Microsoft's Xbox 360 was the first "next-generation" game console to hit the market in November 2005, and consequently has had a year over its competitors to improve upon its faults. With the fall 2008 "New Xbox Experience" update, the 360 further positioned itself not just a game console but also a top-tier media hub for the living room, integrating Netflix's online streaming service into its already myriad available Internet content. The service won't replace the high-definition content offered by the now defunct HD-DVD add-on drive because Netflix's streaming quality depends largely on the speed of your Internet connection and most likely can only display at most near-DVD quality.
That said, the PS3 is currently the only console to offer playable high-definition content in disc form. The 360's physical design has also matured over the years: The noise issues that have long been an annoyance have also been lessened by including a smaller and cooler processor, which reduces fan speeds.
The fall '08 update also added the option for users to install games directly onto the hard drive, further reducing the high-pitched sound of the disc drive and also limiting wear on the drive itself. With the current lineup of games, the offering of more online video content, and Microsoft's continued persistence of improving upon its system, the Xbox 360 has become one of the best consoles available. With the recent price drops, the company has made it even more tantalizing for those still on the fence.
In the past, the console's real Achilles' heel has been its unacceptably poor reliability: A vast number of Xbox 360 consoles have suffered the dreaded "red ring of death" error, a fatal glitch that renders the console unusable. It's been a huge frustration for even the most forgiving 360 owner. That said, Microsoft has made amends by offering a three-year limited warranty, guaranteeing replacement of those faulty consoles. Anecdotal evidence continues to suggest that the problem afflicts mostly older consoles. In other words, those manufactured in 2007 or later--the ones equipped with HDMI ports--should be much more stable than their predecessors. However, even these consoles have seen their fair share of red rings.
When laid horizontally, the 8.8-pound Xbox 360 is 12.15 inches wide by 3.27 inches high by 10.15 inches deep, making it slightly smaller than the original Xbox (which also weighed in at 8.8 pounds). Unlike the original, the Xbox 360 can be propped up in a vertical position and, as you're probably aware, can be customized with interchangeable faceplates that cost as much as $20. Custom faceplates aside, it's worth pointing out that the beige color of the system tends to clash with the silver and black of typical modern AV components.
One of the reasons Microsoft was able to keep down the 360's weight is that instead of building a standard, desktop-style hard drive into the unit itself, it's gone with a smaller--and more expensive--laptop-style hard drive that's detachable from the main unit. However, unlike the PS3, which accepts any standard 2.5-inch laptop drive, the 360's drive is encased in a proprietary snap-on module. You can upgrade to a larger 120GB model for about $180--but if you're already interested in that much storage, save some money and just pick up the 120GB Xbox 360 Elite instead. Session data