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Live it up: 10 steps to get your Xbox online

For those Xbox Live newbies out there, CNET.com.au is here to help with this handy guide to getting your console online.

Randolph Ramsay
Randolph was previously a member of the CNET Australia team and now works for Gamespot.
Randolph Ramsay
5 min read

Editor's note This article refers to the original Xbox console and Xbox Live. For help with Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, please read our article here.

If you're not playing your Xbox online on Xbox Live, then you're missing out on the best the console has to offer.

Sure there's plenty of offline gaming to be had, but with more and more games coming out with extensive on-line capabilities, there's a whole new world of gaming to explore. Games like Halo 2 and Forza Motorsport come alive on Xbox Live, and you'll never be wanting for some multiplayer action from players in Australia and around the world.

For those Xbox Live newbies out there, CNET.com.au is here to help with these ten handy tips to getting your console online. The tips below should answer most of your Xbox Live questions, but email us on cnet@cnet.com.au if there's anything else you'd like to know. Otherwise, visit Microsoft's Xbox Live site for more information. Happy fragging!

What do I need for Xbox Live?

Before you get to play the goodness that is Forza online, you'll need a few essentials.
  • An Xbox (obviously)
  • A broadband Internet connection
  • An Xbox Live Starter Kit
  • An Ethernet cable
  • A credit card

What type of broadband connection do I need?

If you're on a dial-up, ISDN or satellite internet connection, then forget it - Xbox Live is for high speed broadband connections through cable or DSL only. The minimum broadband speed Microsoft recommends is 256K for download and 64K for uploads - check with your service provider to confirm what your speeds are. These minimum speeds will get you a fairly lag free gaming experience, although faster connections will obviously mean a smoother experience at most times. A fast download speed is the most important spec, although if you plan on hosting your own online games sessions then having decent upload speed becomes vital as well.

What's an Xbox Live Starter Kit?

An Xbox Live Starter Kit, which you'll find at most stores selling Xbox consoles or games, contains some vital components you'll need to get online. The kit includes a disc which updates yours Xbox Dashboard with Live functionality, a headset that you connect to your controller which allows you to interact with other gamers online, and some demo games. The AU$99.95 Xbox Live Starter Kit price also gives you a 12-month subscription to the Xbox Live service, which begins from when you first sign up.

Why do I need a credit card?

Even though you've already paid for a 12-month Live subscription, you'll still need a valid credit card to be able to complete the online registration. Microsoft says this is an added security measure they use for account verification, and the card will not be charged any extra fees. A note of caution though - if you do not specifically cancel your Live account after 12 months, it will be automatically renewed and the charge slugged on your card.

How do hook up my Xbox to my broadband connection?

First of all, you'll need an Ethernet cable to hook up your Xbox to your broadband modem/router. Ethernet cable, commonly used for computer networking, has a head that looks similar to a phone connector but is slightly larger. Once you've plugged one end of the Ethernet cable into the back of your Xbox, you have a choice of either plugging the other end directly into your modem (if you want a dedicated connection) or through a router (if you want to share the Internet connection with your PC). A direct connection through a modem is probably preferable, especially if your broadband speed is at the lower end of the range and you don't want a shared connection with a PC to result in laggy gaming. But if you have multiple devices that need to be on the Internet at the same time, then having a router connection is the best bet. There is also a third way of connecting to Xbox Live, which is useful if your cable or DSL modem is USB-based, or is an internal PCI modem. Internet connection sharing is a more complex connection, with more information on how to get online found here.

Once all the cables are connected, then it's a simple matter of turning on the Xbox and following the on-screen prompts on your television to set up the Live account.

OK, I'm online. What games can I play on Xbox Live?

There are dozens of games that can be played on Xbox Live, with more to come. And it's not just online gameplay - some games will have new areas, maps or other features that can be downloaded from Live. Most games will state on their packaging if they're Xbox Live compatible, but for a full list, click here. Some of the recent games CNET.com.au has reviewed with Live play include Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Brothers In Arms, the excellent Forza Motorsport, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, Doom 3, and of course Halo 2.

How much data does Live use up?

If you've got a metered broadband account - one of those that only allow a certain amount of information to be downloaded and uploaded every month - then be mindful that playing on Live can chew up some MBs. On average, 10-20MB an hour is downloaded when playing on Xbox Live, though that figure changes from game to game. For example a one on one race in Forza Motorsport won't be too demanding in data, but a 16-player Halo 2 Slayer session is likely to create higher levels of data transfer.

When is the best time to play on Live?

Most people jump onto Live on evenings and weekends, so that's probably the best time to get onboard as there will be more people online that you can play. Generally you have more choices of games to play when there are more people online available to play, particularly with those on your friends list.

I've got a modded Xbox. Can I still get online with Live?

The short answer is no. Microsoft doesn't support any Xboxes that have been modded in any way, with a spokesperson saying that : "The Xbox Live team has recently installed additional security measures to make sure that consumers have a fun, fair, and cheat-free environment in which to compete and play."

Any other tips for getting online with Live?

Of course! The most important is to maximise the connection speed Live has to play with. If you've got a computer sharing the connection, then make sure you're not downloading something at the same time as you're playing on Live.

When you're online, make sure you're joining games (that is, servers hosting a particular game session) that have a good connection. Most games you try to join will have some sort of indicator showing how strong the connection is - this is usually expressed as a series of green bars or dots. The more bars, the faster and more stable the connection. Also, make sure these games haven't exceeded their maximum player limit, another possible cause for lag and slowdown.