Microsoft's Xbox 360 was the first "next-generation" game console to hit the market in November 2005, beating the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 by a full year. Like its peers, the 360 initially suffered from a somewhat anemic game lineup and some annoying hardware and software limitations. Since its launch, however, the Xbox team has implemented an assortment of incremental improvements, even going so far as to release an updated version of the console. The result, as of fall 2007, is the best version of the Xbox 360 to date. The current model features the HDMI output with 1080p video support that was missing on the original version, as well as a host of other tweaks and improvements to the system's underlying software. Best of all, the 360 now boasts the largest--and many would argue, the best--game lineup. In addition to great games such as Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty 4, the 360 is the only console where you can play such must-have exclusive titles as Halo 3, BioShock, Gears of War, and Mass Effect. Add to that a host of impressive digital media features, including an add-on HD DVD movie player and a decent online selection of downloadable pay-per-view HD movies and TV shows.
The good: Superior selection of games, including several console-exclusive titles; all games in high-definition; user-friendly Dashboard interface; excellent online gaming and communications via Xbox Live; plays hundreds of (but not all) original Xbox titles; doubles as a superior digital media hub and Windows Media Center extender; online Marketplace allows for easy purchases of downloadable full-scale games, mini-games, movies, and TV shows; latest version offers HDMI output with 1080p support.
The bad: Early versions of the console prone to "red ring of death" system crash; noisy exhaust fan and DVD drive; gigantic oversize power supply; no built-in wireless networking or flash media reader; DVD playback has substandard video quality; support for next-gen HD DVD movies requires a bulky external accessory; 20GB hard drive fills up very quickly; online gaming requires a paid subscription to Xbox Live.
The bottom line: With its extensive digital media features, a superior online service, and an excellent game library, the Xbox 360 remains the game console to beat.