Monday, May 6, 2013

Examining the Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s second entry into the world of console gaming and arguably one of the best systems available from the most recent generation of consoles. While not terribly innovative, the console is very powerful and its versatility makes it a great choice for any gamer.

Graphics and Sound
The Xbox 360 Slim
While the Wii spent the majority of its development time working on innovation in regard to interface, the Xbox 360 put a good deal of time into stepping up the graphics processing power driving the games launched for the console. With titles like Halo 3 being released at launch, it’s no wonder the console quickly gained popularity and has continued to dominate the console market since its release. Early demos for the system made sure to include a demonstration of its raw graphics processing power using exceptionally detailed car models from a popular racing game also available at launch.

Likewise the latest audio software went into the system allowing it to process sound and produce convincing and dynamic audio that is sure to satisfy even the pickiest listeners in the gaming world.

Not a great deal has changed from the Xbox to the Xbox 360 in regard to how the player interacts with the game. Microsoft took the lessons learned from the original Xbox (namely that the controllers were too large for most gamers) and incorporated them into their latest entry using more appropriately sized controllers, but essentially the same button layout as the originals. Over time, Microsoft also developed and introduced the Kinect as its answer to the Wii’s motion sensing technology, improving upon and even surpassing the original technology it was based on. This new system, while not native, has been incorporated into many games to help enhance the gameplay experience and in some cases replaces the controller altogether. The only downside to the new introduction is its price tag, still sitting at a little over $100 which for many gamers makes it something they can live without.

Like the other consoles, the Xbox 360 had to incorporate networking as a big part of its gaming experience or else be left in the dust. The system naturally interfaced with Xbox Live allowing gamers to chat with friends, send messages, and check out their friend’s achievements without ever having to leave the comfort of their home. Gamers were also able to stream Netflix and Hulu Plus through their system which made the whole console just that much more versatile and for the savvy, even more affordable as using Xbox Live, Netflix, and Hulu Plus ends up being cheaper than many cable TV plans. Of course the major downside is that Xbox live isn’t a free service if you actually want to game and stream media over it. Still it’s hard to argue with the impressive interface and performance of the service compared to other options.

Initial releases of the Xbox 360 were plagued with what become known as “the red ring of death.” This error essentially indicated that there was some sort of hardware issue and the system just wouldn’t work. As a result many of these early consoles were immediately sent in for replacement, however with manufacturing already struggling to meet demand the wait time for replacements was fairly extensive and many owners found their initial experience soured by this unfortunate hardware issue. Those spared from “the red ring of death” later found that cooling was a major issue that wasn’t appropriately addressed in the system design. While ventilation assistance was available through the addition of third party fan units, the airflow patterns built into the system itself were simply insufficient for moving the massive amounts of heat generated from the powerful graphics cards out of the system, leading to a number of other errors which, while repairable, led to issues that eventually put an end to the console in a more final way. As is typical for Microsoft, their second generation of the Xbox 360 console, the Slim, improved upon these weaknesses with more stringent manufacturing guidelines and a completely redesigned internal architecture that maximized airflow patterns to keep the internal components cool even during continuous operation over the course of several days. While this did solve the problems from the original, the lack of a replacement program or even a trade in program to help offset the frustrations caused by the first generation made these fixes out of reach for many and too little, too late for many more.

As a gamer, it’s hard to deny that the Xbox 360 is a great console with some stellar titles that you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not try out. Though its initial inception did have its problems, those purchasing the console this late in the game will find that the issues have largely been dealt with and there’s much fun to be had with one of these consoles tucked away in your N3rd C0rn3r.