Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online - Windows Media Center Extender Interface for HDTV

Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online
Using a universal remote control: review by Adrian Biffen, Software For Homes Xbox 360 review - online games at HDTV resolution
Sony Playstation 3 will have serious competition
by Adrian Biffen 
Systems Administrator
AeroHOST Web Systems
December 1, 2005

  Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems is Launched!  
  • We have been busy making and selling roller blinds and projector screens for some time, and we have decided to start selling the components at so others can do the same.
  • Take a look at our online store for tubular motors and other associated products - make your own custom shade or screen size that fits your room perfectly! We also have special motor kits that work with x10 automation systems.
  • While you're at it, check out our tubular motors with built-in radio controllers. When used with our multi-channel remotes, you can control the screen AND blackout blinds with a single remote!
  End Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems  

Xbox 360 combines game playing online, also acts as a Windows Media Center extender for HDTV

The Xbox 360 from Microsoft has arrived, in time for the Christmas season. It also comes at a time when many of us are installing high resolution Xbox 360 game console HDTV large screen systems in our homes, so it is appropriate that we can also run games in the high definition environment. 

According to the official Xbox website, the built in DVD player will upscale regular DVD from 480p to 720p (progressive scan 16:9 aspect ratio at 1280 x 720 pixels), so it's a natural for home theater systems (direct quote from the website: "screen DVDs in 720p"). It's not a particular advantage for me, though, because we already have the very affordable Zenith DB318 that does a great job of upscaling regular DVD to 1080i.

Other audio visual capabilities include 'video camera ready' inputs if you create your own digital video content. The sound processing is also very potent and worth noting - the Xbox 360 features multi-channel surround sound that supports 256 channels of 48 KHz, 16-bit digital audio, and up to 320 independent compression channels. Here's the official website statement:

"In layman's terms, this equates to a substantial leap in ambient world sounds (birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, gunfire from afar on a battlefield), allowing for a much more immersive experience, as more audio can be compressed without the loss of quality. If you like to think in terms of numbers, munch on this statistic. The new technique (called XMA compression) allows for a compression ratio of 6:1 on the low side and up to 14:1 on the high side. Compare that to the Xbox 3.5:1 compression ratio and you get some idea of its significance."

The Xbox is optimized for instant access to Xbox Live
® features, if you have broadband internet service, including Xbox Live Marketplace for downloadable content, gamer profile digital identity, and -get this- voice chat to communicate with friends while playing games, watching movies, or listening to music.

The specifications are impressive, including a 20GB hard drive, high-def game support and a 500MHz ATI graphics processor. The Xbox 360 processor core features three IBM PowerPC CPU chips running at 3.2GHz each, coupled with 1MB of L2 cache. Each CPU can execute two threads at the same time, and the Xbox 360 processor core is capable of executing six threads simultaneously. The Xbox 360 is definitely high performance computing by anybody's standards, and rivals that of stand-alone gaming PC's.

The Xbox 360 features wireless connectivity for up to four 2.4GHz wireless controllers that use a "frequency hopping spread spectrum" technique that keeps the controllers from interfering with other wireless devices or other controllers. It does not support Bluetooth connectivity like the Sonny Playstation 3. The Xbox 360 also includes a media remote that allows you to control the dashboard functions, DVD drive, and power functions from up to 30ft away. In addition, an optional wireless networking adapter can be used to connect your console to a wireless home network, and thus act as an extender for the Windows Media Center.

Here's a summary of the Xbox 360's system performance specifications provided by Microsoft: 

Custom IBM PowerPC-based CPU
Three symmetrical cores running at 3.2 GHz each
Two hardware threads per core; six hardware threads total
1 MB L2 cache 
Polygon Performance: 500 million triangles per second
Pixel Fill Rate: 16 gigasamples per second fill rate using 4x MSAA 

(For a full list of specifications, see our Xbox 360 specs page.)

