Monday, February 5, 2007
The Xbox 360 (pronounced “three-sixty”) is the successor to Microsoft's Xbox video game console, developed in cooperation with IBM, ATI, Samsung and SiS. Information on the console first came through viral marketing campaigns and it was officially unveiled on MTV on May 12, 2005, with detailed launch and game information divulged later that month at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The Xbox 360 is the first console to have a near-simultaneous launch across the three major regions, and the first to provide wireless controller support at launch. The console sold out completely at release and by the end of 2006 had sold 10.4 million worldwide. The Xbox 360 competes with Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii. Its Xbox Live service allows players to compete online as well as download arcade games and additional content such as game trailers, TV shows, music videos, or rented movies.
Known during development as Xenon, Xbox 2, Xbox Next or NextBox, the Xbox 360 was conceived in early 2003. In February of 2003, planning for the Xenon software platform began, and was headed by Microsoft VP J Allard. That month, Microsoft held an event for 400 developers in Bellevue, Washington, to recruit support for the system. Also that month, Peter Moore, former president of Sega of America, joined Microsoft. On August 12, 2003, ATI signed on to produce the graphic processing unit for the new console, a deal which was publicly announced two days later. The following month, IBM signed on to develop the triple-core CPU for the console. Before the launch of the Xbox 360, several alpha development kits were spotted using Apple Power Mac G5 hardware. Games running on these were reported to be using 25-30% of the actual system's power. Microsoft chose to use these systems for their PowerPC architecture, which is similar to that of the Xenon CPU used in the system. On October 24, 2005, Microsoft shut down Xbox Live for a day to upgrade it for the Xbox 360.
Main article: Xbox 360 launch
The promotional campaign for Xbox 360 began on March 14, 2005, with the opening of an alternate reality game called OurColony. Throughout March and April it offered challenges to its community, rewarding solutions with cropped pictures of the console and game screenshots. The end of OurColony came on May 12, 2005, with the release of a video where J Allard of Microsoft showed off the Xbox 360 console. The official unveiling of the Xbox 360 occurred the same day on MTV in a program called MTV Presents: The Next Generation Xbox Revealed. In October of 2005, a similar alternate reality game was created, Hex168, to promote the system before launch.
The Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005, in the United States and Canada; December 2, 2005, in Europe and December 10, 2005, in Japan. It was later launched in Mexico, Colombia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, India, Brazil, Poland, and Czech Republic. Microsoft has additionally announced official launches in: Hungary, Slovakia,  and the Philippines. In its first year on the market, the system launched in 36 countries, more countries than any console has launched in a single year. On September 29, 2006, Microsoft announced that they will waive the cost for repairs due to technical problems on all consoles made before January 1, 2006, and refund any fees already paid. Due to its early launch, the Xbox 360 has a one-year lead on both of its competitors, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii.
Microsoft's retail strategy involves two different configurations of the Xbox 360: the Xbox 360 SKU, frequently referred to as the Xbox 360 Premium Package and an Xbox 360 Core System SKU. At launch, the Xbox 360 was priced at US$399 and the Core System was priced at US$299. The Core System was not originally available in Japan, but was released on November 2, 2006. In Australia and New Zealand and Mexico a Media Remote was included as a substitution for the Xbox Live headset in the Xbox 360 Package. The same remote was included for a limited time at launch in the premium bundle. The two configurations contain different video cables; the core system comes with composite cables, the premium includes a hybrid composite and component cable with optional optical out. Both configurations include one year warranties, although consoles purchased in Canada and the United States before December 21, 2006 originally had 90 day warranties; later extended to one year.
BusinessWeek magazine compiled a report that estimates the total cost of components in the premium bundle at US$525 at launch, excluding manufacturing costs, meaning that Microsoft initially lost money on every Xbox 360 system sold. The strategy of selling a console at a loss or near-loss is common in the console games industry, as console makers expect to make up the loss through game licensing. Since Microsoft owns the intellectual property rights to the hardware used in the Xbox 360, they can easily switch to new fabrication processes or change suppliers in the future to reduce costs. Thanks to streamlined processes and ample component supplies, a report from iSuppli released on November 16, 2006, estimates the total cost of components in the premium bundle is US$323.30. This flexibility stands in contrast to the situation Microsoft faced with the original Xbox, where manufacturing costs were never reduced below the break-even point. Microsoft is predicting that with the Xbox 360, a greater market share, yearly revenue through their Xbox Live service, and falling hardware costs will eventually make system sales profitable.
