Xbox 360 S review: Fun to play, but you pay for it.

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So we are a little late to the game ; - ), but we thought we would comment on the Xbox 360 S since we finally got our hands on one.

The Xbox 360 S first impression was that this is a polished Microsoft product (Not polished in the Apple sense, but still very good).

Price:

The price is excellent for the $199 for the 4GB Xbox 360 S.  This means there is no harddrive which will be a problem for some applications and games.  Accessories seem to be overpriced, but this is where Xbox makes its real money.  We recommend waiting for clearances on the old white Controllers and headsets.  Harddrive prices are way overpriced and we recommend using eBay or other markets to find AGPTEK branded drives or other knock-offs in the $50 and under range for 250GB HDD.  Games are always priced at $50 initially and can drop down to half after the first few months.  Its recommended to by games at Game Stop to get the same media at a used, discounted price unless you absolutely need to have it.  In that case there is usually the option to download the games - but the cost of a hard-drive again may be off-putting.

Games:

First of all the games, we tested Call of Duty Black Ops, Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo Reach, and Medal of Honor.

All games were a blast to play and looked fantastic in Single Player.  Multiplayer was tested in both CODBO and Halo Reach.  The menu's can be a bit confusing at times, especially when you attempt to invite other players to a party to play along with.  There seems to be delays between inviting someone and actually getting them to join.  You can't join games already in progress in these titles.  So you may end up sitting for 15 minutes or just joining a different game because of the wait.  This appears to be due to the points system in place and Microsoft wanting to encourage people finishing matches before moving onto the next one.

Controls:

The Xbox 360 controller is excellent.  The grip and buttons all are placed in a well thought-out way.  No complaints.

Voice:

Voice quality is not great with the Xbox 360 official headset - the first one was even returned as it was suspected to be defective.  It turns out they are just poorly constructed.  Our previous multiplayer game experience on the PC was complimented by a Plantronics Gamecom 777 Dolby Surround sound headset.

Because sound is now coming from the TV sound system, it seemed to make sense to continue to use this in combination with a headset just for chat.  There are other 3rd party products that have been reviewed with better quality results.  It's just surprising there are many reviews complimenting the official headset from Microsoft.  For our use, it seems we either need to be talking unusually loud or chewing on the microphone to get other party members to hear.

Video:

The Xbox 360 S worked seamlessly with our HDMI switcher and Harmony remote setup was a breeze.

Menus and Applications:

This is where Microsoft seemed to get it wrong.  In the age of "Apps", the "applications" available such as Zune, ESPN, and Netflix are way to slow.  They appear to need to do a lot of chatting with the Internet/Xbox Live, but even so.  There seems to be too much lag even while in the applications.  Also, the menus seem to be messy, very similar to Windows Media Center - there is just to much going on.  The Xbox button on the controller seems to provide the most intuitive menu for access to the Xbox 360 and we found that rather than exit back out to the dashboard this was a much quicker way to jump into a game.  Media Center on the Xbox, when in extender mode is also a slug.  It's nice that they made it available, but I would hope they would try it themselves before they implement it.

Xbox Live:

Xbox Live, why do they make this service such a mystery?  It is a great service to have and I like to think that my $60 per year is going towards making the system better.  However, when you by an Xbox you are told by store staffers that you only get Xbox Live Silver version(AKA Live free).  This essentially means you can only download game demos and Zune content and that is it.  The Xbox Live "Gold" version is what costs $60 per year and allows you access to online multiplayer games and ESPN, Netflix, and addition. Basically, your going to end up with an Xbox Live Gold account sooner or later.

Future:

The future of the Xbox looks very good.  We have tested the Kinect and think its a great concept.  While the games are not stellar they certainly prove their point:  This has potential for customers with 10' X 10'  of clear floorspace to interact with their Xbox games.  The games need to improve as right now they are poor imitations of Wii Sports or proof of concept

demos with additional graphics added on top, however, the Dance Central is a game that really starts to show potential when you get a group of people playing.

In addition, Xbox has the support of Microsoft.  There should be potential for additional software updates.   Improving the applications performance should be possible and adding additional features should increase the usefulness of the Xbox.  I would expect that with all the money they are collecting from the Xbox live service they will be able to do some fantastic things.

The latest update allows for using the Xbox 360 to function as a Uverse Set Top Box.  Read more http://www.att.com/u-verse/explore/xbox-receiver.jsp#fbid=NnOUiQIkmAS

While this is a great feature, it again seems poorly implemented.  First of all, why do they require a CD to be shipped out.

While companies like Apple, Netflix, and Amazon are able to

send streaming content, digital files, and applications directly to our devices - Microsoft and AT&T decide that the best way to get software onto their Xbox, with its Online Marketplace already available, is to send a CD.  Not only that, but they HAVE to send a technician to place that CD in your Xbox for you and of course they require you have a Xbox Hard drive already in place and pay $100 for the visit.  This seems ridiculous for requiring this much unneeded time and effort.