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XBox Game System

Jan 19, 2002

Jul 6, 2002 : Added Region 2 DVD playback information

Huh? Why is the XBox on this site?

Good question. The answer is that it is the first games system that can really push a good home theater system. It supports high quality, widescreen video (up to HDTV resolutions) with Dolby Digital and DTS sound support. No other game system can do this today.

I am not going into huge detail about the box itself, there are plenty of game sites that have that sort of detail, I just want to concentrate on why the XBox is such a good home theater component.

PC/Game System/Home Theater?

The XBox is certainly not a PC. It uses many PC components, such as an Intel processor, IDE hard drive, NVidia graphics chip, and so on, but you cannot run Windows on it. Think of it as a game system which happens to have a number of PC components in it, to reduce its cost. A number of PC components are actually missing to keep the cost down, such as a clock battery.

Is it a game system? Very much so. It plays games from DVD-like discs, and you can connect up to four controllers in the front of the box. It also has a CAT5 ethernet socket on the back so you can plug your XBox into up to three others via normal CAT5 wiring, enabling multi-player games. Soon you will even be able to connect your XBox to your broadband connection (e.g. DSL or cable modem) and play other XBox users over the internet.

A Home Theater Component?

I think there are five things that make the XBox particularly suitable as a home theater component, and they are:

  • Component video output, as 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i. Of course it also does s-video, composite video and even RF output for low tech equipment.
  • Digital sound - it can output Dolby Digital 5.1 from those games that support it.
  • Widescreen support - you can tell the XBox you have a 16:9 screen and then smart games can utilize this for true widescreen anamorphic display.
  • DVD playback - for $30 you can add a DVD playback kit that lets you play regular DVD movies. It will even output DTS digital sound from supporting DVDs.
  • Its black. OK so that's a minor point, but all my home theater equipment is black and it matches. As the disc tray slides out from the front you can even stack it with your regular equipment.

Home Theater Recommended Games

The XBox has a substantial number of games at launch with many more to come, but here are my favorites of the launch titles for the best audio-visual experience.
  • NFL Fever 2002 (American Football) : Excellent widescreen support, with very realistic graphics. As an Englishman I have no clue how to play this game, but I know enough to run a big guy into another big guy. Try it Snow enabled to really show the graphics off.
  • Dead or Alive 3 (Fighting) : Absolutely gorgeous graphics, and I don't just mean the female characters. A lot of fun to play.
  • Project Gotham Racing (Driving) : Really nice rendered cars, and it makes me wince to see so much damage inflicted on lovely Porsches.
  • F1 2001 (Driving) : In single player mode on a widescreen TV this cannot be beat. The sense of speed is terrific - it really does feel like 200mph, and the rain effects are outstanding.
  • Halo (First person shooter) : My current favorite. The sound is so good I actually want to buy a CD of the music! Single player is highly engrossing, and multi-player is a huge blast, especially with several XBoxes connected on a network.

My XBox Setup

There are different AV packs for the different video output modes, from Microsoft and third parties, and I use the Microsoft High Definition AV Pack to connect via component input to my Pioneer Elite Pro-610HD and a toslink cable to my Sony STR-DA50ES for DD5.1 sound. The component cable that comes with the HD pack is pretty short, so I bought a longer one. The controller cables are reasonably long, but not long enough for my XBox to sit in my equipment rack, so my XBox lives in an IKEA Disbo unit. This is a perfectly sized box on wheels that takes the XBox itself and four controllers on the shelf above, and comes with a black cover. Velco strips allow you easy access to the front and back. When in use the Disbo is moved out near to the seats, and when we're done the controllers go back into the Disbo and the whole unit is wheeled back into a corner out of the way.

Update: Multi-Region DVD Playback

Well not strictly multi-region, but other-region. If you buy a DVD playback kit in a particular region, it will work on any XBox. I purchased a DVD kit in the UK, plugged it into my US XBox, and now I can play Region 2 DVDs! This means one less component video input, and I can retire my old Apex player that I used to use for R2 discs. No NTSC/PAL video conversion required. DVD quality is acceptable, but not brilliant. It is plenty good enough for me to keep up with UK TV programs as they appear on R2 DVD.

Important note: Once you use a particular region's DVD kit in an XBox, that XBox is forever locked to that region, so for example I cannot ever play Region 1 DVDs on my XBox. This is no loss for me, but be very sure if you plan on using your XBox this way.


  • True home theater component (see above)
  • Controllers have long leads to allow for reasonably sized theater rooms
  • Games use normal DVD style cases so storage is easy
  • Plays DVDs too (see important note above for multi-region)


  • Need to keep plugged in to maintain time (though can be switched off)
  • No games support 720p or 1080i yet, 480p is the best so far (though it looks awesome)

Additional Info

Official XBox site

[In the interests of balance I should point out I am a Microsoft employee and shareholder. Just because I work at MS does not mean I automatically love everything we do, for example I am a huge TiVo supporter despite it competing with Ultimate TV, a Microsoft product].


ControlAV is a trademark of Andy Pennell.