Xbox 360

The Microsoft Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 is the successor to Microsoft's original Xbox. The Xbox 360 competes among the upcoming generation of consoles, including the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution, and was officially unveiled on MTV on May 12, 2005, a week before the E3 trade show. The Xbox 360 is currently the only seventh generation console available.

In all countries except Japan the console is sold in two different configurations: the "Xbox 360" and the "Xbox 360 Core System". The former configuration is often referred to as the "Premium Edition", which includes a hard drive (which is required for operations including backwards compatibility with limited original Xbox games), a wireless controller, a headset, an Ethernet cable, an Xbox Live silver subscription, and a component HD AV cable (which can also be used on non-HD TVs).

The console hardware is based on a custom IBM PowerPC-based "Xenon" central processing unit (CPU) and a custom ATI "Xenos" graphics processing unit (GPU). It is equipped with 512 MB of RAM and uses the DVD-ROM storage medium for Xbox 360 game software.

Retail configurations and pricing

Microsoft's current retail strategy involves two different configurations of the Xbox 360 in most countries: the Xbox 360 SKU, frequently referred to as the "Xbox 360 Premium Package"; and an Xbox 360 Core System SKU. The Xbox 360 Premium Edition is being sold in America for $399.99. Japanese pricing of the console has drawn some criticism, as customers there will be able to purchase the Xbox 360 full package for a lower price than in other countries.

Microsoft's decision has also allowed Japanese developers to fully utilize the hard drive to optimize game performance, since it is part of the default system configuration in their market. However because of the existence of a Core System edition, many games do not require a hard drive.

BusinessWeek magazine compiled a report which estimates that the total cost of all of the components in the "premium" bundle is $525 USD, aside from additional manufacturing costs, meaning that Microsoft is losing at least $126 on every Xbox 360 system sold in the US, and at least as much in Japan. The strategy of selling a console at a loss or near-loss is common in the console games industry, as console makers can usually expect to make up the for all custom hardware used in the Xbox 360, they can easily switch to new fabrication processes or change suppliers in the future in order to reduce manufacturing costs. This flexibility stands in contrast to the situation faced by the original Xbox, which contained a processor from Intel (a slightly modified Pentium III) and a GPU from NVidia (a modified GeForce 3). Both of these were very similar to "off the shelf" PC hardware and were therefore sold to Microsoft at inflated market prices. Because of these chips and the added expense of a hard drive component, Microsoft was never able to reduce the cost of manufacturing an Xbox below the break-even point. Microsoft's home entertainment division posted a loss through nearly every quarter of the console's lifecycle as a result. Microsoft hopes to avoid such a predicament with its new console, the company is predicting that a greater market share and falling hardware costs will make the Xbox 360 a profitable item.

Xbox 360 configuration comparison table:

Features
Premium chrome finish Yes No
Detachable hard drive (20 GB) Yes No
Controller 2.4 GHz Wireless Wired with 3 m/(~9 ft) break-away cable
Xbox-Live Headset Yes No
Cables Component HD-AV cable Standard AV cable
Xbox Live Silver membership Yes Yes
One month membership for Xbox Live Gold (hard drive or memory unit needed for Core) Yes Yes
Ethernet cable Yes No

Xbox 360 is compatible with DVD movies, but neither HD DVD nor Blu-Ray. Microsoft plans to release an external HD-DVD attachment to play high-definition movies.

Launch details

The Xbox 360 has been released in North America, Puerto Rico, Europe and Japan. Many stores sold out on the first day, and as of mid-March consumers had to hunt across many stores to find one in stock. In Japan, it was received far less enthusiastically, despite the low price and bonus features. The main reason for this may have been the delaying of Dead Or Alive 4 which remains an extremely popular Xbox 360 Japanese game. Without it the Xbox 360 numbers sold were less than originally anticipated.

