Xbox 360 S
The Xbox 360 has been around for some time now, so following the revamp from Sony of its PS3, it's only natural that Microsoft would want to get in on the re-invigorating action for its console, boosting sales and fixing a couple of issues along the way. In steps the new Microsoft Xbox 360, or as some call it the Xbox 360 Slim or as the name on the back of the console itself refers to it, the Xbox 360 S.
Before we talk about the new slim console, it's probably worth just noting what you get in the box. In short you get virtually nothing that isn't core to the unit. Yes, there is the console, the power pack, a controller and a headset, but there is no way of actually connecting it to your TV. You'll need to bring the HDMI cable yourself.
Now that we've got that out of the way the first thing you'll notice about the new console is the size. As you might expect, it's now considerably smaller. Not Nintendo Wii small, but reduced enough that at the Microsoft press conference at E3 in Los Angeles, Microsoft hid the new Xbox 360 inside the old model before the big reveal. Incidentally the same trick Sony performed when it launched the slimline PlayStation 2.
The new Xbox 360 S also brings with it a new glossy design that is even more masculine than the previous matte outings. There is nothing family friendly about this device when it comes to looks, strange considering Microsoft's gunning for a family audience with the Kinect later this year, but that doesn't mean it looks awful. Out are the rather large bulbous edges; in are stark lines, hard edges and plenty of grills.
Part of the new design is now a very large fan grill on the top (when laid flat), plus two grills/vents that engulf both sides. It's all to stop it over-heating you see - something previous models were prone to. But while that means it is considerably quieter, and we mean quiet enough that you can have it on in the background without you noticing, it also means that you can't put anything else on top of it like you could with the original design (yes that's what probably caused the overheating in the first place).
While Sony opted for a curved top with the PS3, Microsoft has gone for a flat design with air vents, and it is something you should account for in your TV stand if space is tight.
The design has also seen the front of the console cleaned up as well. The IR receiver has been hidden behind the casing, while the memory unit slots are gone altogether. You still, however, get two forward facing (hidden) USB sockets for connecting things like USB storage drives.
For those really into playing spot the difference, the DVD eject button has shrunk and become touch sensitive, while the On switch is now sliver rather than the same colour. Gone too is the Red Ring Of Death (RROD) warning sign, replaced instead with the red eye of doom.
Around the back and there is plenty of change too. Microsoft has added an Optical S/PDIF socket for audio buffs, two further USB sockets bringing the rear total to three and the overall console total to five, and a dedicated AUX socket to power Kinect for Xbox 360 when it becomes available later this year.
Besides that there is an AV socket, an HDMI socket for connecting to your TV, Ethernet and of course the power. There is now also a Kensington lock so you can bolt it to something rather than having it nicked when someone comes to burgle your house.
As before the hard drive is fully replaceable and rather than a big clunky thing sticking out of the side (as with the Xbox 360 Elite) it's now neatly tucked away out of sight behind one of the side vents in its own caddy; accessing it is very easy. The final outside change is the power brick; and yes it's still a brick, which you could easily fend off evil foes with, but now around half the size.
Inside, Microsoft hasn't changed the graphical power, the processor power or much else for that matter although it has added Wi-Fi and increased the storage. For the first time the Xbox 360 console won't require a network cable ready to use behind your TV, neither will you have to go out and buy a wireless dongle for another £60.
And the wireless connection is no slouch either, as you'll get wireless b/g/n support, which meant that we enjoyed fast downloads (obviously based on your connection speed) via Xbox Live just as if we were connected via a wire.
In our tests playing a number of games online and downloading content via Marketplace, we were more than happy with the performance the wireless connectivity brought. And the lack of cabling meant that for the first time (we've never bought the wireless dongle out of principle) we could play from our bed.
Also new is the default storage the Xbox 360 S comes with. You now get 250GB of storage at your disposal. That's a lot of saved games, or movies and adding new content is very easy thanks to the system now supporting any old USB storage drive you've got, rather than just Microsoft-branded options.
Of course it's not all add, add, add; Microsoft has still left out a Blu-ray player for high definition videos other than those that you've downloaded, and the DVD playback quality still isn't great when compared to what the PS3 or other regular DVD players are capable of through upscaling. If you're buying this as an entertainment hub expect to have to download to enjoy decent quality movies.
If this is going to be your first Xbox 360 then migrating data isn't something you are going to have to worry about, but for those looking to upgrade from an Xbox 360 Elite then it's worth thinking about. There are a couple of ways to do this: mainly via Microsoft's Hard Drive Transfer Cable, or the cheaper option of a USB storage drive you might have lying around.
While the USB drive option is cheap, unless you've got a large drive you'll be there for some time copying the data across. The simplest way by far is to use the Hard Drive Transfer Cable. Whip out the drive from your old Xbox 360, plug it into the cable and then to your new console via one of those five USB sockets. 30 seconds later you are done. It's well worth the £15.
Once you've got everything set up, and your data transferred it's time to play. Turning on the console you'll notice no real difference, the software interface is the same, the gaming experience is the same, the games you've played will still play. Remember this is just a hardware refresh rather than an overhaul of how the Xbox 360 works.
We played all the games you would expect (Alan Wake, Spilt/Second, Gears) on the hottest weekend of the year in the UK. Yes the console got hot, but no hotter than we would have expected after 10 hours of gaming and watching movies.
The Xbox 360 S is a great evolution, but not revolution, of the Xbox 360 console. It adds plenty to the mix that was missing before.
You now get a quieter device that you'll feel happy to leave on. You also get the bigger hard drive for storing more movies and games. You get the wireless connectivity, and if you are planning on getting Kinect when it comes out later this year, as well as the power socket so you don't have to plug it in to a wall socket as well. The catch is that the Microsoft hasn't really improved the insides - this isn't the Xbox 720.
Should you upgrade? It really comes down to how much you want the new box. You've probably already overcome the wireless issues and you can expand your storage options via bolt-on hard drives. You'll really only want to upgrade to reduce the noise.
The Xbox 360 S is a great refresh and one that Microsoft should be praised for. We like it, and with Kinect coming soon, these should fly off the shelves.
Nintendo - it might be time to panic.