Scott Hanselman

Xbox 360 as Media Hub

December 15, '05 Comments [11] Posted in Reviews | Z | Movies | Gaming
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CIMG4034Got a call yesterday that the second shipment of Xbox 360's had come in and the one I'd pre-ordered in June was now waiting for me. I swung by GameCrazy on the way to the store and picked up my shiny new Xbox 360. It also included a limited edition Media Center Remote that will likely go unused. I also picked up:

  • Second wireless controller
  • Perfect Dark Zero
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Kameo
  • Project Gotham Racing 3
  • I also got an aftermarket HDTV cable because the guy told me the Xbox 360 didn't include optical support. This is false and true. The 360 DOES come with an optical hole, but no optical cable. It comes with a big cable that includes composite (SDTV) and component video (HDTV) and a hole for the optical. So, this $20 accessory was a waste unless someone wants an optical cable + Xbox 360 component cable for $19 from me. :)

Of course, I didn't get a chance to use it until Z and Mo were asleep so that probably wasn't very smart. I was up until 2 with the Xbox and until 5:30 with Z.

First Impressions

It's the shiznit. It's freaking awesome. If you can, buy it. Now. Seriously, stop reading.

Gotchas and Things To Be Aware Of IOMHO

  • Getting just the Core System without hard drive just makes no sense. You get $150 in accessories for the extra $100 the standard bundle costs you.
  • The 360 is totally THE killer app for HDTV, so very much more than DVDs in their 480p glory. Running the dashboard in 1080i is glorious. Call of Duty 2 is fantastic. Better than my PC with its 1680x1050 resolution? No, probably about the same. Except the Xbox 360 cost less than my video card. Drink that in.
  • Folks have been complaining that there's only 13gigs free on the 20gig hard drive. The forums are alight with the standard logorrhoea that "the system takes up much of that." Well, if one does some digging, they'd see that the hard drive comes preloaded with a Titanic Video (literally from the movie Titanic) that is a 1gig, a Warren Miller video and two others weighing in at about 750megs each as well as a bunch of music. It's mostly the schmutz that makes you lose space. However, I'm not really sweating the space as it's all scratch space as far as I'm concerned.
  • I started by using my existing Xbox "classic's" wireless ethernet bridge and it worked great. However, I switched over to my 100base-T wired connection for snapper Media Center PC response.
  • Since all emulated games run in HDTV, if you liked stretching your 4:3 games to 16:9, you can't do that anymore.
  • Funky (read: optimized) games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory still have some work to do, as it seems that you can run the single player game in 16:9, but the multiplayer (which is basically (smells like) a totally different codebase) is 4:3.

Xbox Live Arcade

CIMG4032They finally got the casual gamer thing right. My wife will actually be able to play Bejewelled without finishing her PhD. It's very clean and elegant. It also uses a form of micropayments to accomplish two things. One, the conversion between "Microsoft Points, the currency, and dollars, isn't in-your-head easy, so one could find themselves spending money without "feeling it." Two, it allows someone to sell a game for $3.47. I bought Joust and Bejewelled off the bat, and I'll likely get Geometry Wars also.

Original Xbox Emulation

The first thing I did, before I even played a single 360 game was try out the backward compatibility emulation. I'm so relieved they chose to stick with it, as they'd really have been shooting themselves in the foot if they were going to launch the 360 all alone in the world without the rich existing Xbox library of games.

A few games I like haven't been updated yet, including Lego Star Wars, but the important ones like Halo 2 and Splinter Cell worked. Also, Yourself: Fitness worked so that's awesome. All in all, my conclusion is: Classic Xbox for sale - $75, used for only 2 months, I won it in a raffle.

Downloading Demos

I was pleasantly surprised that you can download and play demos. I downloaded and played FIFA World Cup Soccer (it was a 600meg download!) and while it's getting crappy reviews, we really liked it. It's not something I'd have rented, so I'd never have played it. Because I could download it as a demo I'll be more likely to buy this game I might have overlooked.

iPod (MP3 player) USB Support

There's three ways you get audio/music playing on your Xbox 360. The first and easiest is just plugging your MP3 player into one of the 3 USB ports on the Xbox 360. I plugged in my iPod Nano and it was immediately (no wait) recognized and showed up as "Scott's Nano" and I was playing music directly off it immediately. I also tried a generic USB MP3 player and it works great as well. There's also an optional downloadable support for unprotected AAC files, so I grabbed that also and it works nicely.

