While you’re out looking at video game consoles this holiday season, don’t forget to check out Microsoft's Xbox 360.
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Since being released in November of last year, Microsoft has sold more than 6 million Xbox 360 consoles and built up a catalogue that includes over 100 titles. The newly launched Wii and Playstation 3 will only have 32 and 22 games, respectively, by year's end.
The price point of the 360 may sway consumers who aren't willing to shell out $500 for the base PlayStation 3 model. But if you want the extras — a hard drive, wireless controllers — it'll cost you.
The low-down on price
The premium version of the 360 is $400 and comes equipped with a 20-gigabye hard drive and a wireless controller. The base model is a little cheaper at $300, and comes with one wired controller but no hard drive, which is necessary if you want to play online. For an extra $100, you can buy the hard drive separately, and extra controllers will set you back even more: $50 for the wireless variety and $40 for the wired. Finally, if you want Wi-Fi, you'll have to shell out another $100.
Some consumers will like the fact they can upgrade their system as they can afford it. But others may feel like they're being nickel-and-dimed, preferring that their consoles come complete.
No matter which model you pick, the 360 sits right in the middle of the console wars, both price and performance-wise. It has better graphics than the Wii, and can play DVDs. The Wii can't play DVDs, but the price is nice: $250.
On the other end, the base model PS3 starts at $500, with the top-of-the-line version selling for $600. And while the graphics for both the PS3 and 360 are comparable, the PS3 has options that you won’t find on the Microsoft machine, like the Blu-ray Disc technology that lets you play high-definition DVDs.
Microsoft has a highly popular online service called Xbox Live that comes in two versions: Silver, which is free, and Gold, which costs $50 a year. This service allows gamers to play each other online, as well as download and purchase content like games, patches, and as of November 22, movies and TV shows. Both Sony and Nintendo will be offering similar online services with their consoles.
The empty-shelf syndrome
One big advantage the 360 has over its competitors this holiday season: you'll actually be able to find one. Industry watchers predict shortfalls for both the PlayStation 3 and the Wii — Microsoft has had a whole year to work out the kinks in its Xbox 360 supply chain.
You will be disappointed if you go looking for kids games for the 360, though. There just aren't a lot of them yet. Microsoft is trying to change that by offering “Viva Piñata,” and that’s a start, but like the PS3, the 360 is more for the older gamer.
If that description fits you, here are some games you might pick up with your 360: “Gears of War,” a bloody, violent and fun third-person shooter, “Saint’s Row,” a gang-warfare game in the tradition of “Grand Theft Auto,” and “Dead Rising,” one fun, zombie-killing game.