Xbox 360 Unveiled

Xbox Comes of Age

I remember when the original Microsoft Xbox came out in November 2001.  It was a huge console with a big green X on the front of it, and everyone had to have one.  Of course, that was only partially true; it was really something new in a market that had just experienced the release of Sony?s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo?s new Gamecube.  However, while everyone was not necessarily breaking down the doors of stores for the Xbox, those of us who wanted to try something totally new, with great graphics and some seriously amazing games went right out and bought one.

At the time Microsoft had decided to enter into a market that really didn?t need another console and certainly didn?t need a new manufacturer making one.  However, even with some bad press, some serious issues with the console itself, and a lack of games for children, not the ones who were just young at heart, like me; the Xbox grew in popularity and the number of software titles available.  It was the first gaming console to integrate the ability to download fixes and enhancements to its operating system through games and eventually an online connection, the first to integrate a hard disk into a gaming console and even more impressive the first to offer a true online gaming experience.  Of course, as time went on these features became a part of other platforms as well, like Sony?s PlayStation 2.  In fact last year Sony introduced a newer version of their successful PlayStation 2 platform to integrate online connection into the main unit.

Xbox 360
Xbox 360 console w/hard drive and controller

Well, 2005 is the year of new game consoles once again coming to the market and Microsoft is not to be left out.  Earlier this year Nintendo and Sony introduced handheld gaming platforms with the possibility of introducing full blown consoles later this year. Microsoft has already blown the doors on their hidden secret though; they are going to introduce the replacement for the aging Xbox called the Xbox 360.  This new platform is poised to make the other platforms look anemic in comparison if all the information about the new console is true.

The Xbox 360 is light years ahead of the original Xbox.  In fact, although it shares the same name it really is nothing like its older sibling.  It was designed from the ground up to be a radical experience for people not only looking for a new and improved gaming environment, but also for people looking to get more out of a game console then just new games.  In fact, one thing that sets this unit apart from others is that it will contain not only the seeds for gaming communities, which the Xbox had, the ability to stream HD movies and television straight from your PC to the Xbox 360.

Hardware

Technically the Xbox 360 is a marvel of modern game console design.  It is based on a custom IBM Power-PC based CPU with three symetrical cores, which gives it the computing power to perform 9 billion dot operations per second.  This performance coupled with a new custom graphics processor from ATI featuring a polygon performance claimed at 500 million triangles per second makes it blinding fast at the generation of graphical content on the screen.  Together this power is harnessed to give the overall system the ability to perform 1 teraflop in floating point operations.  Basically this is one fast graphics gaming console.

Xbox 360However, the feature rich Xbox 360 doesn?t stop by having lightening fast graphical, mathematical and floating-point operations.  In addition to these specifications, the console has the ability to connect to the internet and/or Media Center PC right out of the box.  This is accomplished by the use of a wired Ethernet connection with an optional add-on which allows for wireless connections using 802.11a/b/g protocols, so whatever you are using, you should be good to go.  Once you?re connected, the unit really shows its stuff, so to speak.  Built into its basic functionality there are various interfaces to allow the user to experience gaming, digital media and Xbox Live.  These interfaces include buttons on the wired or wireless controllers, an Xbox Gamers? Guide, and even a way to personalize the various screens and the physical look of the console using interchangeable faceplates.

Aside from the gaming features of the new Xbox 360, Microsoft has included the ability to play DVDs directly out of the box, with its 12x dual layer DVD drive, unlike the original Xbox.  It also features the ability to connect with an optional video camera allowing for video messaging  in and out of games amongst other things.  Additionally, the Xbox 360 comes with a detachable and upgradeable 20 Gig hard drive which when combined with the included Windows Media Center interface allows for sharing of digital content and ripping music.  In fact, the unit has even been said, through some leaks to be able to work off portable music players such as Apple?s Ipod, to allow for even more sources of digital media.

The controllers for the Xbox 360 will be completely wireless so you no longer have to worry about cables getting in the way. You can however, plug the controller into one of the systems USB ports to charge its battery, or to simply continue game play when the controllers battery is low on juice.