Main article: Xbox Live
With the launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft's online gaming service, Xbox Live went through a major upgrade, adding a basic non-subscription service, Silver, to its already established premium subscription-based service, Gold. Xbox Live Silver is free of charge and allows users to create a user profile, join on message boards, access Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade and Marketplace and talk to other members. An Xbox Live Silver account does not generally support multiplayer gaming; however, some games that feature their own subscription service can be played with a Silver account. Xbox Live supports voice communication along with video communication, a feature possible with the Xbox Live Vision.
Xbox Live Gold has the same features as Silver, plus online game playing capabilities. Microsoft has allowed for previous Xbox Live subscribers to maintain their profile information, friends list, and games history when they make the transition to Xbox Live Gold. To transfer an Xbox Live account to the new system, users need to link a Windows Live ID to their gamertag on Xbox.com. When users go to add a Xbox Live enabled profile to their console, they need to provide the console with their passport account information and the last four digits of their credit card number, which is used for verification purposes and billing. An Xbox Live Gold account has an annual cost of US$49.99, CD$59.99, £39.99, or €59.99. As of December 31, 2006, Xbox Live has over 5 million subscribers.
Main article: Xbox Live Marketplace
The Xbox Live Marketplace is a virtual market designed for the console that allows Xbox Live users to download purchased or promotional content. The service offers movie and game trailers, game demos, Xbox Live Arcade games, gamer tag images and Xbox 360 Dashboard themes as well as in-game weapons, items, and costumes. These features are available to both silver and gold members on Xbox Live. A hard drive or memory unit is needed to store products purchased from Xbox Live Marketplace. In order to download priced content, users are required to purchase Microsoft Points for use as scrip. Some products are free to download. Users are able to view items available to download on the service through a PC via the Xbox Live Pipeline website. An estimated seventy percent of Xbox Live users download items from Marketplace.
Main article: Xbox Live Arcade
Xbox Live Arcade is an online service operated by Microsoft that is used to distribute arcade video games to Xbox and Xbox 360 owners. In addition to classic arcade games, the service offers some new original games as well as games from other consoles, such as the Genesis title, Sonic the Hedgehog or the PlayStation's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The service was first launched on November 3, 2004, and offers games for about US$5 to $15. Items are purchased using Microsoft Points, a scrip used to reduce credit card transaction charges. On November 22, 2005, Xbox Live Arcade was re-launched with the release of the Xbox 360, in which new games and features were offered. The games are generally aimed toward more casual gamers; examples of the more popular titles are Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting, and UNO.
Main article: Xbox Live Video
On November 6, 2006, Microsoft announced Xbox Live Video, an exclusive video store accessible through the console. Launched in the United States on November 22, 2006, the first anniversary of the Xbox 360 launch, the service allows users in the United States to download high-definition and standard-definition television shows and movies through Xbox Live onto an Xbox 360 console for viewing. At launch the service offered 800 hours of standard footage, and 200 hours of high definition. With the exception of short clips, content is not currently available for streaming, and must be downloaded. Although Microsoft has partnered with AT&T to add IPTV functionality to the console, giving users the ability to stream 2 simultaneous HD and 2 simultaneous SD channels. Movies are available for rental. They expire in 14 days after download or at the end of the first 24 hours after the movie has begun playing, whichever comes first. Television episodes can be purchased to own, and are transferable to an unlimited number of consoles. Downloaded files use 5.1 surround audio and are encoded using VC-1 for video at 720p, with a bitrate of 6.8 Mbps. Content is offered from MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Turner Broadcasting, CBS for television; and Warner Bros., Paramount for movies along with others.
