Of games and gear

Of games and gear
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First Published: Sat, Apr 07 2007. 12 35 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Apr 07 2007. 12 35 AM IST
A little over eight columns ago, when Lounge asked me to write about gizmos, I thought I could save money by getting lots of cool gadgets for free—no one told me I was going to have to give them back. Among the hardest to part with so far will be the Xbox 360 and the Sennheiser RS 130 wireless headphones. I could play Gears of War late into the night on the Xbox 360, with glorious surround sound blasting out of the wireless Sennheiser RS 130 earphones right next to my wife in deep slumber. Ah, bliss! The ‘charge while you play’ wireless controllers and the fact that you can turn the box on and off from the controller makes life easier when you play until the wee hours of the morning and then just want to roll over and go to sleep…
The first-generation Xbox was a big brute, but the new Xbox 360 is easily more aesthetically pleasing, with gentle curves in pale plastic in a size that can slide into any AV rack. The Xbox 360 can also be propped up in a vertical position, but it does seem a bit precarious. The Xbox 360 (20GB version) came to me with a wireless controller, a remote, a massive external power supply, audio/visual outputs with a TV/HDTV switch and four game titles. Now if only I could get someone to send me an HDTV...
After connecting all the various plugs, I fired up the console and the 360 menus came almost instantly: The ‘XBox Live’ tab allows you to go online, message friends and interact with the ‘live’ component of games. The ‘games’ tab shows you information about games you’ve played, trailers and demos. The ‘media’ tab lets you use the 360 as a hub to playback music, watch DVDs, manage your media player and interact with the hard disk add-on. Finally, the ‘system’ tab gives you access to all aspects of console configuration, including parental locks, refresh rates, memory card management, network settings, etc.
The Xbox 360 games are in high-definition and designed to at least 720p resolution. To see the graphics in HD, you’ll need to be connected to an HD-ready TV or monitor via the component-video adapter or aftermarket VGA video adapters. The 360 offers neither DVI nor HDMI digital video connections—but if you are like me, don’t worry if you don’t have an HDTV—the Xbox 360 has a fallback composite output for standard 480i resolution with formatting for non-widescreen TV sets. Strange though that Microsoft chose to go with a standard-definition DVD player for the Xbox 360, considering that the era of high-definition DVD players is just around the corner. Which means, support for next-gen HD-DVD movies requires a bulky external accessory unlike the Sony PS3, which comes with a high-definition DVD drive and 1080p-capable HDMI to play Blu-Ray discs.
In addition to the burgeoning Xbox 360 library, it can also play most games designed for the original Xbox. The backward compatibility is enabled through downloadable emulation profiles and they’re free. Powered by a customized IBM PowerPC-based three-core chip running at 3.2GHz, an ATI GPU running at 500MHz, and supported by 512MB of GDDR3 RAM, 16 gigasamples-per-second fill rate using 4X anti-aliasing, 48 billion shader operations per second, and other impressive sounding specs that GG cannot understand, suffice to say that the Xbox 360 has enough kick-ass firepower to keep the zippiest current-day PC at bay. All I know is that the Xbox 360 has provided many hours of immersive entertainment, showing individual blades of grass rippling in the wind, smoke wisping from burbling exhausts and blood spatters in exquisite detail, accompanied by 5.1-channel surround-sound audio, everything delivered in near-cinematic quality in games such as Gears of War, Gotham Project Racing 3, Dead Rising and my son’s favourite: Viva Piñata, a sweet and colourful gem of a game.
It’s no secret that Microsoft wants electronic dominance of your living room. So, it’s no big surprise that Xbox 360 is not just a hard-core gaming machine for testosterone-fuelled males who like to blow things up, but also a family entertainment and communications hub. DVDs are played in progressive scan mode and home-burned DVDs are supported as well. Digital music, whether from CDs ripped on to the hard drive or from your iPod, is accessible as well as your pictures from digicams or card readers. Those with Media Center PCs will be most rewarded: The Xbox 360 emulates the Media Center’s look and feel, as well as access to its recorded videos, music and photos.
And to make Microsoft even more of a powerhouse, the upgraded XBox 360 Elite will be launched in the US in late April. Its 120-gigabyte hard drive can also be purchased separately as an upgrade for the Xbox 360 for an additional $129 (Rs5,700).
With a first-mover advantage, an excellent mid-range price, a great library of hi-def games and a fantastic virtual arena, the Xbox 360 has become the benchmark against which the new Sony and Nintendo consoles will be measured in 2007—and beyond.
Price Rs27,750
Sennheiser RS 130 headphones
Are you a home-theatre devotee or an avid gamer who likes to indulge in uninhibited late-night soirees? A cricket fanatic suffering India’s inept display at the World Cup, late at night, sans sound? The Sennheiser RS 130 wireless RF headphone system is perfect if you’re after a lightweight, great-sounding, affordable wireless headphone set. Featuring switchable surround sound and impressive broadcast range, it’s a stylish and very competent audio accessory, perfect for hi-fi and TV use. Don’t worry about tuning; it automatically selects the best of three available base-to-headset channels to ensure lowest distortion and noise. Rather than sit on the ears, the headphones are large enough to go around them. The receiver takes two AAA batteries and has approx. 22 hours operating time. To recharge, just hang them on the charging cradle provided.
Plugged the unit into my receiver and it worked beautifully without interference, despite wireless networking gear and a plethora of other electronic gizmos close by. Because of the RF, you don’t have to be in line of sight and I could go into the kitchen and make an espresso with uninterrupted audio. The surround function is OK if you like that sort of stuff, I don’t. Remember, these are headphones, not a 5.1 system. I listened to CDs, MP3 songs and movies with these headphones and they sound great. Even dusted off my Dark Side of the Moon CD, and you know what? Damn the concept, this here is a fine collection of songs reproduced in startling clarity through the Sennies. If you’re looking for a set of wireless headphones, do yourself a favour—spend a little extra and get this pair. Your ears will love you for it.
Price Rs10,500
Tell Harsh what gadgets you want reviewed at gizmoguru@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Apr 07 2007. 12 35 AM IST
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