Launch titles

Eighteen launch titles were available for customers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico on November 22, 2005. The European countries had fifteen titles available for the launch date of December 2, 2005. Japanese customers, however, only had six titles to choose from by the time the Xbox 360 was released on December 10, 2005. This discrepancy is partially accounted for by the time needed to localize the games.

Title North America Europe Japan
Amped 3 Yes Yes No
Call of Duty 2 Yes Yes No
Condemned: Criminal Origins Yes Yes No
Every Party No No Yes
FIFA '06: Road to FIFA World Cup Yes Yes Yes
Gun Yes Yes No
Kameo: Elements of Power Yes Yes No
Madden NFL 06 Yes Yes No
NBA 2K6 Yes No No
NBA Live 06 Yes Yes No
Need for Speed: Most Wanted Yes Yes Yes
NHL 2K6 Yes No No
Perfect Dark Zero (Collector's Edition available) Yes Yes Yes
Peter Jackson's King Kong Yes Yes No
Project Gotham Racing 3 Yes Yes No
Quake 4 Yes Yes No
Ridge Racer 6 Yes No Yes
Tetris: The Grandmaster Ace No No Yes
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 Yes Yes No
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Yes Yes No

Components and accessories

Controller

The Xbox 360 has the ability to support up to four wireless controllers. Alternately it can support two wired controllers through the use of its USB ports at the front, or four wired controllers with the use of a four port USB hub. The USB port on the back will support a third controller. Since the interface of the wired controller is standard USB, it can be directly plugged in and used on a PC, once a suitable driver has been installed. The wired controller has a nine foot (2.74 m) long cord with a break-away feature. The controllers have two digital touch-sensitive trigger buttons. The rest of the buttons are not touch-sensitive. The wireless controller has a battery life of up to 25 hours on the NiMH rechargeable battery pack (optional and recommended) and a recommended range of up to 30 feet (9.14 m). The play and charge kit (sold separately) can recharge the rechargeable battery pack while playing games but will take a longer time to fully charge.

The controller for the Xbox 360 is similar to the Type-S gamepad for the original Xbox. The Xbox 360 controller adds an Xbox guide button, which has the appearance of the Xbox 360 emblem and is surrounded by a ring of green LEDs. Pressing the Xbox guide button will bring the Xbox 360 out of sleep mode, turn the console on or off, and bring up the "Xbox Guide" for access to digital movies, music and games libraries. The ring of light lights up the quadrant (on the controller as well as the console) that represents the player number assigned to that controller (starting with player one in the top left quadrant and moving left to right, top to bottom with player 4 on the lower right quadrant). The black and white buttons have been redesigned as shoulder buttons, now referred to as the left and right bumpers, located above their respective triggers. The rear of the controller includes a port where the player can connect a headset. This port replaces the two proprietary USB connectors on the front of the Xbox controller. On the top of the controller is a port for the Play & Charge kit which charges the Rechargable Battery Pack while you play.

Faceplates

The default white faceplate can be replaced with a range of custom designs, each to be sold separately. Microsoft has also distributed two promotional faceplates, one for those present at the E3 2005 unveiling and one for VIP X05 attendees. The price of these custom designs are around $20 with more to be released by third party manufacturers.

AV connection cables

Note: The Xbox 360's native resolution is 720p, but for 1080i the picture is upscaled.

This set provides component RCA and composite video cables, along with 2-Y RCA stereo audio connectors for both high and standard definition output to TVs. All the connectors also offer an optical audio output jack for connection to surround sound systems.

Supported HDTV resolutions

Standard Aspect Ratio Megapixels Resolution
480p 4:3 0.31 640x480
720p 16:9 0.92 1280x720
1080i 16:9 1.03 interlaced (2.07 effective) 1920x540 interlaced (1920x1080 effective)

This set of cables connects to standard-definition TVs that have S-Video or composite video inputs. The SCART AV Cable allows an RGB connection via the SCART connector. Connections to high definition TVs will only use standard-definition signals.