The Xbox 360 dashboard
The Xbox 360 dashboard
The Xbox 360 Guide
The Xbox 360 Guide
The console's graphical user interface is the Xbox 360 Dashboard; a tabbed interface that features four "Blades". It can be launched automatically when the console boots up without a disc, or when the disc tray is ejected; or the user may choose to launch a game automatically if a disc is inserted. A simplified version of it can also be accessed at any time via the Xbox Guide button on the gamepad. This simplified version shows the user's gamercard, Xbox Live messages and friends list. It also allows for personal and music settings, in addition to voice or video chats. Much like modern operating systems, the console replaces the dashboard with a Screen of Death if it encounters a serious error.
The Base Kernel Version of the dashboard is 2.0.1888. The first major update, version, 2.0.2857, was released on June 13, 2006. This version gave users the option to resume DVD playback from where it was last stopped as well as the option to boot to either a disc or the dashboard. New slideshow options were added for Photo Viewing, which can save folder layout between sessions. Xbox Live Marketplace was reorganized and users can now have concurrent downloads, allowing multiple downloads as background tasks.
Dashboard version 2.0.4532.0 was released on October 31, 2006. It allows the Xbox 360 to output video at 1080p and installs support for Zune and the external HD DVD drive attachment. WMV files can be streamed from a computer through the use of Windows Media Connect or connected USB device. Windows Media Player 11 was added as a supported streaming program. Xbox Live Arcade can now be set to automatically download trial versions of any newly released titles. Cosmetic changes to the dashboard were also made.
The current dashboard version, 2.0.4548, was released on November 30, 2006. It improves performance on wired headsets when used with a wireless controller and fixes video output issues on VGA connections.
Main article: Microsoft XNA
Microsoft XNA is a set of tools and technologies that includes XNA Studio, which provides versions of key production tools such as asset management, defect tracking, project automation and work lists. These tools are designed to work together to automate common development tasks and present interfaces tailored to the different functions within the team. John Carmack stated at QuakeCon 2005 that the Xbox 360 has "the best development environment I've seen on a console". Microsoft XNA also includes other components such as the XNA Framework and XNA Build.
Anyone can develop a game using XNA Game Studio Express, an IDE for homebrew developers, which was initially released in beta form on August 30, 2006. A second, near feature complete beta version was released on November 1, 2006. The final feature complete version, 1.0, was released on December 11, 2006. It targets the XNA Framework only to provide managed content and for a US$99/£65GBP yearly subscription fee users can join a "creators club" which lets them share their content with others. There is also a 4 month subscription to the "creators club" which costs £30GBP.
For more details on this topic, see List of Xbox games compatible with Xbox 360.
Backward compatibility is achieved through software emulation of the original Xbox. Emulated games offer graphical enhancements because they are rendered in 720p, 1080i, or 1080p HD resolution with anti-aliasing enabled rather than the Xbox standard of 480p; anti-aliasing is also applied when the output resolution is 480p. Some games also benefit from an improvement in the rendered draw distance, possibly due to the system's greater memory bandwidth. However there are also games that do not perform well in emulation; these often exhibit a lower framerate on the Xbox 360., as well as various sound bugs and occasional gameplay glitches. A hard drive and the downloading of an emulation profile is needed in order to play original Xbox games. Updated emulation profiles can be obtained through Xbox Live, by burning a CD with profiles downloaded from Xbox.com, or by ordering an update disc from Microsoft. The full list of backward-compatible games is maintained at Xbox.com. The current U.S. list includes 298 games (about 30% of the total Xbox game library, as of the December 14, 2006, update); fewer titles are backward compatible in European and Japanese markets, with 295 and 71 titles respectively. Microsoft has stated that they intend to release more emulation profiles as they become available, with a goal of making the entire Xbox library playable on the Xbox 360. They have since made multiple statements indicating that this may never be complete, and the rate of updates to the backwards compatibility list is in line with this stated attitude.
