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Microsoft Xbox 360 High Definition Home Entertainment Console

Part III

May, 2006

Kris Deering

 

Getting Started

Setting up the Xbox 360 is simple, but it does take some time. When the console first starts up, you run through a quick set-up that covers the main bases, including output resolution, sound formats, location of console, and your "Gamertag".

The Gamertag is your identity on the console as well as on Xbox Live if you want. All of your data will be saved with that tag. After your done with the initial set-up, you can do some customizing. The Xbox 360 Premium Kit comes with a hard drive that is pre-loaded with quite a few custom themes that are similar to what you'll find with a PC. These themes include background images, colors, and fonts. You can download a wide variety of themes from the Xbox Live Marketplace including themes from your favorite games, sport themes, and movie themes.  

After the set-up, you establish your Internet connection and register your 360 and your Xbox Live account. This requires a credit card to activate and to get credits for use within the Marketplace. Again, this was quite easy but somewhat tedious at times without the use of a normal keyboard. If you have a wireless keyboard or a USB keyboard you can connect it to speed things up. 

Once everything was established I started checking out the interface. The 360 has a "blade" system that is extremely intuitive and very cool to use. Each area of the system has its own blade, including games, Live Marketplace, media, and set-up. These blades expand as you select the appropriate one. From these blades you can pick a game to play, browse the Marketplace, download Live Arcade games, or manage your music or pictures. You can also add friends, chat with them, or invite them to play a game on Xbox Live.

 

Once I had everything working and had the user interface down, it was time to decide on the activity. Did I want to play a standard game or play on Live Arcade? Did I want to play some music or see how my photos look on the big screen? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The Next Generation of Gaming

Of course the first thing I wanted to do was try out some of the new games and see if this console was truly a big improvement over the already impressive Xbox. The difference ended up being huge. Graphically, the Xbox 360 is leaps and bounds above its predecessor, especially if you have an HD monitor that is on the larger side. For this review, I used a 78" diagonal projection screen and several different high definition projectors. Color, detail, depth of image, and just the "Wow" factor went up tremendously.

Some games look so good that they border on photorealism. Playing Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3), I was a bit disappointed to see some aliasing that I was hoping that the next generation would have gotten rid of, but I was also floored by the realism of the environments I was racing in. Driving the New York City course, I was astonished at how much detail and realism there were as I looked out the side of the car at the bridge's suspension cables. The patterns they create at those speeds looked WAY too real. The fence lines on the Vegas tracks were the same way, I could literally make out the chain link mesh, even at high speeds!

 

Call of Duty 2 had some of the best color and depth I've ever seen in a game, and the 5.1 soundtrack sounded better than most Hollywood A-list action movies with planes flying overhead and explosions filling the room. Of all the launch titles this one impressed me the most. It was like literally being in the action at all times, and the quality of graphics and sound design was just impeccable. No other game had ever brought me into the action like this before.

 

Recently I had the chance to pick up Ghost Recon Advanced Warrior, and once again the bar was raised. The level of graphic prowess in this game is unmatched by anything I've seen to date and is jaw-dropping every time I see it. Lighting effects, and even heat distortion are amazing. The soundtrack just ties it all together, and the game can be unsettlingly real at times. To say that this is next generation gaming would be an understatement. I can only imagine what games will look like in about a year as development for the system gets better and better.

 

I then moved on to Xbox Live Arcade and my new weakness, Geometry Wars. This game cost me about $5 to buy and it was probably the best investment I've ever made in gaming. The design and premise of the game is simple enough, but it becomes addicting FAST. As I mentioned before, the graphics start out quite simple, but as the action gets busier, the sprites really start coming out. The amount of action on the screen at certain times becomes daunting, and what seemed like simple graphics before now becomes awe inspiring. It is really something what Microsoft has done here. They have essentially resurrected the "simple" game concept and delivered it to our homes effortlessly. I am really excited to see where Live Arcade goes over the next few years.

Xbox Live

For the Xbox Live experience, I mainly used PGR3. My brother got a 360 for Christmas, so on occasion, we have a play night and meet up online. Getting into a race together is very simple; he creates a track and the rules and simply invites me in. Once I accept the invitation, everything is a go, and we can chat over the headsets the whole time. PGR3 is also quite cool because I can tell the game to use the music on my server instead of the soundtrack on the game itself. So now my music is playing during the race, and I can use my small remote to skip tracks, and it doesn't affect game play at all. It even tells me what the name of the song and artist is as the song starts!!

Conclusions

To say that I am impressed with the Xbox 360 would be the understatement of understatements. This console fit right into my home theater and delivered an experience I never thought I would see from a console anytime soon.

Having full access to my music library, photos, and videos is just icing on the cake. The game experience is incredible, and the whole Live concept is amazing. The fact that I can download parts of games to try out without the hassle of having to rent or buy them is a brilliant idea, especially for those of us who don't want to shell out cash on a whim. The Live Arcade also has lots of potential and has become my guilty pleasure. I don't think I could recommend this thing any more, it's a must-have for gaming fans and gadget freaks alike!!!
 

- Kris Deering -

Associated Equipment:

Sony VPL-HS51 3LCD Digital Projector
Stewart Filmscreen Deluxe Velux Studiotek 130 78" diagonal screen
Denon DVD-5910 Universal DVD Player
DVDO VP30 Video Processor
Anthem Statement D2 Surround Sound Processor
Anthem Statement A5 & A2 Amplifiers
Onix Reference 3 Loudspeakers
Paradigm Signature ADP Surround Speakers (movie playback only)
Dual SVS CS-25-31 cylinders & SVS PB-12/2+ SubwoofersExact Power EP-15A and SP-15x4

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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