XBox 360: First Impressions

There are probably a thousand articles with this title being posted today. 

I think my XBox 360 experience is maybe atypical because what I was looking forward to wasn’t the gaming, so much as it was the digital media center.  And so far I have to say, it delivers.

The original XBox did a few things that really bugged me when it came to digital media and rights management.  It didn’t do progressive scan DVD playing, and didn’t give you any way to play music that you didn’t rip directly into the box.  It didn’t do CDDB lookups for this music, so it was a real pain to have a large amount of music on the box.

I was expecting some of these same sorts of limitations with the 360, but so far I have to say it’s pretty pleasant.

Here’s how it works.

You have to download and install Windows Media Connect on your computer so that the XBox 360 can find it and get stuff from it.  This will surely make everyone but folks running Windows XP at home mad (which is a pretty small number of you) but I expect it’s only a matter of time before there’s a portable music server app. 

Windows Media Connect looks like it’s a general purpose tool for serving up digital media content from your PC to interested devices.  You tell it where your photos, videos, and music are, and then it can pass that information on to devices like the XBox 360.

So I install WMC on my PC, tell the XBox I want to listen to music off a computer on my network, and it shows me the PC.  No configuring, it just finds it, and finds my music. 

Some of my music is on a dedicated server, but the WMC software lets you tell it what folders your music is in, including network folders, so streaming music from the server into the XBox through my desktop PC works (and works well).

You can play your music, streaming from a server, while you're playing games.  And a feature I love is that from any game, you can get to the dashboard, and then back to the game, without having to remove the disc or physically touch the console.  The original XBox required you to walk over to your console to switch from playing games to listening to music.

5 megapixel photos look great on an HD TV. The photo viewer is lackluster - no zooming, no flying 3d pictures; just a simple slideshow. Kudos for including one, but hopefully they can improve this in the next update.

Jeff Minter's music visualizer is awesome.  It's the best one I've seen - very smooth, fluid, and creative.

The only real negative so far is it won't stream videos over the network; video has to be on the XBox hard disk to play.  I have a lot of little video clips I've taken with my digital camera and accessing them through the XBox 360 would have been great.

Games?  Yeah I got some games.. but I doubt I have anything new to say there so I'll leave that to the game sites.