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Xbox 360 Console

Product: Xbox 360 Console
Company: Microsoft
Website: Official Xbox 360 Site
Estimated Street Price: $399.99 £279.99
Review By: Brian Kvalheim & Byron Hinson

Blade Guide

As many of you already know, the User Interface of the Xbox 360 consists of four main “blades” these hold information such as Live! Stats, Your Downloads, System settings, Media Player and movie playing stuff. These are really well designed and the UI is far better than anything seen on the original Xbox, but not only is the UI far better to use, its also much better to look at and I don’t mean just because we have entered the realms of High-Definition. It is colourful, fast and pretty to look at. Microsoft have made some excellent design decisions with the guide, it is well layed out and easy to read for a start off, everything has its own place and isn't hard to get to either, it really is just about the perfect media UI.

Xbox Live!

This blade is the first one that loads when you turn on your Xbox 360. The blade contains things like your gamer profile, gamerscore and what your preferred zone to play in is. If you want to you can click on your profile name and setup your account to login to Xbox Live! Automatically if you have an account, if you don’t have one you can setup either a basic free silver membership or a full gold account.

As a Silver Member you can:

  • Create a gamer profile
    Pick a gamertag and build a gamer profile. You can choose a gamer picture to distinguish yourself from the crowd, put up your personal motto and pick a Gamer Zone.
  • Create and maintain a friends list
    Make new friends, keep tabs on old ones and build online communities.
  • Access Xbox Live Arcade and Marketplace
    Check out demos and trailers and buy great casual arcade games like the classic Galaga or the smash hit Bejeweled.
  • Messaging
    The next generation of Xbox Live on Xbox 360 enables system-wide messaging regardless of the game you're playing, with some amazing features to boot...
    • Inbox
      immediately see if you have any messages at the touch of a button. The Message Centre Inbox is set up like the standard email inbox. You can even send messages to multiple recipients - up to 100 at once! Now there's a quick way to set up a gaming session with your friends.
    • Voice messaging
      Record, send, and receive personal messages over the Xbox 360 Headset.
    • Text messaging
      Send and receive text messages via the same Inbox. With the new multi-purpose input on all Xbox 360 controllers, you can even use a Text Input Device (or TID - essentially a tiny handheld keyboard) to make the process even easier.
    • Family Settings
      Parents can use the Family Settings feature to limit what can be sent and received in the Message Centre, as well as who can contact a younger gamer.
  • Access massively multiplayer games
    MMOs come with their own subscription plan, so even if you're not a fully-fledged Xbox Live Gold member you can participate in this growing phenomenon.
Silver Membership is the perfect introduction to the new Xbox Live and everything it has to offer. After all, more than two million members can't be wrong. As a Gold member, you get everything as above along with the ability to play Live! Games over the Live! Service. The next part on the Xbox Live! Blade is the Messages area; from here you can send and receive messages from other online Live! Friends. Next you have the Friends area, this shows you how many of your online buddies are online, what they are playing and you can add new friends from here whenever you want to.Finally we have what I would class as one of the best parts of the Xbox 360, the Xbox Live! Marketplace. From here you can download free demos, videos and trailers. There are also items you have to pay for such as gamer tag pictures, theme and you can also purchase Xbox Live! Arcade games from here too.
  • Easy access: Xbox Live Marketplace is accessible as soon as you sign on to Xbox Live, whether you're a Silver or Gold Member. Sign in to Marketplace as soon as you're connected -- and, as you've no doubt heard, your Xbox 360 connects right out of the box! Just plug it into your existing broadband connection and you're in.
  • No credit card: In fact, no credit card is required for almost everything about Xbox Live, but especially in Xbox Live Marketplace. Instead of using a credit card you might not have (or might not want to use online), you can purchase prepaid cards at various store locations that give you a set limit to spend.
  • Membership levels: Everyone gets access to the Xbox Live Marketplace, but Gold members get a little bit more. Gold members often will get the chance to download hot new game content before Silver members, but that content will almost always be available to Silver members after a period of time.
  • Point purchases: The Marketplace does not accept cash. Instead, purchase Microsoft® Points for Xbox Live Marketplace -- the coin of the realm -- with prepaid cards or your credit card. The Points system even allows very, very small purchases if those are all you want to make. Gamer pictures, for example, only run a few points, making a gamer picture what jargon-happy types like to call a "micro-transaction." And micro-transactions don't break the bank!
    • Demos and trailers: Another tab open to all levels of membership, these are sneak peeks at upcoming games, some playable, some not. There's a good chance you may even see movie trailers here in the future.
    • Skins and themes: Spice up the look of your interface! Get skins and themes that modify the appearance of your menus, gamer profile, and more.
    • Download history: Your purchases are all linked to your gamer profile, and it remembers everything you've ever downloaded. So if you somehow delete a killer Perfect Dark Zero™ map, you can download it again.
Review Quote
"Another thing I should mention is the sound quality. I'm pleased to say that it is excellent, I have played a number of CD's that I have in my collection and they are all great on the 360 coming through my 5.1 setup. Obviously ripped MP3's and Windows Media Player files may not sound quite as good depending on how much you have compressed them, but I think most users out there will be very impressed with what they hear."
So there you have it. The Xbox Live! Blade is probably the main blade you will be using as you will have the tendency to download demos, trailers and play some of the excellent Xbox Live! arcade games that are already out to download right now. Another good thing about downloads on the Xbox 360 Live! service is that you can resume downloads if you decide you want to switch off the console when a download has got half way through or you get a power cut, this means you can carry on downloading whenever you feel like it.

