Monday, July 7, 2008

XBOX 360 - rawk or rank?

Recently the wonderful people at Bill's Corporation decided to drop the price of the XBOX 360 by 100 bucks or so on the three main console packs, and this was enough for me to take the plunge and invest in a 360. Well, maybe not "invest". My main focus was as a media extender to the lounge so I didn't have to keep plugging the laptop into the TV to watch digital media stored on my PC, but I also felt like playing some console games like Forza Motorsport and Fifa 08. Did it live up to the potential?

Yes. And no. Let me set the scene - I'm a PC gamer from way back. I remember spending hours downloading the first demo from ID software to play Quake on my 28k modem, which took fricken ages and multiple retries to get it to work (but was ulitmately so worth it). Wolfenstien 3D, Doom and Duke Nukem - these were my computer friends back in the days before the internet and P2P networking were the norm. I also concentrated mainly on First Person Shooters because there was more fun to be had, in my opinion, in the endless slime covered frag fests in Quake than any other genre of PC gaming. That's not to say I didn't play anything else - Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft and to a lesser extent Command and Conquer also took my fancy. And all in all, my PC was my gaming entertainment unit, which could also dial into work (if required) and run MS Office (badly) to work from home in some small capacity.

So when consoles like the Sega Mega drive, Super Nintendo, and PS1 were big, I just didn't get it - they were severely limited, you couldn't upgrade, the games were hellishly expensive, and the console was useless for anything else. What was the point? A PC could be comparable in cost, you could upgrade it with better hardware to get better performance or graphics, you could "share" media with your friends, and networking and dial-up internet meant you could play against each other as well.

Fast forward a few years - ok quite a few years, and whats changed? A pc is still ultimately more configurable and upgradeable than a console, but the console can now serve several other functions when not gaming. And this is why I bought one - I needed something not too expensive that could serve as a media extender, but also could do other things, and although the Xbox is a bit limited in its extensibility, it performs many tasks flawlessly.


Media Centre Extender
I no longer need to plug and unplug the laptop from the telly, and I don't compete with the wife if she wants to do work, and I want to watch the latest Top Gear. Its a permanent media player that plays a majority of my media files, and a pretty good extender for my mp3 library as well.


I have always loved playing racing games on a console - I reckon its a far better experience with a controller than a keyboard. And sports are also much better on console than PC - Fifa 08 rocks on the Xbox, while I found Fifa 07 exceedingly difficult on the PC until I bought an Xbox controller to plug into the computer.

Social\Xbox Live
Its nice to know when your mates are online, if you feel like challenging them to a frag fest on COD 4, or just having a chat. I know you can do this on a PC, but the whole Xbox live experience is something new for me that makes the console seem a bit more social than it used to - makes it feel like you are logging onto a network of mates, rather than sitting in the lounge switching off from the world. The gamer card is also a great idea as the lure of competing with everyone to get the most game points becomes attractive to even the most lukewarm game addict. Getting all the achievements in a game takes priority just to give you those few extra points over your mates on Xbox live.


Media Centre Extender
While its great to have a fixed media player in the lounge, its annoying that it doesnt play every single media file I throw at it. It was the laptop I had beforehand, I could install codec's and alternative players and Bob would indeed be a blood relative. Now, I am restricted to WMA's and Divx content, which frankly sucks balls. Converting files is annoying, time consuming and not really an exact science, so I am loathe to convert things. It is one limitation I can live with I suppose as a majority of the content I watch is in the right format.

FPS Gaming

While great for sports and cars, the consoles have always sucked serious ass at First Person Shooters. The controller is just not designed for quick looks, fast reactions and agile aiming. It plain blows. I thought I'd give it a crack with Call of Duty 4, and I was severely disappointed. The aiming is slow and unwieldy for someone like me who cut his teeth on a PC mouse\keyboard, and its just frustrating playing FPS on a console. There are devices that you can use to plug a keyboard and mouse into a console, but from the reviews they are problematic, expensive and sometimes just plain don't work with some games (and hardware!). And further more, why waste time plugging keyboards and mice into consoles, when you've got a perfectly good gaming PC?

Everything costs more. You get a standard pack when you buy the Pro edition (20GB hd, one controller, small remote) but a Universal remote costs more, the plug and play kit costs more, the headset costs more, and so on and so on. The Xbox does not cost what they advertise because you need the add-ons to make it work efficiently. Sure, it works out of the box, but who's going to pay for new batteries every few days for the controller? Who wants the shitty little remote when you can have a universal one that also does the telly? And to play multiplayer games and interact with others you need the headset - who wants to play games and not be able to yell at people?

In summing up your honour...
All in all am I happy with the purchase? Yes - its doing exactly what I wanted which was fill the hole of media player with other functions quite well, and I can see myself playing some serious Forza 2 in the coming weeks. There are a few niggles, especially around the media codec's and FPS gaming, but the latter can be fixed by not playing FPS games on the console, and the former by using streaming workarounds. The next big challenge is teaching the missus how to use the damn thing, and now that I've rewired the DVD\TV\Xbox, a new course in "remote control" management is due.

