Pictures purporting to be of a working Xbox 360 console have been posted to a number of American gaming forums, with the poster reporting that he has booted up the system, used the dashboard and played Xbox title Halo 2.
According to the reports surrounding the pictures, they were taken by the step-son of a Regulatory Compliance Manager working on the Xbox 360 project for Microsoft, who brought home a working prototype of the console.
They show the console allegedly connected to a small television, with a number of wired connections out of the top of the system - apparently for testing purposes - as well as showing the Xbox 360 logo on the TV screen, and the teenager himself holding an Xbox 360 pad.
The poster says that although he had no Xbox 360 software available to try out, he was able to navigate the dashboard and the console's media functionality, and was able to play Halo 2 on the unit using its backwards compatibility function.
The obvious conclusions from the images are that Microsoft has near-final Xbox 360 hardware in prototype - and, of course, that the boy's step-father is probably having an uncomfortable time in work at the moment.
However, a number of people have pointed out that there are a few inconsistencies with the story - not least the simple question of whether Microsoft would really allow an Xbox 360 prototype out of the labs in such a manner, given that even the plastic mock-up of the case passed around at the ELSPA Game Summit last month by Xbox VP Peter Moore was watched like a hawk.
The alleged prototype also doesn't have any lit-up LEDs on the front panel, despite apparently being powered up, and the connection to the television in the pictures isn't visible. The poster also comments that the external power pack for the Xbox 360 is very large, but it doesn't actually appear in any of the pictures.
Suspicions about fakes aside, if these images are taken at face value, the message is clear - with the projected launch now as little as three months away, Xbox 360 prototypes are close to completion and backwards compatibility is working, at least for one of the system's most high profile titles.
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