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Xbox 360 Buyer's Guide

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Xbox 360 Buyer's Guide
Microsoft
When you are going to spend your hard earned cash on a new game console, it is usually a good idea to do your homework first so you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. The games a system currently has as well as its upcoming titles are the most important part of choosing a system, but there are a few other things to consider as well. Backwards compatibility, online play, multimedia capabilities - all of these things can be a deal breaker. This Buyer's Guide outlines what the Xbox 360 offers as well as what you need to do to really get the most out of your system.

Systems

While the Xbox 360 has seen a handful of revisions and different releases since it was released in November 2005, there are two main hardware variations on the market today. In June 2010, a "Slim" version (Xbox 360 Slim Hardware Review of the Xbox 360 was introduced that included built-in Wi-Fi, a smaller, sleeker design, and either a 4GB or 250GB hard drive. The 4GB Xbox 360 Slim system has a MSRP of $199 while the 250 GB Xbox 360 Slim system has a MSRP of $299.

We highly recommend the 250 GB Xbox 360 system. It is tempting to go for the cheaper option, but 4GB of hard drive space is absolutely not enough. You can buy replacement hard drives, but it is better to save the time and money from the start and just go with a 250GB system. Compare prices for 250GB Xbox 360 Slim Systems at Pricegrabber

It should be noted that Xbox 360 Slim systems do not come with high-definition cables to connect them to your TV. They only come with red, yellow, white composite cables. You'll need to buy a separate Xbox 360 component cable or HDMI cable, and each can be found for less than $10 if you look around. Don't be fooled into buying expensive HDMI cables that retailers try to sell you. A $5 one from Monoprice.com works exactly as well as the $40 cable Best Buy wants to talk you into buying.

Older Xbox 360 Models

There are also, of course, older model Xbox 360 "Fat" systems still available, particularly on the used market. Older systems come in configurations of 20GB, 60GB, 120GB, and 250GB in a variety of colors. They do not have built-in Wi-Fi, however, and require an extra dongle if you can't or don't want to use Ethernet. Any new-in-box systems retailers might still have are fine, but be wary of buying used systems.

Older Xbox 360 hardware had quite a few issues that led to breakdowns. Before buying a used system, always check the manufacture date, which you can see on the back of every Xbox 360 console. The more recent, the better. Also, because of illegal modifications, some Xbox 360 systems have been banned from using Xbox Live and unscrupulous sellers on Craigslist or eBay try to scam people by selling these banned systems. Always be careful when buying used.

Red Ring of Death And Other Issues

One unfortunate thing you have to watch out for with the Xbox 360 is a disappointingly high failure rate. Original "Fat" systems have (or had, as older system warranties have expired) 3-year warranties where Microsoft would replace them for free if the system experienced a Red Ring of Death (three lights on the front of the system flash red) or an E74 error - both of which were caused by the system overheating. As time went on, the systems did get more reliable, so the newer your system is the less you should have to worry about. There are a few steps you can take to extend the life of your system, most notably keeping it clean and making sure it has good air flow around it.

The new "Slim" systems introduced in June 2010 were completely redesigned to hopefully solve the overheating issues. The Slim systems only have 1-year warranties. So far, there haven't been many problems reported. We can only hope it stays that way.

Kinect

In 2010, Microsoft launched a new motion control device for Xbox 360 called Kinect that allows users to play games without a controller. With Kinect, you move your hands and your body or use voice commands to control games. Kinect is available on its own, bundled with the Kinect Adventures game, for $150. You can also buy Kinect bundled with Xbox 360 Slim systems. The 4GB Xbox 360 Slim with Kinect is $299, and the 250GB Xbox 360 Slim with Kinect is $399. Once again, we recommend the 250GB system for the same reasons as stated above.

In addition to playing games, you can also video chat with other Xbox 360 owners using Kinect as well as use it to control Xbox 360 dashboard functions. Soon you'll be able to control Netflix with Kinect as well. This is significant because it lets you fully control your Xbox 360 without ever having to pick up a controller or remote. You just use hand motions or voice controls to do everything. Read our Kinect Hardware Review and Kinect Buyer's Guide. Compared Kinect Hardware prices at Pricegrabber.

Kinect launched with around 15 games, and more have been trickling out over the months. Microsoft is really pushing hard with Kinect in 2011 and beyond, and the games should get better and more plentiful as time goes on. Read our full reviews of Kinect games here.

The nice thing about Kinect is that it is entirely optional. Unlike the Wii where you are sort of stuck with motion controls whether you want them or not (oh, and last-gen graphics), the Xbox 360 with Kinect offers a huge library of hardcore games, a growing library of motion controlled games, and all of them are in high-definition. There is no compromise here. Everyone gets what they want.

Family Safety Functions

The Xbox 360 has a full suite of family safety functions that parents can access. You can set timers for how long your kids can use the system as well as set content limits for what games they can play and who they can play with or contact on Xbox Live. You can learn all about it in our Xbox 360 Family Settings FAQ.

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