Don't be fooled by the Xbox 360's raft of multimedia capabilities. Microsoft's new console is a games machine first and foremost, Microsoft's Home and Entertainment Division Regional Director for Australia and New Zealand David McLean says.
Microsoft's Home and Entertainment Division Regional Director for Australia and New Zealand David McLean.
In an interview with CNET.com.au less than six weeks before the 360's launch (read our full review here), McLean, who is spearheading the 360's release locally, was happy to spruik the console's multimedia capabilities, but took pains to assure gamers that the new Xbox is at its core a powerful gaming machine.
"As we developed the console we found that there were opportunities to add some interesting features around it, to do more with movies, photos, videos, music and other things that are important to users," he said. "But at its heart, (the 360 has) been built as the best video gaming machine that's going to be available in this generation. That is what it's all about for the gamer.
"First and foremost they're going to get new realism in gaming. They're going to get graphics like they've never seen before, they're going to see power in a console that they've never seen before. There's going to be some amazing gameplay experiences. There's wireless freedom in everything you do with Xbox 360, and in addition to that, they're going to see some great new services with the updated Live service."
Central to the improved game experience is the new Xbox's ability to output all of its games at high definition resolutions, McLean says. All launch 360 games and upcoming titles can be outputted at 720p resolution, with many able to display at an even better 1080i. What this means is much improved graphics that display crisp, clear lines, realistic textures and smooth movement. Of course, you'll need a HD-capable television to be able to get the most out of the 360, but McLean doesn't see that as a deterrent for those punters still stuck with analog set.
"We realised you could have a good, better, best experience with video games in the same way you have that experience with TV. If you want the best experience with TV, it'll be in high def, he said.
"What HD gives is the opportunity to have that realism in gaming that we've never been able to see before. So you really, truly can, with a high def TV and Xbox 360, believe you're your own character in a movie that you're actually controlling. If you don't have high def, you're still going to have a fantastically rich experience with Xbox 360, and it's still going to take you to the next level, far beyond what you've seen in the current generation. But it's about optimising that experience, and we've made sure our console is future proof and that it's able to support high def, which we think is going to be very pervasive in the next couple of years.
"We actually expect that Xbox 360 will be one of those devices that will really push HDTV adoption in the Australian marketplace."
It's what happens beyond the console, however, that has McLean the most excited. The streamlined, more integrated and improved Xbox Live service will build on the already strong reputation of Live, McLean says, and will be the main entertainment experience its competitors (Sony and Nintendo) will find hardest to replicate with their next-generation consoles.
|''We actually expect that Xbox 360 will be one of those devices that will really push HDTV adoption in the Australian marketplace.''
David McLean, Microsoft Australia
The new Live is no longer an interesting add-on to the Xbox experience -- it's practically integral to it. Just as a having a HD television will bring out the best in a 360, becoming involved in the global community of Live will enhance the experience with the console. All Xbox 360 owners will automatically receive a Silver membership to Live, which allows them access to services such as the Live Marketplace, voice chat, free downloads and more. Buying a Gold membership will allow gamers to play others online and to take part in tournaments.
"My family are all in the UK - and I'm looking forward to playing FIFA with my cousin when that game comes out, because I'm a dedicated Arsenal supporter. But around that I can also show him photos of my family and my new baby. I can also show him videos and share music experiences with him, whilst we're online, whilst we're waiting to play the next game," McLean said.
"When we built Xbox Live and put that framework in place, we thought about how people interact. Not just in gaming, but how they communicate right now outside of gaming. And the heritage of Microsoft as a software company for over two decades now really talks to our ability in this area. We know software, we know how to get people connected with each other.
"I think that will be a real hurdle for our competitors. It will be very hard for them to build up the knowledge, the experience, the capacity, the technical know-how and the software excellence and developer skills required to build the type of online service we've already done."
Microsoft is also hoping to steal a march on the likes of Sony by integrating various multimedia capabilities into the 360. The plan is to have the 360 become the default hub of the living room, where all media (not just games) can be controlled. Microsoft has built-in Media Center capabilities into each 360, meaning you can hook it up (via your home network) to any PC running Windows XP or Media Center and have all of your digital content stream from one room to another.
And in an unusually open move (for Microsoft, at any rate), the Xbox 360 has built-in support for a wide range of other consumer electronic devices. MP3 players, cameras, portable game devices and more can be plugged into a 360 via USB 2.0, with the 360 able to access and play any stored content. Not all file formats are supported, of course, but it's still almost puzzling to see an Apple iPod or Sony PSP plugged into a Microsoft product.
"Everybody is different, we all have different consumer electronic devices, we all have different digital lifestyle experiences, therefore we should have a ubiquitous device that allows people to connect what they want, when they want," McLean said.
"That's our philosophical approach, and we think it's the right one for customers.
"But I say again, at its heart, this is the most powerful video gaming console that will be available in this next generation - that is what it's all about."
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