Main article: List of Xbox 360 games
The Xbox 360 launched with a number of games. One such, Call of Duty 2 was the console's best selling game for 2005, selling over a million copies. Only five other games sold this amount in the console's first year in the market; Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Dead or Alive 4, Saints Row  and Gears of War. Second-party developer Rare had two games at launch: Perfect Dark Zero, which was Rare's first major commercial success after their acquisition by Microsoft; and was believed by some to be the console's flagship launch title; and Kameo: Elements of Power. Only six games were initially offered in Japan, and eagerly anticipated titles like Dead or Alive 4 and [eM] -eNCHANT arM- were not released until several weeks after launch. Games more suitable to the region are planned or have since been released, such as Chromehounds, Ninety-Nine Nights, and Phantasy Star Universe. Microsoft-backed Mistwalker has since released Blue Dragon in the region, and currently has two other Japanese-style games in development, Lost Odyssey and Cry On. On October 19, 2006, over 10,000 pre-orders of a limited-edition Blue Dragon bundle sold out in Japan on the first day. The pack, priced at JP¥29,800 includes the Xbox 360 core system with a copy of Blue Dragon, along with a table calendar, Blue Dragon faceplate, and five miniature character figures.
E3 2006 was the first large-scale show after the console's launch and there, the first trailer for Halo 3, the sequel to the original Xbox's best selling game. Fable 2, a sequel to the Xbox's best-selling RPG, was also shown, along with Alan Wake, Mass Effect and Too Human. Bill Gates spoke of plans to integrate several Microsoft services into one entity with Live Anywhere. This service will allow multiplayer games and communication possible between Xbox 360 and the upcoming Windows Vista operating system for the PC. Shadowrun was the first game announced to be compatible with Live Anywhere. Several games originally released on PC have also been released on the Xbox 360, such as F.E.A.R. and Quake 4. Grand Theft Auto IV was shown and will be the first title in the series to be released for the Xbox 360 the same day as its PlayStation 3 counterpart. At X06, Microsoft announced new titles, along with information on future releases. Splinter Cell: Conviction, set to release after Splinter Cell: Double Agent, was announced to be exclusive to the Xbox 360, as were Bioshock and Banjo-Kazooie 3. At the event, Halo Wars was also announced, along with an Untitled Halo Project. Microsoft is publishing sequels to some of its more successful franchises on the original Xbox, such as Forza Motorsport 2, Project Gotham Racing 3 & 4, and Fuzion Frenzy 2. In addition to sequels, they have published original games based on new IPs such as Viva Piñata and Gears of War.
Xbox 360 CPU with some thermal paste left on it
Xbox 360 CPU with some thermal paste left on it
Central processing unit
Main article: Xenon (processor)
The Xbox 360 takes a new approach to hardware compared to its predecessor. The CPU, named Xenon at Microsoft and "Waternoose" at IBM, is a custom triple-core PowerPC-based design by IBM. The CPU emphasizes high floating point performance through multiple FPU and SIMD vector processing units in each core. It has a theoretical peak performance of 115.2 gigaflops and is capable of 9.6 billion dot products per second. Each core of the CPU is simultaneous multithreading capable and clocked at 3.2 gigahertz. However, to reduce CPU die size, complexity, cost, and power demands, the processor uses in-order execution in contrast to the Intel Coppermine128-based Mobile Celeron used in Xbox which used more advanced out-of-order execution. The original chip uses a 90 nanometer process, although a 65 nanometer process SOI revision was originally planned for early 2007, but it has been delayed until mid-2007. A 21.6 GB/s front side bus, aggregated 10.8 GB/s upstream and downstream, connects Xenon with the graphics processor/northbridge. Xenon is equipped with a 1 MiB Level 2 cache on-die running at half CPU clock speed. This cache is shared amongst the three CPU cores. The CPU also contains ROM storing Microsoft private encrypted keys, used to decrypt game data. The heat sink implemented to cool the CPU is composed of aluminum fins with copper base heat pipes. The heat sink is cooled by two 60 millimeter fans at the back of the console.
Xbox 360 GPU; note the smaller eDRAM die to the left of the main Xenos die
Xbox 360 GPU; note the smaller eDRAM die to the left of the main Xenos die
Graphics processing unit
Main article: Xenos
While the first Xbox's graphics processing unit was produced by NVIDIA, the Xbox 360 uses a chip designed by ATI called Xenos. The chip was developed under the names "C1" and "R500". Xenos contains 48 unified shader units, which are capable of both vertex and pixel shading operations. This is in contrast to older graphics processor designs which utilize separate specialized units for these tasks. The GPU package contains two separate silicon dies, each on a 90 nm chip with a clock speed of 500 MHz; the GPU proper, manufactured by TSMC and a 10 MB eDRAM daughter-die, manufactured by NEC. Thanks to the daughter die, the Xenos can do 4x FSAA, z-buffering, and alpha blending with no appreciable performance penalty on the GPU. The GPU also houses additional capabilities typically separated into a motherboard chipset in PC systems, effectively replacing the northbridge chip. An aluminum heat sink is also implemented to cool the GPU; it is wider and shorter than the CPU heat sink.
