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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 11:34 GMT
Q&A: The Xbox 360
Microsoft's Xbox 360 console has made its much anticipated debut in the US. The software giant says it will usher in a new era in home entertainment. Here the BBC News website takes a look behind the hype surrounding the new console.

The Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 has a sleeker look than the original
Q: What is the difference between the original Xbox and the 360?

As the name of the new console implies, almost everything has changed. To begin with the Xbox 360 looks very different. The solid black of the original has gone in favour of a sleeker, shiny look that will mean it does not look out of place next to your DVD player. Microsoft wants it to become part of your home entertainment hub.

Under the hood even bigger changes have been made. The raw processing power of the Xbox 360 is many times greater than the original console. Estimates of how much more powerful it is vary between two and 10 times as powerful. The power boost is due to the Xbox 360 having three processing cores to the original's one.

Graphically, it is a leap forward as the Xbox 360 can draw up to 500 million polygons per second to depict game scenes. By contrast the original Xbox's upper limit was 125 million.

Those lucky enough to own a HD compatible TV and surround sound system will be able to get the most out of the Xbox 360 as all games are ready to be played in these formats.

The Xbox 360 also has a slot for a detachable 20GB hard drive, far larger than the 8GB in the original console.

Q: When does it go on sale?

Screenshot from Ghost Recon, Ubisoft
Xbox 360 graphics are very realistic
The Xbox 360 goes on sale in the US on 22 November. Next is Europe on 2 December and last Japan on 10 December.

The Xbox 360 is being sold in two distinct packages. The top end bundle, costing $399.99 (279.99), includes console, wireless controller, 20GB hard drive, wireless media remote, headset, audio-video cable and Ethernet lead.

The basic or "core" package will cost $299.99 (209.99) and includes console, wired controller and an audio-video cable. Some commentators have questioned the value of this bundle as players will have to buy a hard drive if they want to play old Xbox games. A 64MB memory unit (22.99) or hard drive (69.99) is also needed to save progress on 360 titles.

Games for the Xbox 360 are likely to be expensive and could cost about $60 (45) each.

Q: What about Xbox Live?

Included in the price of both Xbox 360 packages is a free Silver membership of the Xbox live online gaming system. This basic level of membership lets players create an online identity, gives players access to downloadable demos, lets them chat via text or voice and post scores to global leader boards.

However, to play online gamers will have to upgrade to a Gold membership level for $69.99 (39.99) for a 12-month subscription. This level of membership gives players everything they get in the Silver package plus access a matchmaking system that pits gamers of the same skill against each other.

Screengrab of Xbox 360 marketplace, Microsoft
Xbox Live has been updated for the 360
Gold membership also includes 200 points for the Xbox Live marketplace where players can buy extra content for games. Shorter length subscriptions, for a month or three, are also available.

Anyone with an existing Xbox Live subscription can transfer it to the 360.

Also on Xbox Live is the arcade which gives players access to a series of small self-contained games such as Joust, Gauntlet and Bejeweled.

Q: What games will be available at launch?

US gamers are getting the widest choice of launch titles and Microsoft expects to have a roster of 18 available at launch. Microsoft has said that this will grow to 25 titles by Christmas 2005. In Europe the initial line-up will be 15 titles strong.

In the initial line-up will be Call of Duty 2, Fifa 06, Madden NFL 06, Perfect Dark Zero, Peter Jackson's King Kong, Quake 4, Ridge Racer 6, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Kameo and Tony Hawks' American Wasteland.

Q: What else can it do apart from play games?

Microsoft is keen to get people using the Xbox 360 for more than just gaming. The console has three USB ports - two on the front and one on the rear - into which you can plug a variety of other gadgets.

If you plug in a portable music player such as an iPod the 360 should recognise it and let owners choose music via playlists. However if the music on your music player has been bought via iTunes it will not be playable this way.

Slideshows of digital camera photos can also be shown via the 360.

The console can also connect to Windows XP or Media Center computers to get at the media files stored on them. But video files will only play from a Media Center PC

Q: Will I be able to get one?

Maybe. The console is likely to be in very short supply because Microsoft is widely seen to have rushed into launching just to steal a march on arch-rival Sony.

Xbox 360s in production, Microsoft
Microsoft will struggle to meet demand for the 360
Some stores have stopped taking orders. Amazon.com has the console listed as "unavailable" and those that have not reserved one before now could face a long wait. Microsoft hopes this will make the console even more coveted, rather than annoy and put off potential customers.

Q: Why is the launch important?

Gaming is such a major industry, worth $25 billion worldwide, so huge amounts of money, jobs and culture depend on its continued growth and success.

For Microsoft too the stakes are high as it has spent more than $4 billion developing and marketing the Xbox 360. Microsoft has sold more than 20 million Xboxes worldwide and a lot of fans are keen to get the upgraded console.

By launching now Microsoft hopes to have a year of success before Sony and Nintendo launch their next generation devices. This situation is the exact opposite of what happened when the original Xbox launched. At that time the Sony PlayStation 2 had been out for more than a year and the Xbox has never caught up.

The launch is also important as the Xbox 360 will be one of the first mainstream gadgets that makes use of high definition TV. At the moment, most people will not be able to play games in this format but it does show the direction the industry is heading. Microsoft is keen to make the Xbox a media hub for the home rather than just a game-playing gadget.

Q: What are Sony and Nintendo doing?

Sony is due to launch its PlayStation 3 in the spring of 2006, though this is widely expected to be just in Japan. The US and Europe are expected to follow later in the year. The console is widely expected to be at least as powerful as the Xbox 360 with IBM also making the chips for its much-touted Cell processor.

The PlayStation 2 is the current champion console and Sony has sold more than 90 million machines. It remains to be seen whether it can maintain its lead as it is launching so late.

Details about Nintendo's Revolution console are scant at the moment but it too is expected to be launched in 2006. By contrast to Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo has said it has no ambitions to turn the console into a media hub. Instead it will be a pure gaming device.




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See the games available on the new Xbox



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