PlayStation 3, Microsoft has the opportunity to create a strong user-base for the 360, and make those users question whether they need a PS3 as well. Some of the launch games do look quite stunning, and even though actual gameplay may not be awesome in all of them, what you're seeing is an indication of things to come. Just think what the games will be like when they're using both threads on all three CPU cores...
If you've got a HD TV you won't believe how good the 360 looks - it's a shame that you can't connect via HDMI, but the image quality over component video or VGA is still staggering.
But for me one of the most impressive aspects of this machine is just how tightly the Xbox Live service has been integrated. It just feels totally natural to be constantly connected, just like on a PC. Keeping in touch with friends, organising matches, downloading game demos, it all adds another dimension to the proceedings. OK, so you could do a lot of this with a Live account on an old Xbox, but it just feels more natural and seamless with the X360.
As I mentioned earlier, the big question is whether you should spend your money on an Xbox 360, and the simple answer is YES!
Sponsored: Flash storage buyer's guide