Friday, April 14, 2006
The Xbox 360, known during development as the Xenon, Xbox 2 or the Xbox Next, is the successor to Microsoft's original Xbox video game console. The Xbox 360 console was officially unveiled on MTV on May 12, 2005, with detailed launch and game information divulged later that month at the prominent Electronic Entertainment Expo. Upon its release on November 22, 2005 in North America, December 2 in Europe, and December 10 in Japan, the Xbox 360 became the first console to have a simultaneous launch across the four major regions. It also serves as the first entrant in a new generation of game consoles and will compete against the forthcoming PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution.
Microsoft's current retail strategy involves two different configurations of the Xbox 360 in most countries: the Xbox 360 SKU, frequently referred to as the "Xbox 360 Premium Package"; and an Xbox 360 Core System SKU. The Core System is not available in Japan, instead Microsoft offers a package identical to the Xbox 360 SKU for ¥37,900. Japanese pricing of the console has drawn some criticism, as customers there are able to purchase the Xbox 360 full package, albeit one region-coded for Japan, for a lower price than in other countries. Additionally in Australia and New Zealand the Xbox-Live Headset in the Xbox 360 "Premium Package" is replaced with the Universal Media Remote.
BusinessWeek magazine compiled a report that estimates the total cost of components in the "premium" bundle at $525 USD, sans manufacturing costs, meaning that Microsoft is losing money on every Xbox 360 system sold. It should be noted that the strategy of selling a console at a loss or near-loss is common in the console games industry, as console makers can usually expect to make up the loss through game licensing. Furthermore, 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 in order to reduce manufacturing costs. This flexibility stands in contrast to the situation faced with the original Xbox, which contained a processor from Intel (a slightly modified Pentium III) and a GPU from NVidia (a modified GeForce 3), both of which were proprietary processors sold to Microsoft at an inflated market price. Because of the added expense of these chips and the inclusion of a hard drive component, Microsoft was never able to reduce Xbox manufacturing costs below the break-even point. As a result Microsoft's home entertainment division posted a loss through nearly every quarter of the console's lifecycle. Microsoft is predicting that with the Xbox 360 a greater market share and falling hardware costs will eventually make system sales profitable.
The Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005 in United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, December 2, 2005 in Europe, December 10, 2005 in Japan, February 2, 2006 in Mexico and Colombia, February 24, 2006 in South Korea, March 16, 2006 in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan and March 23 in Australia and New Zealand after a 3-week delay.
Because of a manufacturing bottleneck Microsoft was not able to supply enough systems to meet consumer demand in Europe or the United States. Many potential customers were not able to procure a console at launch and the dearth of availability led to Xbox 360 bundles selling on eBay at grossly inflated prices. By year's end Microsoft had sold only 1.5 million units; including 900,000 in North America, 500,000 in Europe, and a meager 100,000 in Japan. Low Japanese sales are partly attributed to the poor selection of launch titles in the region - only six games were initially offered and eagerly anticipated titles like Dead or Alive 4 and Enchant Arm were not released until several weeks after launch.
Up to four controllers are supported by the Xbox 360, including wired and wireless gamepads. The wired gamepads may be connected to any of the three USB ports located on the console, or to a USB hub. A USB keyboard is also supported, but only for inputting text.
The Xbox 360 gamepad design is similar to the Type-S gamepad from the original Xbox. Unlike the Type-S, the Xbox 360 gamepad features only two analog (pressure sensitive) buttons - the left and right triggers. Also the black and white buttons have been replaced with the right and left bumpers and an Xbox Guide button has been added to the center. Wired gamepads feature a nine foot (2.74 m) long cord with a break-away feature. They can be used with any USB and Windows equipped computer. Wireless gamepads have a range of about 30 feet (~9 m) and use either two AA batteries or a NiMH rechargeable battery pack. When a gamepad is plugged in, or - in the case of wireless gamepads - turned on, a quadrant of the LED "Ring of Light" around the power button is lit up, indicating connection and ordering (1st player corresponds to the upper-left quadrant, 2nd player to upper-right, etc.) The "Ring of Light" also adorns the Xbox Guide button; it will flash in case of a low battery warning on the wireless gamepad.