Memory and system bandwidth
Xbox 360 Bandwidth Diagram
Xbox 360 Bandwidth Diagram
The console features 512 MiB of 700 megahertz GDDR3 RAM on a 128-bit bus. The memory is shared by the CPU and the GPU via the unified memory architecture. This memory is produced by either Samsung or Qimonda.
The Xbox 360 has an extensive amount of bandwidth in comparison to its competition; however this statistic includes the eDram logic to memory bandwidth, and not internal CPU bandwidths. The eDram internal logic to its internal memory bandwidth is 256 GB/s. The high bandwidth is used primarily for z-buffering, alpha blending, and antialiasing; it saves time and space on the GPU die. Between the eDram die and the GPU, data is transferred at 32 GB/s. The memory interface bus has a bandwidth of 22.40 GB/s and the southbridge a bandwidth of 1 GB/s.
Audio and video
All games made for the Xbox 360 are required to support at least 5.1-channel Dolby Digital surround sound. The console works with over 256 audio channels and 320 independent decompression channels using 32-bit processing for audio, with support for 48 kHz 16-bit sound. Sound files for games are encoded using Microsoft's XMA audio format. An MPEG-2 decoder is included for DVD video playback. VC-1 or WMV is used for streaming video and other video is compressed using VC-1 at non-HD NTSC and PAL resolutions or WMV HD. Unlike the original Xbox, voice communication is handled by the console, not by the game code, allowing for cross-game communication. There is no voice echo to game players on the same console; voice goes only to remote consoles. There are no digital video outputs such as DVI or HDMI; instead, HD-quality output can only be produced over VGA or component video. A wide array of SDTV and HDTV resolutions, up to 1080p after the fall software upgrade, are supported by the console hardware.
The Xbox 360 is equipped with a 12x DVD drive, capable of a maximum read rate of 15.9 MB/s, compared to Playstation 3's 8.6 MB/s. Games are stored on standard dual-layer DVD-ROMs with 7 GB of usable space available for game content. The option to apply a regional lockout to games is available to publishers, although DVD region codes are always enforced. Microsoft has implemented methods to prevent hacking through the drive. Later drive models have the external debug triggering removed and black hard glue added to cover all the chip and controller pins. The drive is able to read both DVD±R and DVD±RW in addition to being able to play DVD-Video out of the box, unlike its predecessor, which required the purchase of an add-on remote. The system is also capable of playing standard CDs along with CD-R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM XA, CD-Extra, WMA-CD, MP3-CD, and JPEG Photo CD. Some users reported problems with the disc drive, as when a user changes the console's orientation, the inserted disc may brush against the drive's pickup assembly and incur scratches to it.
Announced at CES 2006 and first publicly shown at E3 2006, an external HD-DVD drive was released in North America on November 7, 2006, for $199.99, and in Japan on November 17, 2006, for ¥19,800. In Europe, the HD DVD drive will be released for €199.99/£129.99 in the UK, France, and Germany. For a limited time, the HD DVD drive will be bundled with an Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote, as well as an HD DVD copy of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The drive will play HD DVD movies, although all Xbox 360 games will remain on the DVD format. Microsoft has no plans to include an internal HD DVD player in future Xbox 360 designs. The external drive connects to the Xbox 360 via USB and contains two integrated USB ports on the rear.
The Premium configuration of the system comes with an external hard drive and it is optional to separately purchase one for the Core. The detachable 20 GB hard drive is not required for standard games. The 2.5" hard drive is connected through a SATA interface and spins at 5400 rpm.