This set of cables allows for high-definition on flat-panel TV or computer monitors that have a VGA connector. It has 2-Y RCA male jacks for audio connection, and also comes with a Female to Female adapter to connect to monitors with non removable VGA cables

Supported VGA resolutions

Resolution Aspect Ratio Megapixels Standard
640x480 4:3 0.31 VGA \ 480p \ NTSC
848x480 16:9 0.4 WVGA \ Widescreen 480p
1024x768 4:3 0.79 XGA
1280x720 16:9 0.92 720p
1280x768 16:10 0.98 WXGA
1360x768 16:9 1.04 WXGA
1280x1024 5:4 1.31 SXGA

Cable supplied with Core systems in Europe; not sold separately. No optical audio output.

Other

Bonus Media Remote (non-retail)

Hardware specifications

Central processing unit

The central processing unit (CPU), named Xenon (Microsoft) or Waternoose (IBM) is a custom IBM triple-core PowerPC-based design.

Graphics processing unit

The graphics processing unit (GPU) is a custom ATI "Xenos" chip. (Developed under the name "C1", sometimes "R500")

Memory

512 MB 700 MHz GDDR3 (1400 MHz effective) RAM (Total system memory is shared with the GPU via the unified memory architecture.)

System bandwidth

The system bandwidth comprises:

Overall system floating-point performance

Audio

Video

DVD drive

A 12X DVD-ROM SATA drive, capable of reading DVD+R/DVD+RW discs and DVD-R/RW, is part of the console, with game titles shipping on single or dual-layer DVDs. The other supported formats are: CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R/RW, WMA-CD, MP3-CD, and JPEG Photo CD.

It has been confirmed by Yoshihiro Maruyama, Japan's chief of Xbox operations, that Microsoft will never release games for Xbox 360 in a format other than DVD.

Bil Gates has confirmed during his keynote speech at CES 2006 that an external HD-DVD drive will be released for the 360 during 2006. However, Peter Moore has stated that if HD-DVD loses the format war, Microsoft may release an external Blu-Ray drive.

Xbox 360 games are set to the standard 7.95GB of storage available on a dual-layer DVD. Due to the limited space of standard DVDs, some games made for the system may span multiple discs, although procedural generation of textures and models (as seen in the PC game .kkrieger) may reduce the need for multiple discs. It is also notable that, should the statistics (based on known game sizes) for the speed of game-size growth prove to be correct, it is unlikely that any games would span multiple discs (or that it would remain an extremely marginal amount).

Cooling

Both the GPU and CPU of the console have Heatsinks. The CPU's heatsink uses heatpipe technology, where a hollow copper pipe containing a substance with a low vaporization point transfers heat from one end to the other very efficiently. The heatsinks are actively cooled by a pair of 60mm exhaust fans that push the air out of the case (negative case pressure). The console is considerably louder than the original Xbox. There have been third party modifications that watercool the console.

Physical characteristics

Sides of Console

Miscellaneous

Dashboard

The Dashboard is the main interface to the Xbox 360, governed by a series of "blades" to subdivide categories. The Dashboard will launch automaticially at boot if no game disc is inserted into the console. The Dashboard can also be accessed via the Xbox Guide button on the controller at any time to open a player specific blade. From there, the full Dashboard can be run, exiting the current game.

The main dashboard is divided into 4 main sections:

Xbox Live/MarketPlace

Games

Media

System

Possible future Dashboards

DirectTV

On 5 January 2006, Microsoft announced a long-term agreement with DirecTV that will "extend the DIRECTV experience to the Xbox 360 system."

According to the March 2006 issue of the Official Xbox Magazine, a DirecTV blade may be added to the dashboard. It went on to explain that "in that blade, you could download TV episodes in high definition, HD movies on demand, and standard-definition streaming DVR (i.e., TiVo) functions."

Windows Media Connect

The Xbox 360 has the ability to connect to Windows XP based computers over a home network to stream music and pictures right to a TV.

