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Microsoft offers a sneak peek at Xbox 360

Backward compatibile up to a point

Gamers can look forward to better, more lifelike graphics and some exclusive titles when Microsoft launches its new Xbox 360 later this year, the company has promised.

At a media briefing in Dublin on Thursday Microsoft confirmed more than 25 titles to launch with its next-generation console, with a further 160 in development. Games planned for the Xbox 360 include flagship title Perfect Dark Zero, a prequel to the Rare game Perfect Dark; Kameo, a family-orientated game; Project Gotham Racing 3; Dead or Alive 4; Quake 4; FIFA 2006; and Ghost Recon 3.

Microsoft plans to make its console backwards compatible with current Xbox games; however, if your favourite title is an obscure one that failed to make the best-seller lists, it will be far down the priority list for Microsoft. Stephen McGill, head of Xbox marketing, revealed that the company was planning to make the best-selling Xbox games - of which he claimed there are hundreds - compatible with the console, and work backwards down the list. He admitted, however, that there may be some Xbox games that simply won't work with the Xbox 360.

There were some things Microsoft has yet to reveal, including pricing and an exact launch date. Rumours abound that the console is set for a worldwide release on 4 November, though Microsoft has not confirmed dates, other than to say it will be on shelves in North America, Europe and Japan for Christmas.

However, Microsoft was more than happy to discuss the power of the machine. Graphics are controlled by a 500MHz ATI graphics chip, and the console is powered by three 2GHz cores. Its 20GB hard drive is removable, so you can attach it to a friend's Xbox 360, almost eliminating the need for memory cards. However, there are two slots for the cards included on the console.

The Xbox 360 is certainly slimmer - and Microsoft promises it will be lighter - than its predecessor. The white console is customisable too, with the ability to swap everything from the console's faceplate to the skins on the software interface.

Unlike its predecessor, the console will play DVDs straight out of the box - no need for the optional extra DVD kit. User can also attach a variety of media devices to the console, such as a portable media player, digital camera or even Media Centre PC, so music and other content can be streamed to the console.

Microsoft is standing firmly behind its Xbox Live service, despite initial speculation raised in some quarters about the viability of such a service in Ireland, where broadband penetration is considered low. There is no doubt about the popularity of Xbox Live globally; figures released on Thursday revealed that the service now has 2 million users, doubling its subscribers in the past year.

The Xbox Live service has had an upgrade for the new console. The online gaming service will now be split into two options - Silver and Gold. Xbox Live Silver is free, and will allow Xbox 360 owners to communicate with their friends through the service, access the marketplace, and download new material for games and the console itself. Microsoft hopes that the Silver option will drive more members to the Xbox Live community. The Gold option is for those who want to access online gaming, and also includes the features of the Silver service. Current members of Xbox Live Gold will be able to move seamlessly to the upgraded version on the Xbox 360, McGill promised.

Another handy feature that Microsoft was keen to draw attention to was the parental control functions that have been built into the new console, allowing parents to restrict viewing and gameplaying to certain age categories, and also to control who younger gamers can play with and talk to online.

Though Microsoft is likely to benefit from first-mover advantage by being the first of the three games console makers to release its next-generation console, a recent report by Strategy Analytics suggests that Sony's PlayStation 3 will win 61 per cent of the next-generation console market by 2012. The report predicts that Sony will sell 122 million PS3s worldwide, Microsoft will sell 59 million Xbox 360s while Nintendo's Revolution will trail the pack, selling just under 18 million units globally by 2012.®

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