Components and accessories
An Xbox 360 Wireless Controller
An Xbox 360 Wireless Controller
Main article: Xbox 360 components and accessories
Xbox 360 also has a built-in 100BASE-TX RJ45 ethernet port, suitable for connecting to Xbox Live, and three USB ports.
Up to four controllers are supported by the Xbox 360, in the wireless form. However, there is a maximum of three wired controllers, as the Xbox 360 only has 3 USB slots. Despite this, a USB hub can be used to extend the maximum number of wired controllers. The wired version of the controller can also be used as PC gamepad because it uses a USB connection, directly connected to the controller; the wireless controller cannot because it uses a wireless signal. A wireless receiver set to be released in 2007 will plug into the PC, allowing wireless Xbox 360 accessories to be used on the PC. An optional wireless force feedback racing wheel for racing games was released on November 1, 2006. The Xbox 360 controller is significantly different from the original Xbox controllers, the Duke and the S models. The black and white buttons have been replaced by bumper buttons, which are on the shoulder of the controller, right before the triggers. It is noticeably smoother, has a white-gray theme, and is very small and ergonomically built.
The Xbox 360 can connect to Xbox Live through an optional wireless network adapter on a home network through a wireless router. The Universal Media Remote can be used to control several functions of the console, including the Windows Media Center functions if connected to the network. Various other components for the console exist, such as decorative faceplates to change the physical appears of the console, wired or wireless headsets for communication over Xbox Live, and an Xbox 360 branded webcam called Xbox Live Vision.
According to EBgames website, the long-waited 256mb version of the memory unit has been changed to 512mb, the release date is set to be Mar. 1, 2007.
The Xbox 360 is similar in form factor to its predecessor. It is slightly slimmer in every dimension, and the Xbox 360 is white and slightly concave, whereas the original Xbox was black and noticeably convex. It was designed by Astro Studios in cooperation with Hers Experimental Design Laboratory. The front of the console features a "ring of light", which displays 4 illuminated quadrants either in red or green. When the lights turn red, the console has encountered a technical problem; the number of sectors illuminated informs a user what category the error falls into. The Xbox 360 has a weight of 3.5 kg (7.7 lb), about 350 grams lighter than the original Xbox. The console uses an external power supply with a 5 amp/100-120 volt AC input and DC output of 203 watts. An estimated 2 W of power are used while the console is in standby mode, a yearly usage of 17.52 kWh. Saving the console size and weight, the power supply displaces 1300 cm³.
Q4 2005 1.5 million units 
Q1 2006 1.7 million units 
Q2 2006 1.8 million units 
Q3 2006 0.9 million units 
Q4 2006 4.4 million units 
Q2 2007 12 million units 
Because of a manufacturing bottleneck for having started the massive manufacturing only 69 days before launching, Microsoft was not able to supply enough systems to meet initial consumer demand in Europe or North America. Many potential customers were not able to purchase a console at launch and the lack of availability led to Xbox 360 bundles selling on eBay at grossly inflated prices, with some auctions exceeding US$6,000. It was reported that 40,000 units appeared on eBay during the initial month of release, which would mean that 10% of the total supply was resold on eBay alone. By year's end, Microsoft had sold 1.5 million units; including 900,000 in North America, 500,000 in Europe, and 100,000 in Japan.
By the end of 2006, Microsoft expected to sell 10 million units, a target it passed by 400,000 units. Forecasted cumulative estimates of 13 to 15 million units are estimated by June 30, 2007. It was also the best selling seventh generation console of the 2006 holiday season in the United States and second to Sony's Playstation 2 in U.S. holiday sales for all consoles.
On its release the Xbox 360 had become the fastest selling console in the Australian region. The console had the highest launch sales of any console released in the region. and is the fastest to 100,000 consoles sold, a feat accomplished in just 7 months.
During the December 4, 2006 to December 10, 2006, sales period the Xbox 360 sold 35,453 consoles in Japan, outselling the PlayStation 2 for the first time in Japan. As of December 31, 2006, 4.5 million consoles have been sold in the United States.
Microsoft's CFO Chris Liddell during the fiscal Q2 2007 earnings call downgraded total Xbox 360 shipments from 13-15 million to 12 million for its fiscal year ending in June 30, 2007.
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