Not for the first time a console manufacturer has made it to the shops before Sony launches its next PlayStation (PS3), but it’s no guarantee of success. Back in 1999 Sega’s Dreamcast was available months before PS2 was launched, delivering the best graphics we’d seen at the time and offering some innovative online game services. It was a disaster and signalled the end of Sega as a console manufacturer.
If Sony is hoping for something of the same fate to befall Microsoft and its Xbox 360, it can forget it. Putting aside the fact that it’s already a pre-Christmas sell-out, what really differentiates the 360 from Dreamcast is that it follows on from a debut machine that notched up healthy sales for Microsoft thanks in part to a must-have game, Halo.
The Xbox 360 is spectacular in ways that we can’t yet appreciate. Compatible with high-definition television, the graphics quality promises to be astounding but the souped-up TV sets are not likely to be readily available for some time. Broadband, however, is here and flexible membership costs let you access a whole host of Xbox Live services.
Outside of MP3 devices, this is the first time a product has been tied in so closely with add-on internet benefits. Whether it will be the catalyst for driving broadband penetration, as the local Microsoft office has suggested, remains to be seen.
The headline fact about the box is that it does deliver the best graphics we’ve seen to date with a surround-sound audio track that demands to be routed through a decent hi-fi. Of the games we tested, including Project Gotham Racing 3 and Perfect Dark Zero, the images positively bristled with detail.
One caveat is that the initial launch titles seem to be lazy upgrades. Where’s the killer title, the Halo that justifies the price of admission on its own? It’s a criticism that Microsoft will doubtlessly address as the launch date of PS3 looms nearer next year.
Available at two price points, letting you choose the specification that meets your needs, it’s a splendid piece of kit though I would take issue with its design. No complaints over the wireless handsets, much more svelte and sophisticated than the clunky originals, but PlayStation 3 would win the beauty contest. The white styling of the Xbox 360 box makes it look like the missing link in the Morphy Richards range, somewhere between a kettle and a toaster.
Still, beauty is only skin deep and it’s what’s inside the box that counts. PlayStation 3 better deliver, because Microsoft is now setting the pace.
By Ian Campbell