Microsoft is investing millions in building a dedicated gaming service to hook up Xbox players across the world. But how easy is it to connect to the Xbox Live service?
Online gaming is a key part of Microsoft's strategy for the Xbox. The games console has a built-in Ethernet adapter to allow you to plug the machine into a fast internet connection.
MotoGP is a genuinely exciting racing game
The Xbox Live service got off to a good start when it launched in the US in November, with Microsoft selling more than 150,000 starter kits in the first week.
It is due to launch in the UK on 14 March but dedicated gamers can already take part in trials of the service.
To connect your console, you need an Xbox Live starter kit. These cost $49.95 (£35.00) in the US.
Plug and play
For your money you get a headset, a starter disc and comprehensive instructions in several languages.
These are clearly written and include clear diagrams on connecting the Xbox to a broadband connection.
The kit also includes a one-year subscription to Xbox Live, though this does not start until March, meaning that gamers get three months' play for free.
What you do not get is a cable to hook up the Xbox to your broadband connection and gamers may be frustrated that Microsoft failed to include this in the starter kit.
If you have a cable, connecting the Xbox is straightforward enough. Simply plug one end of the cable into your broadband router or modem and the other into the Xbox Ethernet port at the back.
Xbox Live is set up to take advantage of DHCP protocols, which means it will automatically pick up much of the information it needs to connect to the internet.
In my case it was so seamless that I did not even notice that it had happened.
Signing up is a slow and tedious process
But some people may need to spend time working out the network options and filling these in manually.
There is a wealth of information on the Xbox Live site, but it can be daunting to the novice, with talk of MAC addresses and configuring PPPoE.
In some cases, you will need to do this through a computer, which could cause problems for gamers without a PC at home.
Much will depend on the broadband service provider and the type of modem or router.
The next step is updating your Xbox software with the starter disc. This installs the Xbox Live software and reconfigures the Xbox Dashboard to add the Live options to the menu.
Signing up for the Xbox Live service is a slow and tedious process, as you have to use an on-screen keyboard.
Starter kit includes a headset
For many, the most time-consuming part may be in choosing your gaming identity. Your Gamertag provides a unique single identity across the entire Xbox Live service, so chose it with care.
Picking the wrong one could expose you to ridicule from the gaming community, with already much discussion in chat rooms about lame tags.
The system will then ask you for your subscription code, a long number with dashes which is all too easy to get wrong.
Then you need to put in your personal details as well as credit card information, so that Microsoft can bill you for your annual subscription.
Once all of this is out of the way, you are ready to play.
The starter kit comes with two demo games, the motorbike racing title MotoGP and the frantic cartoon combat game Whacked!.
MotoGP in particular is a good advertisement for the Xbox Live service. Joining an online session was easy and the performance of the network was excellent, with no lag times.
But other titles have fared worse. Playing Unreal Championship proved frustrating, with connection problems hampering attempts to frag opponents.
Microsoft is betting heavily on its online service. But with Sony's best-selling PlayStation 2 also going down the online route, it could face a tough battle.