Games

This blade is pretty simple to understand...from here you can play your downloaded Arcade Games, download more of them, try demos that you have downloaded, see what your last played game was. One of the most used areas of your Xbox 360 Guide will be this area as many of you will start to download Xbox Live! Arcade demos and play them from here. I myself have purchased a number of the games like Gauntlet and other puzzle titles that are seriously well made. The titles are so addictive, there have been days when I just sit and play them rather than some of the launch titles.

Media

The Media blade is where you can view things like photos, video you have on your Xbox 360 Hard Drive, listen or rip music and finally use the Media Center Extender software that comes installed. You can read more about the Media Center Extender on Brian's coverage of it in Part 3 of our Xbox 360 review. The great thing with the Xbox 360 is that you can attach things like Digital Cameras, iPod's and more to the USB ports and transfer over music and photos to the hard drive to view later on.

Music

  • Listen to music while you game and create your own custom soundtracks.

  • DJ your next party—create custom playlists, and set the mood with interactive visualizers.

  • Rip songs from your original CDs to your Xbox 360 hard drive for easy access to your favorite music

  • Stream music to your Xbox 360 from your MP3 player or Windows XP-based PC.

Pictures

  • Create picture slideshows, add music, and share with your friends and family.

  • Connect to your digital camera and display your latest pictures on your TV.

  • Access the classics in the photo collection stored on your Windows XP-based PC.

  • Display the pictures saved on CDs.

Movies, TV, and more …

  • Play DVDs in progressive-scan and use the Xbox 360 controller to navigate the onscreen DVD menus.

  • Receive game invites or chat with friends even when you’re watching a movie, listening to music, or viewing pictures.

  • Combine Xbox 360 with Windows XP Media Center Edition for more digital entertainment options.

  • Record or pause live TV.

  • Watch movies On-demand and more.

There are so many different ways to view/listen to music and photos on the 360 that it really excels at being a media player and can now almost certainly replace your hi-fi in your front room. Placing a music CD into the Xbox 360 drive will load up the music for you and load the correct media blade. If you are connected up to Xbox Live! at the same time, it should download the track and cd title names for you so you can see who you are listening to. Unfortunately for me this part of the service didn't work (it could be that it wasn't setup before the Dec 2nd launch as I've had the PAL 360 well before the launch date) so all I could see were names like "Track 1, Track 2 etc". But don't let this put you off as I'm sure it will work fine for everyone else. Just remember that you must have at least a Xbox Live! Silver account to get this working. When playing music you can also finally see some visualizations and these are pretty good, especially in a front room running on a HDTV.

Another thing I should mention is the sound quality. I'm pleased to say that it is excellent, I have played a number of CD's that I have in my collection and they are all great on the 360 coming through my 5.1 setup. Obviously ripped MP3's and Windows Media Player files may not sound quite as good depending on how much you have compressed them, but I think most users out there will be very impressed with what they hear.

The Pictures area is probably what most of you will expect, you can view photos on your Windows XP based computers and transfer photos from your digital camera on to the Xbox 360 hard drive, you can also view photos that you may have previously saved to a CD. But it doesn't end there, you can also create slide-shows, add music, add special effects including zooms, panning, cross-fades for a personal touch and more with the Pictures area on the 360, it really is a great interface and once again shows off the power of the 360 when in High Definition.

System

This is the area in which you can setup your HDTV, setup audio, network and various other bits and pieces that are in relation to getting your Xbox 360 working the way you want it to. Depending on what AV cable you use, you will get varying options when setting up video, you may have 720p/1080i options or various PC Monitor resolutions. In all honesty you won't need to fiddle with much here unless you want to change your network settings or purchase the Wireless Network Adapter as you will need to go there to setup your Wireless Network connection and security settings, but for the most part there isn't anything that you would need to fiddle with as most of it gets setup correctly when you do the first run of the Xbox 360.

 

Table Of Contents
1: Introduction
2: Setup
3: Windows Media Connect & The Media Center Extender
4: Guide Blades
5: Accessory Reviews
6: Backward Compatibility & Launch Titles
7: Conclusion

8: The Elite

Xbox 360 FAQ


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