To connect the Xbox 360 to a computer the user will need to download Windows Media Connect. After installation the computer and the Xbox 360 will automatically detect one another. Windows Media Connect allows users to stream their favorite music collection through the Xbox 360 Dashboard, and allows users to play their music via the Xbox 360 Guide in place of the game's original soundtrack.

Playing DivX movies

The Xbox 360 is able to stream movies from a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition, although it is unable to stream movies in DivX format. By using a program "mceDivX360" on the PC, the Xbox 360 is able to receive streamed films which are converted to WMV format from DivX by Windows Media Encoder.

Software development

During early development the Xbox 360 was referred to as "Xenon", "Xbox 2", and "Xbox Next".

XNA

In March 2004, Microsoft announced a new game development software strategy dubbed "XNA", which Microsoft claims would enable game studios to cut development times by up to a third if developing across multiple Microsoft platforms, by means of tools created with the increasing difficulty of programming for a machine with three processor cores in mind. The Xbox 360 game development will be centered around the XNA Studio game development platform. XNA Studio covers three areas: Content Creation, Production Processes and Game Technologies. XNA Studio will enable collaboration between content creators, programmers, management and QA staff to speed the game production process. Based on Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005 Team System, the XNA Studio is the Visual Studio for game development; an integrated, team-based development environment tailored for game production. XNA Studio will provide versions of key production tools such as asset management, defect tracking, project automation and work lists. These tools are designed to work together to automate common development tasks and present interfaces tailored to the different functions within the team. XNA Studio will allow team members to collaborate using familiar techniques and tools, even when elements of the team are distributed geographically, an increasing trend in game development. Microsoft believes that this will give developers more time to generate unique content and reduce time running the content process. To date, some developers have endorsed XNA Studio. For example, John Carmack stated at QuakeCon 2005 that the Xbox 360 had "the best development environment" he has seen for a console.

Procedural synthesis

For the Xbox 360, Microsoft has drawn on recent research in computer graphics to enable a new method for game programming. In traditional games, all content is statically stored and generally immutable; that is, textures, meshes, and other game content is stored on a storage medium. As complexity in each rises, the demand for storage rises as well. A newer approach to generating content is utilised for Xbox 360 titles, a method referred to by Microsoft as procedural synthesis. Procedural synthesis is an approach to generating game content via algorithms. For example, trees are one of the most complicated objects to render in a game, due to their organic complexity. A game with only one model for a tree will appear odd, as nature is far more random; the game loses some of its immersion as a result. Instead, a general recursive algorithm will generate the tree's model and textures, so that each tree looks different from the next, and do so with high efficiency. The Xbox 360's architecture was designed with this approach in mind. When running procedural synthesis algorithms, one of the Xenon CPU's cores may "lock" a portion of the 1 MB shared L2 cache. When locked, a segment of cache no longer contains any prefetched instructions or data for the CPU, but is instead used as output space for the procedural synthesis thread. The Xenos GPU can then read directly from this locked cache space and render the procedurally generated objects. The rationale behind this design is that procedurally generated game content can be streamed directly from CPU to GPU, without incurring additional latency by being stored in system RAM as an intermediary step. The downside to this approach is that when part of the L2 cache is locked, there is even less data immediately available to keep the 3 symmetric cores in the Xenon CPU running at full efficiency (1 MB of shared L2 is already a rather small amount of cache for 3 symmetric cores to share, especially considering that the Xenon CPU does not support out-of-order execution to more efficiently use available clock cycles).

Procedural synthesis is also found outside of the Xbox 360 in the advanced freeware FPS game .kkrieger, where such techniques have reduced the size of the visually stunning game to a mere 96 kilobytes. Other interesting examples of procedural synthesis are shown in various demoscene demos. The Playstation 3 also has impressive procedural synthesis capabilities, but the technical implementation differs significantly.

Backward compatibility

The Xbox 360 achieves backward compatibility through software emulation of the original Xbox hardware. Games have minor graphical enhancements due to being rendered in 720p resolutions with anti-aliasing enabled. Some games have slightly improved draw distance, possibly due to the system's greater memory bandwidth. Software emulation is not perfect, as drops in framerate are observable in certain titles, including Halo: Combat Evolved.