I say that the Xbox has arrived in time for Christmas, but it's tough to buy one anywhere. Retailers like Amazon and Best Buy were warned that the supply will fall short of the demand from gamers determined to purchase one. Some players were so eager to guarantee delivery of an Xbox, they pre-ordered their console in the summer. Nevertheless, some people are holding off until the Sony Playstation 3 comes out next year - it's going to be an interesting competition. (and other retailers) announced they would not honor orders for multiple units: "During this time of limited supply from the manufacturer, we want to ensure that as many of our customers as possible receive a console. Therefore, regretfully, we can only supply one Xbox 360 console per customer account at this time." A spokesman for said the restrictions only applied to the "enhanced" pack and that some people had placed orders of up to 20 consoles.

Our interest in the Xbox lies more with the entertainment capabilities as an extension of the Windows Media Player PC platform (essentially a superset of Windows Remote Desktop), and we'll be installing one of these systems to see how well it works. Since one of my primary goals is to set up a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for time shifting TV programs like a TIVO does, we'll be getting the HTPC for this before we get an Xbox (we already have the Zenith DVB 318 DVD player that upscales to 1080i, so we don't care about DVD playback features). 

I'll probably use the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 MCE dual tuner card, with Beyond TV time shifting software from Snapstream, depending on whether I get the Windows Media Center OS (which does time shifting), or stay with XP for a while longer until the new Microsoft Vista OS comes out (which has Windows Media Center built into the core). One key point about the Hauppauge tuner cards is that they have an IR output that can be used to change channels on our cable converter and satellite receiver - a must have. There is also a device available (IR Blaster) that can provide the functionality if you don't have a tuner with IR output. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

I'll be exploring the use of this PC as a gaming system as well, using specialized components like the new ATI Radeon®/ X1800 Series super high performance video card. An important point: the Avivo video display section of this card can output 1080i component video for our BENQ PB6200 DLP projector

The Xbox Media center extender turns your Xbox into a Media Center PC, giving you control over the same features and applications that you have on your Media Center PC. Imagine the possibilities: Mom is in the kitchen trading stocks online, Dad is in the den playing Halo online with his buddies, and Junior is in the living room watching an HDTV documentary.

Exploring the online gaming capability should also be an interesting part of the experience, especially the Xbox Live
® online capability where you can compete with friends over the internet. There are some truly fantastic games available for this system, like Peter Jackson's King Kong, not to mention the Lord of The Rings game.

There are other alternatives we'll be considering ... Xbmc (a free program) on a regular Xbox will play a wide variety of different movie formats that can be streamed from networked computers running many different operating systems (including Win XP). XBMC can also upscale regular 480p DVD movies.

The Xbox 360, on the other hand, will play only a few limited formats (and not the popular ones like divx), which can only be streamed from a PC if it is running the Media Center version of Windows, which cannot be purchased unless you buy a new computer with MC installed.

Nevertheless, the DVD player in the Xbox 360 can screen DVDs in 720p (according to the official Xbox website), so it could be a good choice for those that need to purchase a DVD player anyway, as you could subtract a few hundred bucks off the price of the Xbox as a sort of discount. That would be the typical cost of just a DVD player that upscales regular DVD, like our Zenith DVB 318, but the Xbox doesn't upscale to 1080i like the upscaling Zenith DVD player does, and there is some question regarding the ability of Xbox to upscale regular DVD at all. 

Stay tuned!