Xbox 360 ControllerXbox 360 controller back

Xbox 360 Controller

One really cool thing about the Xbox 360 is that it is optimized to output HD video.  It has the ability to output all games and video sources at a 16:9 aspect ratio and 720p and 1080i resolutions.  Although as was noted earlier, Microsoft is using a DVD drive that does not contain the ability to play the new HD DVDs when they come to market, it will be able to play content through the Windows Media Interface. Hopefully the console will be upgradeable at some point in the future, but the unit does contain 3 USB 2.0 ports which might provide one way to attach any new drives.

Software

Of course no release of a game console would be complete without the announcement of software to make the unit come to life.  Microsoft has announced that out of the box the unit will come with a membership to Xbox Live at a silver level which will allow downloads to enhance certain games, the ability to try certain games, and access to Xbox Live Marketplace, which users can download community-created content.  In addition for the first month owners will be able to access the gold level of membership free which adds full access to the world of online gaming.  Additionally three companies, including Microsoft have announced they will have games available for the system at the time of its release during holiday season of this year, however, nowhere does it say if the current Xbox games will be compatible with the new system.

Full Auto
Full Auto for the Xbox 360 (click for a larger image)

 

Into the Unknown

There are a couple things that leave us a tad bit disappointed. First of all, there is no HD DVD support as was first speculated earlier in the year. According to Microsoft the cost to include this new technology is just too high and would drive the overall cost of the unit up. With Sony’s new PlayStation 3 console supposedly using Blu-Ray technology capable of storing 25GB of data on a single disc, Microsoft’s internal DVD drive can already look outdated.

Backwards compatibility has been a big issue with the new gaming consoles, and as of this writing, Microsoft is keeping very tight lipped as far as whether their new Xbox 360 will be able to play older Xbox titles. Our guess is that the company is scrambling to get backwards compatibility added before the console hits store shelves later this holiday season.

And lastly, Microsoft’s new marketplace feature just plain scares us. Sure it sounds cool in theory, being able to download extra content for a game including more levels, hints, customizable items and other types of online content. But since this extra content costs real money (billable to your Xbox Live account no doubt) could this mean that companies will purposely leave out levels or features in an attempt to charge you more money for them? No one likes a surprise when their bill hits the mailbox. Our guess is that the integrated Xbox Marketplace will be a huge failure and a big disappointment for gamers, Microsoft will have to be careful with this.

Conclusion

In short, the Microsoft Xbox 360 promises to be even more amazing then when the original Xbox came out in 2001.  It appears that Microsoft has again done its homework and unlike the last release where everyone was waiting for Microsoft to fail because it just wasn?t a ?gaming? company, this time everyone is waiting to see just how good the end product will be.  If it performs half as good as it appears on paper, has enough games available to appeal to different age groups and types of gamers, and of course doesn?t cost more then most people can afford, this might well be the holiday season Microsoft gets to strut it?s stuff, not only in the computer world, but the world of home gaming as well.  Personally, I can?t wait; I am after all a kid at heart and want to be the first to own one of these new Xbox 360s, even if I have to fight my kids to play it.

Technical Specifications

Custom IBM PowerPC-based CPU

  • Three symmetrical cores running at 3.2 GHz each
  • Two hardware threads per core; six hardware threads total
  • VMX-128 vector unit per core; three total
  • 128 VMX-128 registers per hardware thread
  • 1 MB L2 cache

CPU Game Math Performance

  • 9 billion dot product operations per second

Custom ATI Graphics Processor

  • 10 MB of embedded DRAM
  • 48-way parallel floating-point dynamically scheduled shader pipelines
  • Unified shader architecture

Polygon Performance

  • 500 million triangles per second

Pixel Fill Rate

  • 16 gigasamples per second fill rate using 4x MSAA

Shader Performance

  • 48 billion shader operations per second

Memory

  • 512 MB of 700 MHz GDDR3 RAM
  • Unified memory architecture

Memory Bandwidth

  • 22.4 GB/s memory interface bus bandwidth
  • 256 GB/s memory bandwidth to EDRAM
  • 21.6 GB/s front-side bus

Overall System Floating-Point Performance

  • 1 teraflop

Storage

  • Detachable and upgradeable 20GB hard drive
  • 12x dual-layer DVD-ROM
  • Memory Unit support starting at 64 MB