Windows Media Connect 2.0 Support

I installed the new Windows Media Connect 2.0 which is a fancy way of saying "a uPnP server built into Windows" and pointed my Images, Music and Video folders from my main PC and was able to play music off it for hours. It's actually still playing this moment, and it'll let you view photos as the music continues which is a nice little attention-to-detail thing.

Windows Media Center

CIMG4037Here's the big one. The Media Center Extender stuff. It's awesome. I tired and suffered with the original (largely unusable) Classic Xbox Media Extender. Because of this and other factors, my Media Center PC has remained in the guest room, largely usused except for a MAME machine.

Enter the 360. The UI is exactly (by my eye) the same UI that you'd get if you were actually sitting at the actual Media Center. It's snappy, in HDTV, and gorgeous. Not only that, but all the HTML-style Media Center applications like NPR and MTV Overdrive work great. We spent a few hours last night purusing the vast MTV database of videos and watched at least a dozen on-demand music videos with family visiting from out of town.

Here's a video of the Media Center (the quality is iffy) in action.

File Attachment: MediaCenter360.wmv (1585 KB)

Additionally, you can press the Media Center button on the 360's remote (you may need to buy one if you didn't have one included) and it will turn on the 360 and connect to the Media Center PC in one fluid step. This helps the Wife Acceptance Factor greatly.

Harmony 880 Universal Remote Control

I love this remote and I'm convinced that for the dollar it is THE remote to get if you have a complex system. I was thrilled to see today that I could just tell the Harmony online system that I'd bought an Xbox 360 and it became immediately integrated into my larger system. The folks at Harmony (Logitech) are really passionate about their remotes and it shows. I've spent time on the phone in the past with their tech support and it was a pleasure. I had the whole thing working in about 15 minutes.

This was put to the test this evening when some of Mo's co-workers came over and they were able to show pictures of the baby (via Media Connect) without any of them having used the Xbox or the remote before.

Games

  • Perfect Dark Zero
  • Well, it ain't Halo. Not even close. It's actually pretty lame, and I'm disappointed. We'll see, maybe it'll grow on me.

  • Kameo
  • I got this just because we have an 8-year-old visiting and staying with us and I've got him checking out the Game Rating (ESRP) systems. I didn't want to buy only "M" games, so I picked this one up. Wow, what a cute and interesting game. It's a very thoughtful and interesting puzzle/physics game with a silly storyline. It looks a smidge like World of Warcraft in it's ethos, although certainly less serious. I suspect I'll play this game the second most often. It also has a nice co-op 2-player mode which was an unexpected plus.

  • Project Gotham Racing 3
  • Had to get this if only to show off the system. It's OK, but until I get a wheel I'm doomed to suck. It's pretty slick, but I should have waited for a Rallysport-type game. I tried Forza on the Classic Xbox but it was too realisitic. I continue to go back to Rallysport2, it's REALLY amazing. See, there I go, talking about an older game when I'm supposed to talk about PGR3. Kind of says something.

  • Call of Duty 2
  • Wow. Wow. Seriously. This game is brilliant. Truly and fantastically immersive. Get it, as anything I can say about it would just be silly and over the top.

    As an aside, I'm looking forward to the new Splinter Cell: Double Agent and if it looks half as good as Call of Duty, it'll be great.

    Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF)

    It works with the current remote and she can show pictures of Z without my help. 'Nuff said, she's happy. If I get it paid off before she sees the credit card receipt we'll still be in business.

    About Scott

    Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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    Thursday, December 15, 2005 4:09:06 AM UTC
    great review. I always grin when you mention the WAF, so true to my life.

    glad to hear the media center extender got better.

    by chance to the media center slide shows now pan and zoom on the 360?
    Tadd
    Thursday, December 15, 2005 5:00:04 AM UTC
    I've been waiting for someone to talk about how the Media Center functionality works with the 360. Thanks for the info. If you don't mind, I'll tap you for information :) Is it noisy (fan noise, etc)? Does it start up in Media Center mode quickly? I assume playing DVDs works well also?

