Nintendo has been making gaming gear since the 1980s. The first PlayStation hit in the mid-1990s. But Microsoft is a relative newcomer to the gaming world, having debuted the Xbox in late 2001. Here's a brief history of how it's developed over the years to become a pre-eminent gaming brand.
The original Xbox
The first Xbox hit stores on November 15, 2001 for $299.99, going head-to-head with the Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. Among its launch titles was the first Halo game, an Xbox exclusive and the console's first major must-have franchise.
Just four years later (November 22, 2005), Microsoft was introducing the second-generation Xbox. The "Xbox 2" was actually called the Xbox 360: The console had a removable faceplate, a 20GB hard drive, and no internal Wi-Fi. (A $99 USB Wi-Fi dongle had to be purchased separately.) And while it lacked HDMI output -- that was added in later versions -- it was the first console designed from the ground up for HD graphics. The 360 got a year's head start on the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii (which didn't hit until November 2006), but the hardware was notoriously unreliable, suffering from the infamous "red ring of death" problem.
The 20GB Xbox 360 retailed for $399 at launch; a $299 version with no hard drive was also available.
Xbox 360 Elite
Microsoft kept tweaking and iterating the 360's design. By April 2007, the all-black Xbox 360 Elite was available, adding onboard HDMI output and a larger 120GB hard drive -- for a whopping $480.
At E3 2010, Microsoft introduced the Xbox 360S, a slimmed-down version of the 360 that finally included built-in Wi-Fi and a capacious 250GB hard drive for $299. The new design also left behind the red ring glitches that had plagued the original. By this time, the 360 was also doubling as an important media device, with Netflix and other streaming services hitting the platform starting in 2008.
Also in 2010, Microsoft introduced the Kinect, its answer to Nintendo's Wii, which had been a surprise hit. In addition to adding motion control to the 360, the Kinect also included a built-in camera. While it sold well, not many games ended up taking advantage of the Kinect's added functionality -- but the "use your body as the controller" mantra certainly added buzz to the 360 platform.
Introduced at E3 2013, the Xbox 360E shrunk Microsoft's console a bit more, wringing some more life out of the platform even as the Xbox One was about to hit. You can get this version for $250 or less this holiday season, often bundled with a game or two. At that price, it's a good deal.
The Xbox One hit stores on November 22, 2013, just a week after the PS4. It costs $499 and includes a second-generation Kinect. The One's focus goes beyond gaming, with unique live TV integration made possible with its HDMI passthrough function. However, its voice and motion controls recall the early days of Siri; the technology is promising, but not yet perfected. But with console lifespans stretching half a decade or more, there's plenty of time for the Xbox One to deliver on its promise of "one box to rule them all."