The Xbox 360 was launched at the end of 2005, quite some time ago, but a lot has changed since we first snapped up our original console.
The hardware has been improved considerably on that original design, with a refresh two years ago that did some tinkering with the innards, with the aesthetics, and with the price, too. The Kinect motion controller has also been pushed out by Microsoft, as well.
Given that the Xbox 720 is probably going to come out towards the end of 2013, as Christmas approaches this year, you’ll likely pick up a good bargain on the current generation hardware. So is the Xbox still worth buying?
With that question in mind, we’re revisiting the current console, and reviewing the Xbox 360 4GB hard drive model with Kinect.
You can pick up both separately, of course. The basic Xbox 360 console with a 4GB hard drive retails for around £140. The Kinect motion sensor, which first sold at £120, is now available for £100. If you purchase both these together in the Xbox 360 4GB plus Kinect bundle, that’ll set you back £230, a saving of £30. Basically, you’re getting the Kinect for £70, close to half its original price, a pretty good deal.
And as we’ve already observed, these prices are likely to become more competitive on the run-up to Christmas, what with the Xbox 720 on the horizon, and the Wii U arriving.
So what’s different about the refreshed Xbox 360, as opposed to the original model? It’s a lot more compact and slimmer, for starters, with a slightly curved body shape. A glossy finish ensures that it’s a far more attractive proposition than the original console.
It’s also a much quieter machine, which again is a most welcome boon. The Xbox refresh added integrated Wi-Fi, too, and a Kinect port so the motion controller can derive its power directly from the console (and you don’t have to plug it in separately). It also has three USB ports and an audio optical out, plus fresh innards which aren’t so prone to the various red-ring-of-death issues which blighted the initial Xbox.
So, that’s all good. The 4GB of hard drive space you get on the basic model isn’t a huge amount, of course. You’re not going to fit your massive MP3 collection on there, or a large collection of downloadable games (or game installations from disc). However, it’s fine for general usage, and a few installed games, of course.
Turning to the Kinect sensor, this is a peripheral which many have experienced problems with. When first playing with ours, however, we quickly realised that most of these issues – in fact, we’d go as far as to say almost all of them – are due to poor setup of the device. Very few are the fault of the actual hardware.
Kinect is essentially a camera complete with a depth sensor (infra-red laser and CMOS sensor), along with a microphone array. It can track the user, as they wave their arms and legs around, and generally use their body as the controller, with no need to hold any actual peripheral. Menus can be swiped through, Minority-report style, and it really is an extremely cool toy with a definite wow factor when you first use it.
If you’ve set it up properly, that is. If not, you’ll find it’s glitchy as anything. The most important thing for Kinect is that you have enough space to use it – you need a good eight to ten feet of room in front of your TV, where it’s mounted. Also, try to mount it at a reasonable height – ideally about level with your chest – on top of your television for the best results (you can buy mounting kits for sitting atop a TV). Putting it on the floor is a no-no.
A cluttered floor can also interfere with the sensor’s accuracy, as can direct sunlight, and loose, baggy clothing (as this makes your limbs less defined). It’s a bit of a long list of dangers, but if you calibrate the Kinect, and ensure you avoid these bugbears – which generally isn’t too difficult – you’ll have an excellent motion-controlling experience. Most of the negative reports regarding Kinect are likely from people attempting to use the device in a six foot square study cluttered with chairs, old computer cases and piles of magazines.
Kinect games are great fun, and what’s more, great exercise – particularly Kinect Sports and the dancing games, such as Dance Central. These can be genuinely knackering, and it’s good to get some exercise – particularly for the kids – as opposed to just being a couch potato with your gamepad.
The motion control sensitivity is excellent, if you’ve set it up right, as discussed. The only real downside to the Kinect is that hardcore gamers may be bothered by the lack of “core” titles released for the motion sensor. Most games are casual affairs along Wii lines – although that isn’t to say that these aren’t any good, of course. Kinect Sports is one of the most entertaining games we’ve ever played, particularly in party mode with a load of friends.
There is the odd “core” game offering, too, such as Child of Eden, which is a very challenging shooter played with just your hands (and a good sense of rhythm and timing). And many triple-A games such as Mass Effect and Forza have brought the controller into play in some respect, such as tracking your head to look out through the windscreen of your car in Forza.
Kinect’s voice and motion control is also pretty cool on the new Xbox dashboard, which has features such as voice search with Bing. Saying things to your console and having it respond (mostly) accurately never gets tiring.
Microsoft has also ramped up the entertainment side of the console lately, adding many video apps to the dashboard. You can now watch the likes of YouTube, catch-up TV players such as Sky and 4oD, Lovefilm, Netflix and other streaming services on the Xbox. Some of these do require you to be a Gold Xbox Live subscriber though, and others, such as Lovefilm Instant, also need a separate membership.
Even so, it’s clear the Xbox has caught up with the PS3 considerably on the entertainment front in 2012, even if it does lack that Blu-ray drive.
So, is an Xbox 4GB and Kinect bundle worth buying tomorrow? We’d say most definitely. The new console is excellent, the Kinect great fun, and the entertainment options are far wider than they ever were. And all this comes at a more than reasonable price with the console and motion controller bundle.
You should be able to pick up even more of a bargain soon enough, when the real anticipation of the Xbox 720 begins to build. However, some folks might feel it’s more sensible to wait for the next-gen hardware - which in theory should be out at the end of 2013.
Special thanks to mobile phone dealer Dialaphone for setting up our Xbox and Kinect for review.