    Basically, we're trying to decide whether to move the Media Center PC out of the living room and completely replace it with a 360. The old extenders were not quite polished enough for us to concider this, but the 360 looks promising.
    Thursday, December 15, 2005 8:17:23 AM UTC
    You've got to get Condemned. It's the scariest and most gruesome game I've played. I've not got a high def TV and I'm still blown away by it. I've spoken to a friend who's just upgraded to hd and he said it makes the game twice as good.
    Thursday, December 15, 2005 12:47:04 PM UTC
    Cool! Excellent write up! I'm PunchingBoot - if you wanna have a game online. Also in case anyone is interested I also did a mini-video of the dashboard and it shows a snippet of the media center piece.

    http://blog.funknstyle.com/2005/12/xbox_360_dashboard_preview.html

    Enjoy your 360! I'm sure the baby will be gaming in no time. :-)
    Thursday, December 15, 2005 4:28:02 PM UTC
    Can you play COD2 with a USB mouse and keyboard? Can you give it a try and let us know how it works?
    Thursday, December 15, 2005 11:23:04 PM UTC
    I'll be happy to take your Classic XBox (shipped to the US)!
    net123
    Friday, December 16, 2005 5:39:31 AM UTC
    Tadd -

    "by chance to the media center slide shows now pan and zoom on the 360?"

    I'm guessing that Scott's pretty busy with the new Hanselman, and there's nothing he and I enjoy more than stealing each other's thunder, so I'd like to answer for him.

    And the answer is...

    Yes.
    Friday, December 16, 2005 5:47:28 AM UTC
    Joshua -

    "Can you play COD2 with a USB mouse and keyboard? Can you give it a try and let us know how it works?"

    You can't - yet.

    There are rumors of a keyboard/mouse combo.

    I've tried plugging in some of my peripherals (hey - lonely geek, late at night - who *wouldn't* start trying to plug weird things into USB holes?), and there's no effect.

    Actually, the light on my optical mouse lights up, so that's something. It doesn't help me play, but, dang - it's pretty.

    I've also heard that plugging a Media Center keyboard in results in [drum roll] being able to use the Media Center specific buttons. The rest of the buttons (like the ones with letters and numbers on them) don't do anything.

    I think it's kind of lame that we don't have mouse/keyboard drivers out of the box. I mean, I can use a bluetooth keyboard with my *phone*, you know?

    Plus, with all the Xbox Live stuff, it'd be nice to be able to enter some information in using a keyboard. Like 128bit encryption keys, for example. I was having a hard time getting the 360 on my network, and had to enter that stupid key in about ten times. That's a lot of left/right/up/up/X/down/left/left/left/left/A/left/left/A/etc...

    Actually, since the Premium system comes with a mic, they could have at least let me hum my key in using Morse code. It actually would have been easier.

    Hey. I think I'm onto something.

    Morse code instead of a keyboard.

    I have to go. I'm going to go write that down...
    Friday, December 16, 2005 8:15:00 AM UTC
    Gotta try a multiplayer Infection game on Perfect Dark: Zero... crazy fun. I played the single player stuff for about 5 minutes... multiplayer is where it's at.
    Sunday, December 18, 2005 6:20:34 AM UTC
    I used an ordinary USB keyboard to enter Live subscription codes without difficulty. I think any keyboard that doesn't normally require custom drivers will work.

    I own FIFA06 and agree with you, it's not as bad as the reviews have painted it. I haven't found anything special about it, but if you enjoy playing soccer games and/or enjoyed previous versions (I also had FIFA 04 on the Xbox), then it's fine.

    Also, if you liked the original Amped games, you might like Amped 3. The [optional] story line has gone off into bizarro land (which I found humorous), but the game play is still great. Combos are easier than in the first two.

    The weird thing is, I'm playing Arcade more than any of the eight full-blown 360 games I own. In particular, Hexic and Zuma are excellent puzzle games -- I'm enjoying both of them more than Bejeweled. Hexic offers both turn-based and timed modes, so you can go at whatever pace you like. Zuma's more fast-paced but involves more thinking. (But it's not as fast-paced as Geometry Wars -- man, I suck at that game.)
    Sunday, December 18, 2005 9:22:13 PM UTC
    did you sell the classic? Jack
    Jack Hanselman
    Comments are closed.

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.