Xbox 360 Hardware Unveiled

Everything from base tech to Live and peripherals.

Xbox 360 has been officially unveiled by Microsoft.

Confirmation that it was "Xbox 360" came just after 2AM BST as Microsoft's J Allard delivered the immortal words in official context for the first time as part of a streaming video presentation (direct link) that capped off the company's OurColony.net viral marketing campaign. "You are the colony," Allard beamed, before launching into a glitzy look at the making of the system.

Media-wise, we have official photographs, shots of the "Guide", and four "poster pics".

The video confirms that the design seen in leaked shots earlier this week is real, and that the controllers seen in those shots are indeed wireless. The presence of a removable hard drive module is also confirmed, although it's still not clear whether a version of the console without this module will be launched.

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It also confirms the launch period: Holiday season 2005, with the suggestion based on aggregated sources being a November US launch - eerily and perhaps deliberately close to the original Xbox launch date - with European and Japanese releases following shortly after. Perhaps even within 7-10 days, according to some.

The special also reveals what the function of the large Xbox 360 logo seen in the middle of each controller is - it's a button to pop up the Xbox 360 Guide, a menu system which gives access to a variety of multimedia, online and offline features of the console, including a host of features designed to link up with Windows Media Centre PC systems.

The system design was the result of a massive process that involved as many as 20 rejected prototypes, and the idea of the final design - which is about the same size as a PlayStation 2 - is that the "dual concavity" gives it the look of something breathing in. It can stand on its side or upright without the need for support.

Full system specifications of the system followed as a worldwide embargo lifted at 2:30AM BST. The console will be powered by three IBM PowerPC CPUs, each one running at 3.2Ghz and with the capacity to run two hardware threads simultaneously - effectively meaning that the system can process six threads at once. Each core also has an on-board vector unit - and the whole system uses a water-cooling system to keep the temperature down, much like the high-end Apple PowerMac G5 desktop computers, which use similar PowerPC chips.

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The ATI graphics processor in the box will run at 500MHz, with 10MB of embedded DRAM on the graphics part, while the box itself has 512MB of GDDR3 RAM, which is shared between the CPUs and the graphics chip. This will drive Microsoft's vision of an "HD era". Although Xbox 360 will not require a high-definition television set to run, Microsoft is heavily behind the idea, and all games will have to support 16:9 widescreen resolution, 720 progression-scan and 1080i, as well as anti-aliasing, and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround and custom soundtracks.

As expected, the system will not use either of the new high-capacity DVD standards, instead opting for a standard 12X dual-layer DVD-ROM, while the hard drive will ship in a 20GB base unit, which can later be upgraded. Memory card units, two of which can be plugged in at once, will start at 64MB - it's not clear what exactly their purpose will be, as yet.

The system will support up to four wireless controllers, and also has three standard USB 2.0 ports. As well as the built-in network port, it is also "Wi-Fi Ready" - although it appears that the Wi-Fi adapter will be sold separately. Specifications have it supporting 801.11b, 802.11g and 802.11a models - the full range of likely options.

Xbox 360's also listed as "video camera ready", and it's known that the video camera will be sold as an optional extra that allows for video messaging amongst other things. The camera will support VGA 640x480 resolution at 30 frames per second and takes 1.3-megapixel photos.

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In terms of multimedia functionality, Xbox 360 will boast DVD playback out of the box. A clever idea is that the X360 will power down its noisiest fans when it plays back video content, allowing users to enjoy things without distraction. Equally curious and bound to be popular is the news that alerts will be able to pop up during television or DVD playback, allowing you to, for example, sit and watch a DVD of The Simpsons whilst waiting for a friend to pop up and challenge you.

There will also be the opportunity to rip music to the hard drive and play content from Windows Media Centre PCs across the network. Interestingly, it also promises the ability to play media from portable music devices and digital cameras - and leaked details from a Danish games magazine specifically mention the iPod, raising the possibility that the system may be happy to play media even off portable devices from Microsoft's competitors in this space.

Microsoft also unveiled the Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote, which features backlit buttons and allows you to browse content on the system, controlling music, pictures and more, and extensive Windows XP Media Centre Edition functionality. There's even A, B, X, and Y buttons for basic control of the Xbox 360 itself.

Of course, the announcements wouldn't be complete without some reference to the customisation being touted so strongly by J Allard - so the unit itself can be completely customised with new face-plates, much like clip-on covers on mobile phones. Many are visible in the OurColony video.

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Last night's dramatics also confirmed what's already been said about Xbox Live, and more. Users will have a choice of packages - a Silver option, which allows them to download content including new levels, weapons, game demos, community-created content through Xbox Live Marketplace; and a Gold option that opens the door to full online play.

Players will be able to personalise Live with their own snapshot from the camera, engage in video messaging conversations, online tournaments and ladders, play with celebrities and join sponsored tournaments. What's more, the first month of the Gold "premium" service will be free, and various free showcase weekends should follow.

Microsoft has also indicated that you'll be able to avoid players you don't enjoy playing with by ranking them based on the experience.

Full details on the software unveiled overnight will be made available elsewhere. And for those of you who fancy a laugh, check out our archive of live coverage of the evening that saw us glued to the screen from 8PM through until 4AM, posting anything and everything. It was highly entertaining. And some of the jokes were quite funny too. See that here.

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