The 360

August 5, 2007

Never thought I’d spend a minute to actually “review” a Microsoft product, but here I am. Got an Xbox 360 last Friday and I must say I’m pretty impressed. Our home had been a Nintendo house for generations, but the Wii just didn’t feel right. After my kid sister OK-d skipping Twilight Princess, the die was cast.

I think overall the hardware looks decent enough to keep under you TV in your living room. The controller feels very good, kinda like the GC controller but simplified yet with more buttons. The wireless versions also have force feedback which is nice (the WaveBird didn’t do this). The power adapter is probably the only truly ugly-looking component, but that’s maybe because I’ve used Apple laptops most of my life. ;) The 360’s a bit louder than the GameCube but that’s totally understandable (a 500 Mhz G3 vs a multicore 3.2 Ghz G5)

Available games, next-gen graphics and HD support were probably the 3 reasons that lead me to this decision. This came as a bundle with NHL 2007 (which I haven’t even tried yet) and Gears of War, which obviously looks unbelievable and has been a bit overwhelming so I’m playing other stuff now (PGR3 and Call of Duty 2, both available in the “discount bin” by now). So far the gaming aspect of the thing hasn’t disapointed.

A few surprises

Xbox Live was definitely a positive one. I had already forgotten how cool game demos actually can be (and I’m not being sarcastic here!). Finally some real use for a broadband connection. Works well as a software update channel too. I’m not sure how that affects the quality of games, but it feels kinda nice to just pop in a new game and have the console download the latest patches for it (we’re so used to this kind of thing in our everyday lives anyway). Getting a normal nick on that thing is next to impossible though.

And then there’s the whole media hub thing… Starting with some software update the box will actually handle (MP4 - tested, works), MOV and obviously WMV. Connect360 works really well but unfortunately will not transcode so all those XviD DVD “backups” will not work from a Mac. If you’ve always ripped to MP4/H.264, you’re home free.

Things aren’t that much better on Windows either - the “official” Zune software is absolute rubbish it’ll run Zune ads for 5 minutes telling you it’s “looking for updates” followed by a “Installing… this may take a long time”…. followed by… yes, a failure (tried it twice).

VME promises DiVX playback but I couldn’t get it to work. TVersity was pretty cool, albeit unreliable (massive frame dropouts on a 2.8 Ghz PC). The 360 should actually work with any UPnP media server. I’m gonna give CenterStage a whirl soon and report back if there’s anything interesting. Subtitle support should be possible with Windows MCE, which I’ll try to check out tomorrow.

So yeah, the media support isnt’ quite there yet and it would be easy to blame MS for platform lock-in here, but let’s be fair - everyone’s doing it. Well, maybe not quite everyone.