Review: Xbox 360 - InformationWeek

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Review: Xbox 360

Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 features stunning video performance and awesome game play, especially on a wide-screen, high-definition TV. The many new media-playing features are pretty good, too. But don’t rush out and buy one. They’re all sold out -- for now.

Microsoft took a brave new design onboard when it came to the heart of the Xbox -- its processor. In a typical gamer’s PC you would install the fastest single processor you could afford, overclock it until it was in danger of melting down, and use active cooling to prevent that. Not here. Instead, they used three “symmetrical IBM cores” clocked at 3.2 GHz and able to do a teraflop (one trillion floating-point operations per second). Graphics is provided by a 500 MHz ATI processor, which shares the installed 512MB of GDDR3 RAM, expandable via two 64MB RAM slots.

Unpacking the Xbox 360 quickly reveals a few key pieces of information about the device. The first thing you notice is plentiful ventilation throughout the sides and back. You also notice that the unit weighs less than a PC. Microsoft was able to make the Xbox 360 smaller because the power supply has been moved out of the unit. The power supply “brick” is the first one I’ve seen with ventilation holes in it. Considering the amount of power this unit consumes, the heavy solid construction of the unit is more then welcome. Based on those reports of crashing, it is likely that many of the problems are heat related. (It’s important to make sure that the 360 and its external power supply have good airflow.)

Initial setup of our Xbox 360 was simple and straightforward, though we were momentarily confused by the HDTV component cable setup, which differs from previous Xboxes.

On the older Xbox, using the HDTV component video output cable also put out a component video signal for non-HDTV resolution sets, a capability which is missing from the component video cable that comes with the premium system, and thus relegating non HDTV owners to using the regular composite video output.

Another interesting aspect of the component video cable is that switching the slider switch on the connector from HDTV to TV mode forces the 360 to do an instant reboot into the new display mode.

Once we had the 360 setup, it was time to check out the media capabilities of the unit. Plugging the 360 into our wired Ethernet network, the device immediately picked up an IP address from our routers DHCP. Plugging in a 5th generation iPod to one of the front USB ports registered the iPod’s name in the music section of the 360’s media page and exposed the player's music and playlists to the 360’s media player. To share music and photos from a Windows XP system over the network to the 360, you are prompted to install the Windows Media Connect client from the Web site. However, you can’t copy music from your networked computer or iPod to the 360’s hard drive. The only way to do that is to rip an audio CD with the 360.

Video playback on the 360 requires you to either have a Windows Media Center PC on your network to stream from, unless you’re happy with downloaded video from the Xbox Live Marketplace. The 360’s video support is limited to the video codecs supported by other Windows Media Extender devices, so there’s no support for MPEG-4, Quicktime, H.264, Xvid or Divx video codecs -- until Microsoft adds them. One thing we liked at the Xbox Live Marketplace was the ability to view various movie trailers for upcoming films in HD resolutions.

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