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Microsoft Xbox 360 Pro

Microsoft Xbox 360 Pro - First Take

Editors' note: We've received our Xbox 360 review sample and have initiated a whirlwind testing process so that we can post a comprehensive hands-on review as soon as possible. In the meantime, check out CNET's Xbox 360 Central, where you'll find in-depth looks at all the launch titles, hot games coming soon, the best Xbox 360 accessories, a full FAQ section, and even a complete list of compatible Xbox 1 titles that will play on the Xbox 360. (11/15/2005)

Half the fun of a next-generation console comes from the furious rumormongering that precedes its arrival, and the Microsoft Xbox 360 has been no exception. The waiting is just about over, but there's still plenty of new information hitting the Web every day. Our hands-on review will be completed soon; in the meantime, it's time to recap and see which rumored features of the Xbox 360 have been confirmed, which have been shot down, and which remain firmly in the realm of speculation.

Confirmed: what we know
Pricing and availability: The Xbox 360 is scheduled to be available for purchase in North America on November 22 (the Tuesday before Thanksgiving). International launches will follow soon after: December 2 in Europe and December 10 in Japan. Look for two versions of the 360 to hit store shelves: a $299 edition (dubbed the Core System) that comes with one wired controller, a detachable faceplate, and standard A/V cables; and a souped-up $399 version that ships with a 20GB hard drive, a wireless controller, a wireless headset, a limited-edition wireless Media Center remote (for the initial batch, at least), and HD-capable component A/V cables. Both SKUs will include a basic Xbox Live Silver membership.

Hardware: In addition to an IBM PowerPC-based CPU running at 3.2GHz and 0.5GB of RAM, the 360 sports a customized ATI graphics processor capable of advanced antialiasing and shader effects. What that technical jargon means, in practice, is that the new Xbox will have the processing power to deliver true 720p and 1080i wide-screen HDTV images for all of its games (by contrast, most games for the original Xbox maxed out at a DVD-level 480p). Multichannel surround sound is also standard, and the 360 natively supports up to four wireless controllers to cut down on cable clutter.

DVD vs. Blu-ray: The Xbox 360's optical drive is a standard DVD model. While using tried-and-true DVD technology may keep costs down, it also limits the games to just 8.5GB of space--that's pretty tight for high-def cut-scenes. By contrast, the PlayStation 3 will use a next-generation Blu-ray drive, which means more space for games (at least 25GB per disc) and compatibility with one of the competing high-def movie formats vying to replace DVD. Rumors persist that the 360 will get an HD-DVD drive at some point, but with Microsoft on an aggressive four-year console upgrade schedule, we're likely to see the third iteration of the Xbox (November 2009?) before we see a "360.1" with HD-DVD.

Appearance: The new Xbox is notably smaller and more curvaceous than its brutish predecessor. The front panel is dominated by an oversize power button, but the look and feel can be customized with a variety of interchangeable faceplates. Furthermore, the Xbox 360 can be mounted vertically or horizontally, à la the PlayStation 2.

What's going to be better: Xbox 360 or PS3?
Multiplayer: The success of the current generation of Xbox Live has led Microsoft to expand and enhance the next generation of the broadband online service. It will now be available in Silver and Gold tiers, with the former offering limited functionality to all Xbox 360 users and the latter continuing the premium services Xbox Live users currently enjoy. But the big step up is the Xbox Live Marketplace, which will serve as an online launch platform for downloading value-added content, such as new demos, levels, maps, and skins. Don't expect giveaways, however; Microsoft and third-party publishers will be looking to monetize Xbox Live beyond the flat yearly fee.

Launch titles: Microsoft has announced a slate of 18 games available on or before November 22. Several more titles will be available before the end of 2005.

Peripherals and accessories: A full list of accessories from Microsoft and various third-party manufacturers will be available concurrently with the Xbox 360. Initial peripherals include wired and wireless controllers, A/V cables for connecting to standard and high-definition TVs and monitors, and wireless networking adapters.

Nongaming capabilities: The Xbox 360's built-in ability to serve as a Media Center Extender will let users stream digital video, audio, and photos from networked PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition. Microsoft is also promising the "ability to stream media from portable music devices, digital cameras, and Windows XP-based PCs." Last but not least, the 360 will double as a CD/DVD player.

Backward compatibility: When Microsoft announced the Xbox 360, one of the big questions people had was whether it would be backward compatible with original Xbox games. Microsoft originally promised compatibility with "the most popular Xbox titles," leading some to speculate that the list wouldn't go much beyond the two Halo games. In fact, the full list of compatible games is more than 200 titles. Naturally, a few titles you think would be on the list aren't, but Microsoft has said additional titles will be added, and we'll update the list as Microsoft expands it. In order to play these games on your Xbox 360, you'll need a model with the hard drive attached for storing the software emulator code required to run the game. A broadband Internet connection enables quick, easy, and free downloads of the emulators from Xbox Live.

Bells and whistles: One of the latest Xbox 360 rumors is that the console's controllers will accept QWERTY-style keyboard attachments. The evidence behind this conjecture amounts to some camera phone-quality pictures of overseas technical presentations, so you'll want to take this news with a grain of salt.

The bottom line
The Xbox 360 is by far the most fleshed-out of the next-generation consoles. We know how much it'll cost, when it'll be available, and what games will be playable at launch; unfortunately, since we still know so little about its next-generation competitors, it's hard to definitively weigh in on which machine will reign supreme. That said, screenshots from Xbox 360 titles such as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter look absolutely stunning, leading us to believe that the Xbox 360 will likely be a worthwhile investment, if an expensive one.

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