Microsoft finally unveiled its new game console to the world in a splashy television special broadcast on MTV Thursday night, confirming many rumors and leaks that had kept gaming fans buzzing for months, but leaving many specifics unanswered.
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, ? la the PlayStation 2.
Under the hood, the Xbox 360 is a formidable piece of hardware. In addition to an IBM PowerPC-based CPU running at 3.2GHz and half a gigabyte 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 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.
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.
Perhaps most interesting is the litany of Xbox 360's nongaming capabilities. Its 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." Furthermore, the company is touting a video camera attachment, which presumably connects to one of the Xbox 360's three USB 2.0 ports, but it's unclear whether it is intended as a videoconferencing-style Webcam or an EyeToy-like gaming accessory--or both.