*  *  *  *  *

This series of articles is designed to help you get through the complicated process of choosing and setting up an HDTV home theater system. It is part of our overall website, which is about the X10 home automation system that uses the A/C wiring in your home - you don't need to run any wires. (For complementary home theater products such as lighting control and motorized blinds and shades, see our home automation DIY kit article) Here's a brief topic summary of these home theater articles, with direct links:
Article# Topic
1 HDTV Definitions and terminology used in home theatre systems
2 HDTV news from Jan 2005 Las Vegas CES show
3 HDTV remote control consolidation issues
4 DLP projector decision: My reasons for purchasing
5 BenQ DLP 6200 review -projector setup process
6 HTPC: using home theater PC for DVD display
7 DVD software player review: watch DVD on your PC
8 Upsampling DVD player vs HTPC - comparison with Zenith DVB 318
9 Sony HDRHC1 Handycam review: widescreen high definition 1080i camcorder
10 Wireless video sender solves the 'extra tv' problem
11 SED Toshiba-Canon HDTV display review - the flat panel HDTV race heats up!
12 Canon SX 50 Realis LCoS projector review - first 3 chip LCoS projector under $5,000
13 Optoma H78DC3 'DarkChip3' DLP projector review - first 'Dark Chip3' DLP projector under $4,000
14 Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online? - Windows Media Center Extender
15 Play Station 3 vs Xbox 360 - Sony and Microsoft Compete for gaming market
16 SXRD vs SED vs DLP - Sony raises the HDTV bar with Qualia and Grand Wega series
17 LED DLP light engine from Samsung vs SXRD, SED - 1080p resolution arrives
18 HD DVD vs Blu-ray: We review the new Toshiba HD DVD players (HD-XA1 and HD-A1)
19 H.264 AVC: High Definition advanced codec for movie downloads and HDTV Online

For the sake of clarity, here is a repeat of some acronym and terminology definitions relating to the various display technologies, used in the other table below to compare the various screen types:
TLA Three Letter Acronym
HDTV High Definition Television. The highest quality video picture available in Digital TV. In the U.S., the 1080i and 720p resolution formats in a 16:9 aspect ratio are the two acceptable HDTV formats. Regular NTSC analog TV is 480i.
HTPC Home Theater Personal Computer. The use of a PC as a processing and source control platform for a home theater system.
RPTV Rear Projection TV. The type of home theater screen system where the image is projected onto the back of the screen. Can be DLP, LCD, CRT projection technology.
Lumens An ANSI Lumen is a measurement of light radiation or brightness. A 3,000 Lumen projector creates a brighter picture than a 2,000 Lumen unit. The ANSI prefix is a standards designation (American National Standards Institute).
Nits Plasma and LCD manufacturers use this term to define the brightness of their screens. Another term for Nits is Candelas per square meter (Cd/m2). One nit = 0.2919 foot-lambert. Nits includes an area definition, unlike lumens, so you can't simply divide by Watts to establish a Nits/watt spec.
480i 720p 1080p resolution measurement in lines, p for "progressive scan", i for "interlaced scan". Conventional TV (e.g. 480i) is interlaced whereby the screen is scanned twice by alternate lines that are interleaved (interlaced), whereas HDTV (e.g. 720p) can scan all lines sequentially (consecutively or progressively).
DVI HDCP Digital Visual Interface technology with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Developed by Intel Corporation, HDCP is a specification to protect digital entertainment content through the DVI interface. The HDCP specification provides a transparent method for transmitting and receiving digital entertainment content to DVI-compliant digital displays. Some products, such as set-top boxes and DVD burners will require this connector. Even if you have a HDTV set-top box, if it lacks the DVI, your signal may be degraded.
HDMI High Definition Multimedia Interface. Like DVI, HDMI is another digital interface, and from what we saw at CES 2005, it may become the universal standard. Developed by Sony, Hitachi, Thomson (RCA), Philips, Matsushita (Panasonic), Toshiba and Silicon Image, the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has emerged as the connection standard for HDTV and the consumer electronics market. HDMI is the first digital interface to combine uncompressed high-definition video, multi-channel audio and intelligent format and command data in a single digital interface.
SACD Super Audio CD uses a new recording technology called Direct Stream Digital. DSD records a one bit digital signal at a sample rate of 2.8 million times per second, 64 times higher than conventional CD's. 
NTSC Existing color TV standard developed in the U.S. in 1953 by the National Television System Committee. NTSC vertical line resolution is 525 lines/frame and the vertical frequency is 60Hz. The NTSC frame rate is 29.97 frames/sec.
CRT Cathode Ray Tube - venerable old style picture tube
PDP Plasma Display Panel, plasma is a physics term for an electrically charged gas
LCD Liquid Crystal Display, same as laptop screens
TFT Thin Film Technology, a type of LCD
DLP Digital Light Processor, a reflective light switch chip developed by TI. Has a very fast response time - no motion lag
TI Texas Instruments Corp., original manufacturer of DMD's and DLP's
DMD Digital Micro-mirror Device - chip for DLP technology by TI
DNIe Digital Natural Image enhancement - chip for optimizing video picture quality, by Samsung (used in their DLP units)
LCoS Liquid Crystal on Silicon, reflective light switch
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel.
SED Surface conduction Electron emitter Display by Toshiba/Canon
FED Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony
OLED Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson
D-iLA Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier, LCoS chip developed by JVC
QXGA high screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, attained by D-iLA chip
DCDi Directional Correlation Deinterlacing (a de-interlacing method to eliminate jagged edges (jaggies) along diagonal lines caused by interpolation, developed by Faroudja corp. An important feature to look for, this Emmy® award winning technology was once only available in products costing $20,000 or more, and is now available in numerous products costing well below $2,000
aspect ratio ratio of screen width to height. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is conventional TV and 16:9 is HDTV (and film)
3-2 pulldown a method of film-to-video conversion
twitter and judder   terms describing film conversion related artifacts
anamorphic lens   a special lens that compresses the pixels of a 4:3 screen into a 16:9 format, and allows a projector to use the full brightness of the display, without black bars above and below the image. Must normally be removed for regular 4:3 viewing.
SDE  Screen Door Effect is a term used to refer to the visible pixel structure on a screen.
YADR! Yet Another Dang Remote! A common exclamation heard from people who just bought their third or fourth home audio/video component. And then there are further unmentionable expletives when you find out a component isn't supported, or it's just too complicated to program everything in?? Maybe it's time to read about our experience in the remote control review article.

