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Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Xbox 360 Hits Shelves, Should I Wait For PS3?

Hundreds of stores US opened at midnight to satisfy fans who waited for hours. The Xbox 360 is a reality in the States promising high definition graphics and hefty computing power.

Microsoft is offering two versions of the Xbox 360 - a basic system which costs $299 and a fully loaded model retailing for $399. Most gamers are expected to opt for the more expensive system, which includes a removable hard drive needed to play older Xbox games.

The launch of the Xbox 360 earlier than Sony's PS3 game console is definitely an advantage for Microsoft. The company has spent more that $4b in development and marketing for the new console, and currently it is expecting to good sales toward the Christmas holidays.

On the other hand, the PS3 is expected to be technically more advanced than the Xbox 360 in many ways. Scheduled to be introduced in Japan sometime in 2006 and in the U.S. a few months afterward, it will include a high-definition DVD player intended to capitalize on the growing market for HDTV sets, which, of course, Sony also makes. The Xbox 360 supports HD games, but it lacks the ability to play next-generation, prerecorded HD movies.

Sony's CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, said recently that Sony will sell the PS3 at a loss in order to populate the world with the Blu-ray, Sony's favored high-definition DVD standard. If millions of Blu-ray PlayStations find their way into living rooms, Sony figures, movie studios will be compelled to embrace it over the rival standard, known as HD-DVD.

Of course, nothing is stopping Microsoft from adding a high-definition DVD player to the Xbox down the road, once the standards battle has been resolved.

How else does the PS3 stack up against the Xbox 360? It's based on a bodaciously powerful Cell processor developed by IBM and Toshiba, which appears to outmuscle the IBM PowerPC custom chip used in Microsoft's Xbox 360. Sony has also tapped nVidia to supply the graphics engine in the PS3, and it's going to be a whopper, with nearly double the rendering power of the top graphics card that nVidia now supplies to PC gaming enthusiasts. Again, on specs alone, the PS3 should have a graphics edge over the ATI-based Xbox 360.

Fancy hardware doesn't mean anything, though, if the people who write the games for the hardware can't take advantage of it. The PlayStation 2 is technically inferior to the original Xbox, but it's still the world's most popular gaming platform based on the selection of compelling game titles.

At its launch the PS3 will be backward compatible with thousands of earlier PlayStation titles. But Microsoft knows software, and game developers are praising it for providing them the tools and support to build new titles for the Xbox 360.

So should you wait a year for the PS3 or buy the Xbox 360 today? Current Xbox owners are likely to upgrade to the 360, and current PS2 owners will probably stick with Sony. New gamers, however, have little reason to wait nearly a year for the PS3, and Microsoft is almost certain to gain some ground on Sony.

Sony could slash the price of the current PS2, perhaps to $100, making the $400 Xbox 360 seem less attractive.

XBOX 360 Basic Specs

Three IBM PowerPC-based 3.2 GHz cores
One teraflop overall system floating-point performance
ATI graphics chip with 10MB of embedded DRAM
512MB of 700MHz GDDR3 RAM memory
Detachable 20GB hard drive
Built-in Ethernet port
Games supported at 16:9, 720p and 1080i, anti-aliasing
Streams media from portable music devices, digital cameras and Windows XP PCs
Supports up to four wireless controllers

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