Xbox 360 faceplates
The default white faceplate can be replaced with a range of custom designs, each to be sold separately. Microsoft has also distributed two promotional faceplates, one for those present at the E3 2005 unveiling and one for VIP X05 attendees. The prices of these custom designs are around $20 with more to be released by third party manufacturers.
Adapters and cables are available for TOSLINK, RCA (audio and video), S-video, Component video, VGA, D-Terminal, and SCART connections, depending on regional standard.
* Detachable hard drive: An optional detachable SATA 20 GB hard drive is used for the storage of games, music, downloaded trailers, levels, demos, player preferences, and community-created content from Xbox Live Marketplace; it may also be used to transfer such content between Xbox 360 units. It will also be used for backward compatibility with original Xbox games. Only 13 GB of this hard drive are available to the user; the rest is reserved for the system and games. According to J Allard, the chief of Microsoft's Xbox division, Microsoft may sell larger capacity detachable hard drives for the Xbox 360 in the future, and territories outside of North America may have a differently sized hard drive in the retail unit.
* Rechargeable battery pack: This nickel metal hydride battery pack provides up to 30 hours of continuous gaming for the wireless controller. It is recommended in place of disposable AA batteries (which differ slightly in voltage). It also ships as part of the Play & Charge Kit.
* Play and Charge kit: allows the controller to be recharged while "playing" by plugging the wireless controller into one of the USB ports used by wired controllers. Also includes the rechargeable battery pack.
* Memory Unit: a portable 64MB device which allows the transfer of saved games, in-game achievements and unique gamer profiles to other Xbox 360 consoles.
* Wireless Networking Adapter: The Wi-Fi (802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g) adapter is sold separately and will be sold for $100/€80/£60/C$130/¥8,925. Using an official or third-party wireless bridge the console will automatically detect and link up with other Xbox 360 consoles that are within range and form a mesh network.
* Headset: allows gamers to talk to each other when plugged into the controller's expansion port and connected to Xbox Live. Some upcoming Xbox 360 titles may benefit from voice command too. It has an in-line volume control and a mute switch.
* Universal Media Remote: assists in the playing of DVD movies and music (although the console can play such media without the remote), and offers controls for a TV or Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005-based PC. The universal media remote is a bigger version of the media remote that was initially shipped with the premium version of the console (which is no longer available). Both remotes allow basic control of games, along with being able to navigate the dashboard. The remote controls interface with the Xbox 360 via infra-red.
Central processing unit
The central processing unit (CPU), named Xenon (Microsoft) or Waternoose (IBM) is a custom IBM triple-core PowerPC-based design.
* 90 nm process, 165 million transistors
* Three symmetrical cores, each one SMT-capable and clocked at 3.2 GHz
* One VMX-128 (IBM's branding for AltiVec) SIMD unit per core
* 128×128 register file for each VMX unit
* 1 MB L-2 cache (lockable by the GPU) running at half-speed (1.6 GHz) with a 256bit bus
* 51 gigabytes per second of L-2 memory bandwidth (256bit x 1600 MHz)
* dot product performance: 9.6 billion per second
* 115 GFLOPS theoretical peak performance
* ROM storing Microsoft private encrypted keys
Graphics processing unit
The graphics processing unit (GPU) is a custom ATI "Xenos" chip. (Developed under the name "C1", sometimes "R500")
* 325 million transistors total
* 500 MHz parent GPU (90 nm process, 235 million transistors)
* 500 MHz 10 MB daughter embedded DRAM framebuffer (90 nm process, 90 million transistors)
o NEC designed eDRAM has internal logic for color, alpha blending, Z/stencil buffering, and anti-aliasing.
o 8 Render Output units
* 48-way parallel floating-point dynamically-scheduled shader pipelines
o 3 groups of 16 arithmetic logic units
o 1 ALU per fragmentpipe for vertex or pixel shader processing
o Unified shader architecture (This means that each pipeline is capable of running either pixel or vertex shaders.)
