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PRINT ARTIST INSTANT PHOTOEXPERT WIN 95/98 review:

Print Artist Instant Photoexpert

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The Good Easy setup; nice interface; one year of service included; decent game selection; solid performance; every game is voice-enabled.

The Bad Don't know how much the service will cost after the first-year subscription expires; no dial-up service.

The Bottom Line The Xbox's Microsoft-controlled, broadband-only online gaming service is a step ahead of PS2 Online.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.0 Overall

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With its Xbox Live, Microsoft has taken a very different approach to online console gaming than Sony and Nintendo have. The key difference is that Microsoft itself, not the individual game developers, hosts the online portion of the games. This "walled garden" strategy appears to be good for gamers--at least until Microsoft starts charging a yet-to-be-announced monthly fee after your free yearlong subscription expires.With its Xbox Live, Microsoft has taken a very different approach to online console gaming than Sony and Nintendo have. The key difference is that Microsoft itself, not the individual game developers, hosts the online portion of the games. This "walled garden" strategy appears to be good for gamers--at least until Microsoft starts charging a yet-to-be-announced monthly fee after your free yearlong subscription expires.

Design
Open the Xbox Live Starter Kit, and you'll find the two main components: a headset and a software disc. Unlike with the PS2 Online kit, you won't need a network adapter; an Ethernet port is already installed in the back of your Xbox. However, it's worth reiterating that you'll need some sort of broadband service to fire up Live; it doesn't support a dial-up connection as PS2 Online and GameCube online do.

To get going, just run an Ethernet cable from the Xbox to your broadband modem (cable or DSL) or router. In our case, we tried both options; first, we went directly to our cable modem, then connected the Xbox to Microsoft's MN-500 wireless base station.

Both hookups worked flawlessly; our Xbox automatically configured the online settings, once it detected our Time Warner EarthLink cable service. Microsoft is supporting most of the major broadband ISPs (see the full list), and if you subscribe to one of them, you won't have to manually input any settings. Note: Currently, AOL Broadband is not supported. However, AOL does plan to offer Xbox support in the near future for an additional $4.95 monthly fee.

One part of the setup that's a little tedious is inputting all of your account info, including your mailing address, phone number, and credit card info. Since there's currently no keyboard available for the Xbox, you'll have use the onscreen virtual one. As part of the setup, you'll be asked to establish a screen name, or gamertag, which will appear to other Xbox Live players. Another person can play with you on the same Xbox, but he or she will appear as your gamertag's guest.

Once you've set up your account, getting an online game going is a straightforward affair. Insert a Live-enabled game, toggle down to Play Live in the game mode menu system, and enter the Live "lobby," where you can look for opponents or create your own game for others to join. You can opt to filter opponents (OptiMatch) based on skill level and other parameters. Also, you'll be able to tell who has a good connection and who doesn't. The interface is essentially the same for every game, which we found to be a plus.

The included Communicator is similar to the single earpiece headset you use with a cordless phone. It snaps into the top of any Xbox controller and can be adjusted to fit either ear. Conveniently, there's a built-in volume control and a mute button.

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