|Home Theater Accessories Game Systems|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Friday, 01 March 2002|
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With a few exceptions, playing video games on a console has always been a more enjoyable experience than on a home computer. In the '80s, the simplicity of popping a game cartridge into an Atari 2600 or Intellivision and blasting aliens on the family television set hooked millions of Gen-Xers on technology. Personal computers soon found their way into homes around the world and computer games soon followed, but something just wasn’t right with them. The controllers were sub par, often requiring the player to control the onscreen action with a keyboard via the arrow keys. The computer speakers were all horrible, the monitors were too small and the systems would often lock up. When I heard that Microsoft was going to be putting out a Windows-based video game system called the Xbox, visions of the blue error screen of death (For all you Mac and Linux users, this is what you get when Windows crashes) and cheesy USB video game controllers came to mind. Despite sharing many of the same components of home computers that crash and never quite seem to work right, I can say with 100 percent certainty the Xbox is far and away the single best Microsoft product that I have ever used. It works, it doesn’t crash, and amazingly, I don’t have to give Microsoft my Social Security and credit card numbers and I don’t have to call in to their Seattle headquarters to activate my Xbox. Could it be a kinder, gentler division of Microsoft that released the Xbox?
The Xbox weighs in at a hefty eight pounds, 13 ounces and is a 12-inch wide, eight-inch deep and four-inch tall rectangular black box with a front-loading disc tray. Much of the weight comes from the 10 gigabyte internal hard drive that allows you to save games in progress without having to purchase those annoying little memory cartridges that end up getting lost and cluttering up your living room. This feature has been long overdue on video game machines and, now that Microsoft has put one in the Xbox, chances are slim to none that any new video game systems will come along without an internal hard drive. You can also use portable eight-megabyte memory cartridges by plugging them into the slots on the top of the controllers to download stored information from the hard drive and you can then take them to a friend’s place and upload your stored game info to his or her Xbox.
Inside, the Xbox is very similar to a lower-end PC, with an Intel Pentium 3 733 mHz CPU powering the machine. This may sound like a weak system compared to today’s 2 gHz processors, but it actually the most powerful processor ever put into a game console machine. The 300 mHz custom-designed video X-Chip, developed by Microsoft and nVidia for the Xbox, makes for spectacular graphics. With a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080, the Xbox is HDTV-ready and will probably blow my mind when I hook it up to an HD monitor someday.
Along the front edge of the Xbox, there are four controller inputs, two on the left side numbered 1 and 2, and two on the right side, numbered 3 and 4. Of course, the Xbox only comes with one controller, so if you want to have some head to head action with your friends or a two on two basketball game, you’ll have to purchase more controllers at $25 to $45 a pop, depending on the model you want. In the center of the front panel, there are two round silver buttons. The smaller button is the power control and the larger one is the eject trigger. These are not labeled, so you’ll need to remember that the large button with the arrow pointing up is eject, and the small button with the round circle on it is the on/off switch.
The back of the unit is surprisingly sparse for such a high-tech machine. There is an input for the power cord on the rear left corner and a 100 Mbps Ethernet port that allows you to network multiple Xbox units together and will allow online gaming when Microsoft adds broadband support this summer. Lastly, there is a multi-signal audio-video connector that allows for easy hookup to a variety of televisions and home theater systems, depending on the type of connector you opt to use. For this review, I used the RCA audio/video cable connector that comes standard with the Xbox. Microsoft and a host of other companies also make S-video, component video and an RF adapters that allow you to connect the Xbox to virtually any video monitor.
There are currently two other home game systems vying with the Xbox for your expendable. Those systems are Nintendo’s Game Cube and Sony’s Playstation 2. Are either of these systems a better choice for you than the Xbox? There is no right or wrong answer to that question, but I’ll help point you in the right direction. Priced at $199, the Nintendo Game Cube is the least expensive of the three and, more than the XBox or the PS2, is geared toward young children. With ultra-successful franchises such as Super Mario Brothers and Zelda (to be released on the Game Cube in the future), Nintendo offers game titles that can’t be found on other systems and many of the titles are less violent and intense visually than the Xbox and PS2 games. Spec-wise, the Game Cube is slightly more powerful than the PS2, but it lacks a DVD player, which obviously explains its lower price. The Game Cube is a CD-ROM-based machine running a custom IBM Power PC "Gekko" processor at 485 MHz, with 42 MB of RAM. The sound for the Game Cube is generated by a Matronix 16-bit DSP sound card at 48kHz, using Matsushita's Optical Disc Technology on three-inch 1.5GB Nintendo Gamecube discs.
The Playstation 2 from Sony, priced at $299, is a product more comparable to the Xbox than to the Game Cube. This machine has garnered quite a following in the year and a half that it has been in stores and can be found in the Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators of virtually every rap artist in the world. Under the hood, the PS2 is technically the weakest of the bunch, with only a 300 MHz Sony processor, a 150 MHz Sony GS video processor and 38 megabytes of RAM, but Sony somehow makes this configuration jump through some big hoops. Game designers feel the system is awkward to design for, but if you walk down the video game aisle at Toys R’ Us, you’d never know it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of PS2 titles. The system has been riding on the success of the PS1, despite its price tag and the fact that it is inferior to the Xbox and Game Cube on paper.