I might leave that one for a while.


Mooghead said...

Ok, here goes. I got a 360 in march for my birthday. In May I had the dreaded red ring of death. Thats 2 MONTHS LATER it died. I contacted Miro$oft who were actually very good and arranged to collect the unit and send it for repair. I receive my xbox back a week later (same one, checked the serial number) and plugged it in to carry on my gaming and streaming. I got the RROD again, literally within 1 second of starting it up it died on me. I rang Micro$oft again and played merry hell, this time they sent me a box to put the 360 and the power supply for repair. 2 weeks later I get the 360 back - without the power supply. I ring Micro$oft, vary calm as I have gone beyond angry by now and tell them they haven't sent my power supply, they arrange to call me back 3 days later as they need to check that I actually sent it. They call me back and say they are going to send a new power supply. Power supply turns up a week later, I plug it in. The power supply doesn't work, it is as dead as a dodo, the LED doesn't light up at all. I change the fuse in the plug, nothing. Since March my 360 has been out of action for longer than I have bee able to use it. It is in my front room now and I still don't know if it works or not because I don't have a power supply. I HATE the 360, i just want rid. To be honest I used it to stream content to my tv in the living room more than games (it plays AVI files too.). But I will never EVER buy another xbox or Micro$oft related product again (apart from an OS no doubt).


(that feels better!)

Mooghead said...

Like Spanker I hate FPS games using a controller, and FPS games are the lifeblood of the 360, there are no really good driving sims either so the only game I played was Fifa 08. Try the co-op online game on Fifa 08, its immense. One thing the 360 does not have which the ps3 does is a web browser, being able to browse the net on the big tv would be amazing. Still undecided if I am getting a Wii or ps3 as soon as i sell this heap of crap.

Mooghead said...

This is cool though.

Spankermatic said...

Let it out mate.
To be honest, I am concerned about the RRoD and it sounds like you have had the wonderful experience of dealing with a large corporation who cares more about profit than the consumer. Fingers crossed I dont have the same experience.

BTW - have taken back COD 4 and swapped it for a PC copy, as the game itself is bloody excellent.

Xenoba said...

How to avoid RROD in one easy step
No seriously... I have a 360 and a PS3 (oh and a PC near the TV for streaming content) but the 360 sits unused in my office even though it is on my network and is an excellent media player. Why? Cause it’s just too damn noisy to listen to music or movies on for long periods. But more importantly it sits unused because I am head over heels in love with my whisper quiet PS3.
Now to be fair I am a big Sony fan and I will always buy their products over any other brand but the PS3 absolutely stands out as one amazing piece of kit. Not only because games look awesome and it has Blue Ray and it up scales normal DVD’s but Sony has made the experience of owning a PS3 something very special.
When the PS3 was first released into the wild it was slammed so hard and so often by the many experts living in the interweb that owning one felt rather similar to getting your arse roundhouse kicked by Chuck Norris.
Sony clearly took this extensive and in some cases deserved (backwards compatibility) but mostly not(backwards compatibility...) criticism to heart and given that the PS3 has a 10 year life cycle Sony realised they needed to act quickly and pull something very special out of the bag. That something special was the system updates. The system updates have become for me at least a near religious experience. I check the Sony blogs every day looking for the latest titbit, watch the informative update preview vids and pour through the comments and replies from Sony staff. As soon as I hear the latest update is available I feverishly do whatever it takes to get said update installed and once complete test every new feature added. And that’s the something special, new features. Since I first set up the fabled black monolith (didn’t they once make a sci-fi movie bout the PS3?...) in the living room it is been transformed from a wicked games console, great movie player and OK music player into wickedest games console, the most state of the art movie player (blue Ray V1.1) and state of the art music player (7.1 Dolby surround) plus I can now connect remotely to the PS3 using my PSP.
The most recent update 4.2 released only last week continues to add features including in-game XMB (cross media bar for navigating the PS3 OS) and reward trophies that you can show and compare with your online friends and rumour has it that a near future update will also add Skype ala PSP.
The one thing the 360 does do better than the PS3 is be a streaming media centre/ extender. The way the 360 connects with Vista is very cool and for a MS product is surprisingly seamless.
UPnP on the PS3 is just not reliable enough to use full time so I no longer bother trying.
But even then the 360 does not cut it as a media centre. For that I have a (still under development) modded Xbox running XBMC.
As I have mentioned here before my 360 is 1st gen and so far, gods be praised, it has not failed, but it has failed to win my heart like the PS3 has. I could go on all day singing the virtues of owing a PS3 but given that I own all the major consoles (yes I omit the Wii on purpose) my opinion is bought and paid for sooo IMHO the PS3 butt whips the 360 in very single way and argument.
Sorry about this Spankermatic(:>

Mooghead said...

You have to admit games look amazing in HD on an LCD screen, especially the swirly thing when you are playing a music file.