o Support for DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0, limited support for future DirectX 10 shader models
o 2 Shader operations per pipe per cycle
o 96 Shader operations per cycle across the entire shader array
o Shader performance: 48 billion (48,000 million) shader operations per second (96 shader operations x 500 MHz)
o Xbox 360 GPU is capable of doing two of those shaders per cycle. If programmed for correctly, the Xbox 360 GPU is capable of 96 billion shader operations per second. Compare this with ATI’s current PC add-in flagship card and the Xbox 360 more than doubles its abilities
* 16 Filtered & 16 unfiltered texture samples per clock
* Maximum polygon performance: 500 million triangles per second
* Texel fillrate: 8 gigatexel per second fillrate (16 textures x 500 MHz)
* Pixel fillrate: 16 gigasamples per second fillrate using 4X multisample anti aliasing (MSAA) or 4 gigapixel per second without multisample anti aliasing (8 ROPs x 500 MHz)
* Dot product operations: 24 billion per second or 33.6 billion per second theoretical maximum when summed with CPU operations
* 1 TFLOPS theoretical peak performance of CPU and GPU combined
* 512 MB 700 MHz GDDR3 (1400 MHz effective) RAM (Total system memory is shared with the GPU via the unified memory architecture.)
The system bandwidth comprises:
* 22.4 GB/s memory interface bus bandwidth (700 MHz × 2 accesses per clock cycle (one per edge) on a 128 bit bus)
* 256 GB/s eDRAM internal logic to eDRAM internal memory bandwidth
* 32 GB/s GPU to eDRAM bandwidth (2 GHz × 2 accesses per clock cycle on a 64 bit DDR bus)
* 21.6 GB/s front side bus (aggregated 10.8 GB/s upstream and downstream)
* 1 GB/s southbridge bandwidth (aggregated 500 MB/s upstream and downstream)
* All games must support at least six channel (5.1) Dolby Digital surround sound
* Support for 48 kHz 16-bit audio
* 320 independent decompression channels
* 32 bit processing
* 256+ audio channels
* No voice echo to game players on the same Xbox console; voice goes only to remote consoles
* Voice communication is handled by the console, not by the game code. This allows players to communicate online even if they are playing different games.
* Uses XMA codec (based on WMA Pro)
All games must support a 16:9 aspect ratio, and a minimum of 720p HD resolution with 2x full-screen anti-aliasing enabled. The GPU can downsample the native 720p to lower display resolutions (including 480i SDTV and 480p) and dynamically crop or scale 16:9 to fit 4:3 screens. Some games will optionally support native 1080i and 480p video resolutions as well.
* VC-1 at non-HD NTSC and PAL resolutions
* VC-1 or WMV will be used for streaming video
* VC-1 or WMV HD supports DVD quality and high definition quality video
* Bink Video is licensed for games like Project Gotham Racing 3
* additional MPEG2 decoder for DVD video playback
A 12X DVD-ROM SATA drive, capable of reading DVD+R/DVD+RW discs and DVD-R/RW, is part of the console, with game titles shipping on single or dual-layer DVDs. Due to storage restrictions imposed by the dual layer DVD format and increased memory requirements of high resolution full motion videos and textures, future Xbox 360 games may span multiple discs. The disc drive also supports the CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R/RW, WMA-CD, MP3-CD, and JPEG Photo CD formats as well as DVD movies.
Bill Gates has confirmed during his keynote speech at CES 2006 that an external HD-DVD drive will be released for the 360 during 2006. However, Peter Moore has stated that if HD-DVD loses the format war, Microsoft may also release an external Blu-Ray drive. According to Japan's chief of Xbox operations Yoshihiro Maruyama, Microsoft will not release Xbox 360 games in the new disc formats.
Both the GPU and CPU of the console have heatsinks. The CPU's heatsink uses heatpipe technology, where a hollow copper pipe containing a substance with a low vaporization point transfers heat from one end to the other very efficiently . The heatsinks are actively cooled by a pair of 60mm exhaust fans that push the air out of the case (negative case pressure). Active cooling makes the Xbox 360 considerably louder than the original Xbox. There have been third party modifications that watercool the console.