I/O

  • Support for up to four wireless game controllers
  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • Two memory unit slots

Online/Network Capabilities

  • Built-in Ethernet port
  • Wi-Fi ready: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g
  • Video camera ready
  • Subscription to Xbox Live Silver Level

Digital Media Support

  • Support for DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD, JPEG Photo CD
  • Ability to stream media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP-based PCs
  • Ability to rip music to the Xbox 360 hard drive
  • Custom playlists in every game
  • Built-in Media Center Extender for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • Interactive, full-screen 3-D visualizers

HD Game Support

  • All games supported at 16:9, 720p, and 1080i, anti-aliasing
  • Standard-definition and high-definition video output supported

Sound

  • Multi-channel surround sound output
  • Supports 48KHz 16-bit audio
  • 320 independent decompression channels
  • 32-bit audio processing
  • Over 256 audio channels
Movies & TV

How ‘invisible’ effects brought Winnie the Pooh to life in ‘Christopher Robin’

Christopher Robin earned an Academy Award nomination for the innovative way it merged Winnie the Pooh and other imaginary characters with its human cast in postwar London. Here's how visual effects studio Framestore worked its movie magic.
Gaming

Xbox One X vs. PS4 Pro: Which console is more powerful?

Far from cooling down, the console wars are only getting more intense. We compare Microsoft's Xbox One X to Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro to help you decide which premium console is right for you.
Gaming

Need to perform a factory reset on your Xbox One console? Here's how to do it

Whether you're upgrading to a One X and giving your old console to a friend, or troubleshooting a technical issue, sometimes your Xbox One needs a clean slate. Here's our quick guide on how to factory reset an Xbox One.
Gaming

How do Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X compare to each other? We find out

The Nintendo Switch is innovative enough to stand apart from traditional consoles, but could it become your primary gaming system? How does the Switch stack up against the Xbox One?
Gaming

How do the revised Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles stack up?

Microsoft's new Xbox One S and Sony's PlayStation 4 "Slim" have bucked the generational gaming console trend. But which of these stopgap systems is worth spending your paycheck on?
Movies & TV

Why First Man’s Oscar-winning visual effects are a giant leap for filmmaking

Paul Lambert, the award-winning visual effects supervisor on First Man, reveals the innovative techniques that made the Apollo 11 mission to the moon resonate with audiences 50 years later and won the film an Oscar at the 2019 Academy…
Computing

Long before Gates or Jobs, 6 women programmed the first digital computer

ENIAC was the world's first electronic digital computer, and it was programmed by a team of six women. Remembering their contributions could inspire more young women to pursue careers in the tech industry.
Photography

One of Nat Geo’s first female photographers captured stories others ignored

Annie Griffiths has spent 40 years as a photojournalist, starting her career as one of the first women photographers at National Geographic. She now runs her own nonprofit working to empower women around the globe.
Cars

Can electric motors finally make three-wheeled cars great?

Every few years, someone tries to sell a three-wheeled vehicle to Americans. Historically, it hasn’t gone very well. We’ve got our suspicions about why people don’t buy trikes, and they boil down to this: a trike is just not a real…
Features

Smart city planners are rethinking parking by getting rid of it

What will parking look like in smart cities of the future? Will we even need parking spaces? As more people are deserting car ownership, planners are coming up with concepts for parking.
Emerging Tech

Blockchain is overhyped, but it’s also perfect for California’s drought problem

With California’s aquifers overdrawn, the state is making a push to better regulate groundwater use, and a group of researchers have an intriguing solution, combining two exciting technologies: Blockchain and the internet of things.
Gaming

Devil May Cry is an aging series, but its demon hunters still party hard

It has been more than a decade since we've been to Capcom's original Devil May Cry series, and it has returned in a big way with Devil May Cry 5. The game revels in excess to great effect.
Photography

13 inspiring female photographers to follow on Instagram

On International Women's Day, here are some known and lesser-known women photographers to fill your Instagram feed with inspiration, from travel and street photography to fine art and commercial work.
Smart Home

Alexa may be everywhere, but it’s Google’s Assistant I want in my home. Here’s why

The Amazon Alexa may have the Google Home beat in quantity of skills and compatibility with other products, but does that really matter when Alexa falls flat for day-to-day conversation?