Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 to Take Gaming to HD Level

If you're into videogames and HD, this was quite a week. Details of the Xbox 360 from Microsoft announced a few days ago indicate the next generation will improve upon the earlier Xbox by building out a wider array of multimedia features--including DVD playback of 1080i and 720p, and reportedly will tap the HD DVD format, as expected (see related DVD format item, this issue).

Beyond HD graphics and video capabilities, the Xbox 360 computer also will provide components for instant messaging and voice telephony, and easy links to Xbox sites online to enable buying more "stuff"--including outfits and weapons for game figures and new games. (In other words, as some observers have noted, the 360 will be very much an "Xbox cash register" conveniently stationed inside the home.)

Like each new generation of gaming devices, marketing beyond the obvious game-centric demographic will become more distinct and noticeable. Although the sleek console will be powered up to maximize the next rendition of videogames (HD and otherwise), the Wall Street Journal reports the new Xbox also will be marketed to mainstream consumers who already own, or soon plan to own, HD sets. Samsung has already begun full-page ads in some national papers touting its "partnership" with Microsoft in working together to put a new Xbox in every family room, alongside (what appears to be one ad) a 42-inch flat-screen Samsung HD monitor.

New Xbox game titles coming out in HD will include Madden NFL 06, NBA 2K6 and Quake 4, among others. The Xbox 360 will include a detachable hard drive and support for Microsoft Media Center Extender for sharing digital content online, 512 Mb of RAM, and custom-built chips (from IBM and ATI Technologies) that supposedly produce more realistic action behavior and more natural graphic displays.

Xbox 360 will hit store shelves and online sales sites at an undisclosed date in the fall (probably mid-November). No price points have been announced.

Meanwhile, while Microsoft was the first to announce its newest gaming computer on primetime MTV last week, its chief competitors--Sony and Nintendo--are now in the process of unveiling their own next-generation videogame tools this week at the E3 show in L.A. (At our deadline, Sony had disclosed that its' PlayStation 3 should be available by June 2006).