* Weight 3.5 kg (7.7 lb)
* 30.9 cm (L) x 25.8 cm (W) x 8.3 cm (H) (12.16 x 10.15 x 3.27 in)
* 21.3 cm (L) x 7.6 cm (W) x 5.7 cm (H) (8.4 x 3 x 2.25 in)
* The option to apply a regional lockout to games is available to publishers. Most titles do not use such restrictions, see List of Xbox 360 games without region encoding. DVD region codes are always enforced.
* An external A/C adapter supplies power to the console and its connected accessories, it is the largest power supply to ever accompany a gaming console. The North American adapter is rated at 5 amps / 100-120V A/C input and has a D/C output of 203W.
* 3 USB 2.0 input ports, 1 RJ45 ethernet port.
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 profile, join on message boards, access Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, and talk to other members. Silver members are not allowed to play any games online. Microsoft has also announced there will be trial weekends for Silver members to access the full features of Gold service temporarily. Xbox Live is supporting a few features, such as the headset, or an Xbox Live webcam that will come out in the Spring of 2006, according to Xbox 360 kiosk stands and Official Xbox Magazine. 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, buddy lists, and games history when they make the transition to Xbox Live Gold. To transition an Xbox Live account to the new system the user needs to link a Microsoft Passport account to their gamer tag on Xbox.com. Then when the user goes to add a Xbox Live enabled profile to their console, the user just needs to provide the console with their passport account information. An Xbox Live Gold account costs $49.99 USD, £39.99 Pounds Sterling, €59.99 per year.
In traditional video games, all content is statically stored and generally immutable; that is, textures, meshes, and other game content is stored on a storage medium. As complexity in each rises, the demand for storage rises as well. A newer approach to generating content is utilised for Xbox 360 titles, a method referred to by Microsoft as procedural synthesis. Procedural synthesis is an approach to generating game content via algorithms. For example, trees are one of the most complicated objects to render in a game, due to their organic complexity. A game with only one model for a tree will appear odd, as nature is far more random; the game loses some of its immersion as a result. Instead, a general recursive algorithm will generate the tree's model and textures, so that each tree looks different from the next, and do so with high efficiency.
Backward compatibility is achieved through software emulation of the original Xbox hardware. Emulated games offer minor graphical enhancements because they are rendered in 720p resolution with anti-aliasing enabled rather than the Xbox standard of 480p. Some games also benefit from a subtle 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.
A hard drive is required to enable backward compatibility. Hard drives purchased separately or as part of the console package include an early version of the emulator that includes emulation profiles for games Halo and Halo 2. 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. Although the current U.S. list includes over 200 games, fewer titles are listed as backward compatible in European and Japanese markets. 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.
Because of its high power consumption and limited capacity to dissipate heat, the Xbox 360 console poses a substantial risk of overheating if users do not follow the guidelines prescribed by the user manual. Users are advised not to obstruct air flow to the enclosure vents or power supply. Problems associated with overheating include reduced system performance and instability that may result in crashing or hardware failure. Some Xbox 360 owners have even installed custom cooling solutions in their consoles as a preventative measure.
When a user moves the Xbox 360 from its vertical position to its horizontal position and vice-versa while the system is reading from a disc, the angular momentum of the disc causes it to brush against the drive's pickup-assembly and results in scratches. The manual that comes with the Xbox 360 specifically warns against moving the system while it is powered on. Microsoft cannot replace scratched discs, by simply replacing the media, because they do not own the rights to the games, however they do offer a free copy of a Microsoft Game Studios Xbox 360 title as a replacement for scratched disks.
Disc drive noise
Compared to previous generation game consoles the Xbox 360 is quite loud, much of this noise is produced by the disc drive when it reads a game disc. Due to the fact that games can be played both with and without the detachable hard disc the drive spins close to its maximum 12X speed to reduce load times. The drive generates less noise while reading video DVDs, audio CDs, or other non-game discs since these do not require as high of a transfer rate and are not spun as quickly (lower scanning velocity, see also constant linear velocity).
With the third, and most recent, production run of the Xbox 360, the original Hitachi DVD drive (model GDR-3120L) was replaced with a quieter Toshiba/Samsung DVD drive (model TS-H943). The Toshiba/Samsung model uses the same laser unit as the old LG/Hitachi drive, so the reading capabilities remain identical between the drives.