The following table provides a quick comparison of the display types; "pixelation" refers to the ability to see individual picture elements (pixels) at normal viewing distances (note that all the types below can contribute to the YADR index). Please note that these products are being constantly improved and not all manufacturer's models may be subject to the disadvantages listed below:

CRT conventional
picture tube
Cathode Ray Tube: very sharp and bright, high contrast ratio, good picture view from side, low cost, handles regular analog NTSC channels well, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited in size to about 36", picture can fade 
CRT projection
low cost, large screens possible, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited viewing angles, visible raster lines, mis-convergence can be a problem, picture can fade over time 
LCD flat screen panel Liquid Crystal Display: bright, sharp picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, solid state, no moving parts picture can fade over time
LCD projection fairly bright, large screens possible, sharp picture, no moving parts display can fade due to heat damage to organic compounds that some manufacturers use in the LCD, projector bulb can fail
PDP Plasma flat screen panel Plasma Display Panel: bright picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, wide viewing angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive, some pixelation, display can burn out.
DLP projection Digital Light Processor: bright, sharp picture, high contrast, no  pixelation, reflective system won't burn out picture element, very fast response time - no motion lag. possible visual "rainbow" artifacts on single chip versions caused by spinning color wheel, projector bulb can fail
LCoS projection Liquid Crystal on Silicon: bright, sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SED panel display Surface conduction Electron emitter Display: very bright picture, very high resolution, can hang on wall, very high contrast ratio, can be viewed from any angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive at first, not available yet
FED panel display Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony, properties are similar to SED expensive at first, not available yet
OLED panel display Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson expensive at first, not available yet

For high speed database hosting, visit our sister our sister company AeroHOST

Home | What Is x10 | Activehome Pro | x10 Software | Lighting | Appliances 
 SmartPhones | Home Theatre | Heating | Water | Security | Audio/VideoContact

Copyright © 2001-2013 Software For Homes