A hard drive is required to enable backward compatibility. Hard drives purchased separately or as part of the console package include an early version of the emulator that includes emulation profiles for games Halo and Halo 2. Updated emulation profiles can be obtained through Xbox Live, by burning a CD with content downloaded from Xbox.com, or by ordering an update disc from Microsoft at a small charge for shipping.

The list of backward-compatible games for the U.S. market was released on 11 November, 2005 and is maintained at Xbox.com. Although the U.S. list includes over 200 games, fewer games are listed as backward compatible in the European markets. As of 13 February, 2006, the Japanese Xbox site shows only 30.

Microsoft states that they will be adding more emulation profiles as they become available, with the intended goal of making the entire Xbox library playable on the Xbox 360. However, it is suspected that these will not be "game by game" updates, but more likely "waves" with several new games added at a time.

Xbox Live on the Xbox 360

With the launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft's online gaming service, Xbox Live went through a major upgrade adding a basic non-subscription service (Silver) to its already established premium subscription-based service (Gold). Xbox Live Silver is free of charge and allows users to create a profile, join on message boards, access Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, and talk to other members. Silver members are not allowed to play any games online. Microsoft has also announced there will be trial weekends for Silver members to access the full features of Gold service temporarily. Xbox Live is supporting a few features, such as the headset, or an Xbox Live webcam that will come out in the Spring of 2006, according to Xbox 360 kiosk stands and Official Xbox Magazine. Xbox Live Gold has the same features as Silver plus online game playing capabilities. Microsoft has allowed for previous Xbox Live subscribers to maintain their profile information, buddy lists, and games history when they make the transition to Xbox Live Gold. To transition an Xbox Live account to the new system the user needs to link a Microsoft Passport account to their gamer tag on Xbox.com. Then when the user goes to add a Xbox Live enabled profile to their console, the user just needs to provide the console with their passport account information. An Xbox Live Gold account costs $49.99 USD, 39.99 Pounds Sterling, 59.99 per year (or, in the UK, a 3-month Gold membership is available for 11.99).

Xbox 360 Guide

The Xbox 360 Guide is a tabbed user interface that can be accessed instantly by pressing the Guide Button on any Xbox 360 controller. While not as fully featured as the main "Dashboard" interface, the guide provides an easy glance of information and options while in a game.

It offers the following selections:

Once in the guide, you can hit the Y button to return to the Xbox 360 Dashboard, or X to switch your current user profile. Holding down the guide button for five seconds on an Xbox 360 controller (not the infared remote) allows you to shut down the console remotely, or turn off the controller (if wireless).

Xbox Live Marketplace and Arcade

By far one of the most interesting features of the Xbox 360 Live is the capability to download arcade-style games through Xbox Live Arcade, as well as game demos and other content through Xbox Live Marketplace. While game demos and trailers are free, full versions of games must be purchased using a system called Microsoft Points. Points can be purchased directly through Live or via game cards sold at retails shops.

Viral advertising and alternate reality games

The promotional campaign for Xbox 360 began on March 14, 2005 with the opening of an alternate reality game called OurColony. Throughout March and April OurColony.net offered challenges to its community, rewarding solutions with cropped pictures of the console and game screenshots. On 12 May, 2005 the ARG section of OurColony closed, visitors were instead greeted with a promotional video hosted by J. Allard.

OrigenXbox360.com was the next viral marketing campaign from Microsoft. Unveiled on 27 September, 2005 the website, hosted by talking rabbits Boss and Didier offers visitors an opportunity to enter in various contests. The initial contest was a raffle that required participants to answer three trivia questions regarding the Xbox 360 for a chance to attend a promotional pre-launch event. New contests include a Halo 2 tournament and a competition to design a "Gamertile" (an avatar icon). Design for the website employs flash animation of a Bonsai tree and bland elevator music to create a serene environment that is punctuated by visually intense psychedelic episodes involving the host rabbits.

