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Hands-On Preview: Xbox 360

Last week, I was among a few lucky journalists in New York City who got a rare chance to play a collection of new games on the eagerly awaited Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming console. In short, I was impressed.

Up close, the hardware is vaguely reminiscent of an insane-specially-built-for-gaming-high-performance PC.

The brain, capable of one teraflop, is three symmetrical IBM cores running at 3.2 GHz each. Stellar graphics performance is provided by a 500 MHz custom ATI graphics processor and backed up by super fast memory, 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM that is shared with the CPUs via a unified memory architecture.

All games are supported in high definition (search) at 16:9, 720p and 1080i with anti-aliasing as well as standard definition. A detachable 20 GB hard drive (search) is available; this comes with the premium package and will be used primarily for saving game demos and profiles.

There are two memory slots for saving games, gamertags, and content to 64 MB memory units and three USB ports (search) for connecting devices or controllers. Networking is provided via an Ethernet (search) port; an 802.11a/b/g adapter will be available.

Wireless gaming is built-in and can accommodate up to four wireless controllers sold separately for $50. Progressive-scan DVD playback is standard and there's a handy remote available for $30 that also comes with the premium package.

Xbox Live Silver comes with every Xbox 360 and lets you to make a profile, perform message and voice chat, download demos, and shop. Xbox 360 comes with a 30 day trial of Xbox Live Gold ($50/year), which you need if you want to play online games.

Microsoft wants the Xbox 360 experience to be community-driven and features that connect friends are ubiquitous.

During game play, you could receive an alert that a friend has just come online. To chat with your friend, hit the Xbox guide button (a glowing green circle in the center of the controller), chat with your friend, and then go back to playing the game.

Every launch title incorporates online game play in some way, even if it is only to build up achievement points, which are then used to rank you against all other Xbox Live gamers. Everyone gets a profile that can be extensively customized and then shared with the Xbox Live universe.

It's possible to connect an MP3 player via a USB port and play your music on your Xbox 360 — even as you're playing a game. Xbox 360 can connect to a Windows XP PC and pull music or graphics files (photos) from it.

Connectivity is taken a step further with Windows Media Center and the Xbox 360 acts as an extender, meaning that it has full Windows Media Center functionality including My TV, My Pictures, My Movies, My Music, and online spotlight.

Microsoft has not only gone from the office to the living room with Xbox, but now, with the Xbox 360, combines the two to present a compelling multi-media solution.

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.