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Microsoft Xbox 360
It's here. It's impressive
Microsoft received a great deal of criticism about the styling of the original Xbox - let's face it, it was an ugly, big, black box. Although the Crystal Xbox looked better, it was still no looker. The 360, on the other hand, looks great - I get the feeling that if Apple had wanted to produce a gaming console, it would have looked something like this. A lot has been said about the 360's curves - it's supposed to have an hourglass figure when stood vertically - and they definitely enhance the machine's appearance, but there is one very good reason why the X360 could be prettier than the original Xbox: the external power supply.
The original Xbox had the power supply built into the unit, with only a figure-of-eight power cord plugging into the back of the console. The 360 uses an external power brick, and I mean brick! The external PSU is massive, probably the largest I've ever seen, but I have to say that I'm not particularly bothered by it. Once you've got the console set up where you want it, the power supply will be under the table or desk, or just lying dormant by the plug socket - the point is that you can hide the PSU out of the way, while having the console itself on display. The original Xbox was never something that you wanted to have on display. You may have read reports about the power brick becoming excessively hot during use, but I encountered no such problems with mine.
There are two versions of the 360 available: the basic Core system and the Deluxe package - I received the latter for review. Inside the very nice packaging you'll find the 360 itself, complete with the 20GB (removable) hard disk attached. You also get a wireless controller, an HD-ready component video cable - this will also carry composite video for those with normal TVs - a SCART adaptor, a remote control complete with Media Center button, a headset for Xbox Live use and four AA batteries. For £280 that's a pretty good bundle.
The Deluxe package shows that Microsoft has also learned from its mistakes with the Xbox launch. When I picked up my original Xbox I had to buy a separate AV cable if I wanted something more than composite video - but more alarming was the fact that I had to buy one of these cables to get a digital audio output! Thankfully the AV cable that comes with the 360 has an optical digital output integrated, so you'll be able to get proper Dolby Digital surround sound in your games without having to fork out more money.