Hippo Manchester
December 8, 2005

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Techie: Microsoft must be scratching its head
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Microsoft must be scratching its head.

Do Sony and Nintendo know something it doesn’t? Why on earth would they release their next-generation consoles in March 2006, just three months after Christmas?

Regardless of their reasons, the late release of the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution consoles allows Microsoft an unopposed run at this year’s holiday shoppers with their new Xbox 360. Sony and Nintendo will have to compete with their aging — though comparatively cheap — PlayStation 2 and GameCube products.

Price may have played a central role in both Sony’s and Nintendo’s decisions. The $100 GameCube and $150 PS2 offer attractive alternatives to the Xbox 360, which starts at $300. Both companies also put out mobile platforms earlier this year as well, with the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS.

Still, the Xbox 360, released Nov. 22, has the spotlight this Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus/Boxing Day. And I guess Microsoft realized that some competition was needed to make the season exciting, so it put out two separate versions.

The Xbox 360 Core System is $300, and it includes the console itself, a wired controller and a composite AV cable. The Xbox 360 — no “Xtreme System” or “Hardcore Package” moniker, suggesting that “Core System” really means “Lame, Incomplete Budget Version” — is $100 more and replaces the wired controller with a wireless one and adds a 20GB hard drive, Xbox Live Headset and Ethernet cable. It also upgrades the AV cable to support High Definition output as well as standard TV output.

Of course, this is Microsoft, so nothing is simple.

One of the big selling points of the Xbox 360 is backward compatibility with Xbox games. This is true, if you have a hard drive. Buyers (or recipients) of the Core System will be disappointed, though you can buy the hard drive separately — for $100. The same $100 that gets you the bunch of other stuff mentioned above if you just suck it up and pay up front.

Oh, and that High Definition output? It only supports 780p and 1080i, leaving out the highest-quality mode, 1080p. PlayStation 3 will support 1080p on two televisions at once. Nintendo played the bargain role last time with no DVD support on their GameCube; for the Revolution, they’re reportedly doing the same by leaving out HD.

For the total geeks, here’s a stream of numbers, acronyms and nonsense words about the Xbox 360: triple 3.2GHz core processors; 512MB RAM; 500MHz graphics processor; 48 parallel shader pipelines; three USB ports.

For those of you reading this column every week, you may notice that the Xbox 360’s graphics processor is by itself just as fast as the main processor in the $100 laptop described last issue. Both of you make of that what you will.

Also, for the limited number of gamer/environmentalist crossover folks out there, a mixed bag: while the 360 uses twice the electricity of its predecessor, it contains no lead, mercury or cadmium.

 

Normal people resume reading here

Microsoft is offering a 64MB memory unit as an accessory. Not only is this a way to save games without a hard drive, but you can also download content from retail kiosks. If there’s a movie trailer on the Xbox 360 at your favorite mall store, just transfer it to your memory unit and take it home.

You can also customize the look of the console with changeable faceplates. There’s even a “Play & Charge Kit” that hooks your wireless controller to an electrical outlet to recharge its batteries while you’re playing.

Yeah, a wire for your wireless controller. I told you, it’s Microsoft.