The Xbox 360 is the second video game console produced by Microsoft and the successor to the Xbox. The Xbox 360 competes with Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii as part of the seventh generation of video game consoles. Several major features of the Xbox 360 are its integrated Xbox Live service that allows players to compete online, download arcade games, game demos, trailers, TV shows, music and movies and its Windows Media Center multimedia capabilities. The Xbox 360 also offers region specific access to third-party media streaming services such as Netflix and ESPN in the US or Sky Go in the UK. At their E3 presentation on June 14, 2010, Microsoft announced a redesigned Xbox 360 that would ship on the same day. The redesigned console is slimmer than the previous Xbox 360 model and features integrated 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, TOSLINK S/PDIF optical audio output, 5 USB 2.0 ports (compared to the 3 from older versions) and a special AUX port. Older models of the Xbox 360 have since been discontinued. The first new console to be released features a 250 GB hard drive, while a later, less expensive SKU features 4 GB internal storage. With the announcement of the Xbox 360 S, Microsoft have said that they believe that the console is only mid-way through its life-cycle and will continue through 2015. In 2009, IGN named the Xbox 360 the sixth greatest video game console of all time, out of a field of 25.
Kinect is a “controller-free gaming and entertainment experience” for the Xbox 360. It was first announced on June 1, 2009 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, under the codename, Project Natal. The add-on peripheral enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without a game controller by using gestures, spoken commands and presented objects and images. The Kinect accessory is compatible with all Xbox 360 models, connecting to new models via a custom connector, and to older ones via a USB and mains power adapter.
The Xbox 360 supports videos in Windows Media Video (WMV) format (including high-definition and PlaysForSure videos), as well as H.264 and MPEG-4 media. The December 2007 dashboard update added support for the playback of MPEG-4 ASP format videos. The console can also display pictures and perform slideshows of photo collections with various transition effects, and supports audio playback, with music player controls accessible through the Xbox 360 Guide button. Users may play back their own music while playing games or using the dashboard, and can play music with an interactive visual synthesizer. Music, photos and videos can be played from standard USB mass storage devices, Xbox 360 proprietary storage devices (such as memory cards or Xbox 360 hard drives), and servers or computers with Windows Media Center or Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or higher within the local-area network in streaming mode. As the Xbox 360 uses a modified version of the UPnP AV protocol, some alternative UPnP servers such as uShare (part of the GeeXboX project) and MythTV can also stream media to the Xbox 360, allowing for similar functionality from non-Windows servers. This is possible with video files up to HD-resolution and with several codecs (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV) and container formats (WMV, MOV, TS).
At the 2007, 2008, and 2009 Consumer Electronics Shows, Microsoft had announced that IPTV services would soon be made available to use through the Xbox 360. In 2007, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates stated that IPTV on Xbox 360 was expected to be available to consumers by the holiday season, using the Microsoft TV IPTV Edition platform. In 2008, Gates and president of Entertainment & Devices Microsoft announced a partnership with BT in the United Kingdom, in which the BT Vision advanced TV service, using the newer Microsoft Mediaroom IPTV platform, would be accessible via Xbox 360, planned for the middle of the year. BT Vision’s DVR-based features would not be available on Xbox 360 due to limited hard drive capacity. In 2010, while announcing version 2.0 of Microsoft Mediaroom, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer mentioned that AT&T’s U-verse IPTV service would enable Xbox 360s to be used as set-top boxes later in the year. As of January 2010, IPTV on Xbox 360 has yet to be deployed beyond limited trials.
Fetaures a basic non-subscription service called Xbox Live Silver (later renamed Xbox Live Free) to its already established premium subscription-based service (which was renamed Gold). Xbox Live Free is included with all SKUs of the console. It allows users to create a user profile, join on message boards, and access Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Marketplace and talk to other members. A Live Free account does not generally support multiplayer gaming; however, some games that have rather limited online functions already, (such as Viva Piñata) or games that feature their own subscription service (e.g. EA Sports games) can be played with a Free account. Xbox Live also supports voice and video communication, the latter a feature possible with the Xbox Live Vision; an add-on USB web camera designed specifically for the Xbox 360.
Xbox Live Gold includes the same features as Free and includes integrated online game playing capabilities outside of third-party subscriptions. Microsoft has allowed 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 add an Xbox Live enabled profile to their console, they are required 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, as of January 5, 2011, Xbox Live has over 30 million subscribers.