October 2005 saw the launch of "Hex168", another viral marketing campaign commissioned by Microsoft and executed by the Marden-Kane advertising agency. On 13 October, 2005, members of the TeamXbox forums were directed to the Hex168.com website through mysterious messages posted by someone called "Lutz". This website hosted a number of images that appeared to perpetuate obscure conspiracy theories, but sometimes contained oblique references to Xbox 360. The campaign was later revealed to be a U.S. contest that offered participants a chance to win one of three hundred and sixty Xbox 360 console bundles six days before the official launch.

Console launch

The Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005 in United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, December 2, 2005 in Europe, December 10, 2005 in Japan, February 2, 2006 in Mexico and Colombia, February 24, 2006 in South Korea, and was released March 16, 2006 in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. The Xbox 360 is now available on March 23 in Australia and New Zealand after a 3-week delay.

Due to a high demand of the Xbox 360 console in North America, Microsoft was unable to supply enough consoles to fit this demand. Because of this, prelaunch reports assume that Microsoft intentionally restricted supply, although Microsoft denies this. Europe also saw a successul Xbox 360 launch, however as with North America Microsoft failed to meet the demand. In turn, some retailers blamed Microsoft for failing to provide enough consoles in the Christmas period.

Despite the enthusiastic responses from Europe and North America, sales in Japan have been deemed a failure. This may be due to the fact of the poor launch titles - games that cater to the Japanese audience such as Dead or Alive 4 and Enchant Arm missed the launch date, hurting the Xbox 360's sales.

Technical issues

Xbox 360 "Screen of Death"

The Xbox 360 screen of death is an error screen displayed by the Xbox 360 game console. It was discovered in Wal-Mart stores days before the official console launch. Microsoft placed kiosks for demonstration in some stores and the error began appearing. The error stops the console and requests that the player contact technical support.

The screen contains the text "System error. Contact Xbox Customer Support" in a variety of languages and the error code at the bottom.

Crashing

Since its initial release date, some Xbox 360 customers have complained that the 360 occasionally freezes, apparently due to overheating because of high environment temperatures or a limited airflow around the Xbox 360 (and as such the problem can be lessened by allowing a better airflow or cooler environment).

Disc scratching

When a user moves the Xbox 360 from its vertical position to its horizontal position and vice-versa while the system is reading from a disc, the angular momentum of the disc causes it to brush against the drive's pickup-assembly and results in scratches. The manual that comes with the Xbox 360 specifically warns against moving the system while it is powered on. Microsoft is not replacing scratched disks, as the damage is not caused by the console.

Red light patterns

For some errors the Xbox 360 system will display patterns of red lights to occur in place of the standard green "Ring of Light" to indicate what error is occurring.

The patterns are as follows:

Disc drive noise

The Xbox 360 system has been reported to be very noisy and loud when playing an Xbox 360 disc, especially Project Gotham Racing 3. It should be noted that this auditory difference is only noticeable while using Xbox 360 discs; not DVDs, or original Xbox discs. Many theories such as the fact that the disc uses more power thus spins faster have been acknowledged but have yet to be proven by an official source.

With the third, and most recent, production run of the Xbox 360, the original Hitachi DVD drive (model GDR-3120L) was replaced with a quieter Toshiba/Samsung DVD drive (model TS-H943). The Toshiba/Samsung model uses the same laser unit as the old LG/Hitachi drive, so the reading capabilities and quality remain identical between the drives.

Hardware failures

In late February/early March, a number of users began reporting on xbox.com forums, that their Xbox 360 units had begun to freeze after only several minutes of being powered on, subsequently giving the "3 Red Lights" indicator. Microsoft has been repairing the consoles affected. The actual cause of the failures is currently unknown (at least to the public). Some forum users have subsequently blamed the failures on the March Dashboard Update (exact contents of which is unknown).