Microsoft just dropped the price for the Xbox 360 Arcade to $200, and a lot of folks seem to be wondering whether Nintendo or Sony should be more worried. If this were the full-featured Xbox, there would be little doubt, at least for Sony, that the answer would be yes. But this is the Arcade product – which is more targeted at the Wii, but still misses the point of that product.
The Xbox Arcade is actually one of the very best media extenders in the market, for the price, and for those of us who like to move our music and video around the house, $200 for a media extender with the capability of the Xbox 360 is one heck of a bargain. It has a built in scaler (not a great one, but at least it has one), a DVD player, and it can stream video from a PC, UPnP server, or Xbox Live. That gives it more capability (if you include the games) than Apple TV and it costs substantially less thanks to the game subsidy.
Media Extenders have never really sold that well. Most are both too expensive and too limited to garner much of an audience, and the user interfaces are typically rudimentary. The best ones currently on the market that are also affordable are the Apple TV and the new HP MediaSmart Connect.
While I have a number of these products myself, the one I use most often is the Sonos, which only does music , but it sets the gold standard with regard to both the user experience and ease of use. On my last review of NPS scores (a new way to measure customer satisfaction), Sonos was the only tech company that outscored Apple, and it did so by a significant margin.
Of course, if money is no object, the best solution is Kaleidescape. But you’re typically talking around $30K to start with for just a two-room solution installed. This is what the folks who make movies and run companies have, but unfortunately, it’s outside of most of our price ranges. It’s an amazing system though, and if someone could figure out how to make it affordable it would own the segment. By the way, for you Blu-ray fans, Kaleidescape makes a DVD player that they argue rivals the quality of Blu-ray.
Xbox Arcade as an Extender
None of these extender solutions will play games, which the Xbox 360 Arcade clearly is designed to, and all cost much more than the Arcade. If you want a media extender that does music, movies, and can even play games, then nothing else actually comes close for the money. Granted, the vastly more expensive PS3 looks more like a media extender to me, and if you like Blu-ray it remains the best value on the market, but it still lags behind the Xbox 360 for online content. The extender part, while vastly improved this year, also lags behind the Xbox in terms of ease of use. (For instance, the last Sony patch really hosed my PS3’s ability to even see UPnP devices.) The Xbox 360 Arcade doesn’t have a hard drive, so downloading movies may be a problem, but it will stream them if your network is fast enough.
If the Xbox Arcade only looked more like a media extender, less like a gaming system, and was a bit quieter, it would be perfect. For the money, no other product really comes close to its capability. And that is something to think about if you want to move media around your home and can put the Xbox out of sight.
Personally, I think I’d pay the extra $100 and get the hard drive, but at $200 the Arcade is a real value. $200 is the magic number where products like this typically go vertical, so we’ll see if this happens here. I think it will depend on whether people see the Arcade for what it can do, or for what it can’t do. While not perfect, at $200 it may be the best value for an extender in the segment at the moment.
Modding an Xbox or Wii
If you want to improve how your 360 looks, you can do what I did: spend $60 and about 30 minutes to mod the Xbox so it looks a whole lot better. (Hint it only takes 30 minutes if you remember to install the new DVD ejector button, if you forget, add an hour.) I ordered a case from Extreme Mods, and my Xbox 360 now overshadows my PS3 in terms of looks. They have a Wii case that looks really cool, too.
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