Danna was able to snag me an XBox 360 for Christmas. So I guess I should be saying that Danna rocks -- which she does. Overall, I'm very impressed with the level of polish of the 360. I'm not going to try to give anyone a big fat review of the 360; that's been done. Instead, here's a small list of things I find surprising about the 360:

Hardware

Yes, the graphics and processor are hot (literaly). What I think is most impressive about the hardware is the almost Mac-like attention to detail.

  • There isn't an exposed screw on the 360.
  • When you turn off the 360, all the controllers turn off automatically (the controllers are wireless, and run on batteries).
  • When you turn on any controller, the360 turns on automatically. Similarly, you can turn off the 360 by turning off any controller.
  • There isn't any creak or flex in the controllers. The texture and build quality of them is excellent.
  • There is a ring of lights on each controller that lights up in a quadrant pattern. It tells you which controller (1-4) you have. A similar set of lights rings the power switch on the 360 and shows which controllers are connected.

Live

I've had an XBox Live account since they came out but I don't regularly play live any longer. Under the 360 Live is infused everywhere (and you still get some support for live even if you don't pay the subscription). There is an entire area of downloadable games for Live, which Danna loves: she doesn't enjoy me clubbing me on the head in first person shooters and most of these games are like the Pop Cap games on the internet.

The 360 connects to live as soon as you turn it on, so even when watching a DVD you can get notifications of friends who are online.

Media Integration

The most surprising thing to me is the 360's great integration with other computers in my house. It has a built-in media center extender which blows away my existing media center extender, and even blows away the media center itself. See for yourself:

  • Hey, I can finally play DVDs. The Media Center always refused to play copy protected DVDs because I have a (gasp!) hi-def TV that doesn't have HDMI inputs and I always had the media center set to something greater than 480i. I guess the XBox folks were a little more aggressive with the DVD industry: I have my 360 set to 1080i and it has never failed to play a DVD. It even plays DVDs better than my $1000 Pioneer Elite DVD player (the Pioneer does a terrible job of doing 3-2 pulldown on menus and featurettes of the DVD).
  • Did I say 1080i? Setting up my media center to support 1080i involved digging deep through Windows settings and tweaking the scan rates until I got an image that was right. It was a royal pain and required that I use the mouse and keyboard to navigate deep into the control panel. On the 360, I simply selected 1080i in the settings page.
  • The 360 uses its own graphics hardware to render and do transitions between pages, which looks far better than any media center extender (which just uses a form of remote desktop). Also, while my media center extender frequently needs a reboot (Microsoft: this thing is a piece of hardware with an embedded ROM. How can it be so unstable???), my 360 has never failed to connect to my media center.
  • The 360 emits real 5.1 digital output for high definition WMV files. My media center would output multi-channel sound through its analog outputs, but I'm not about pass analog outputs from some $16 sound card into my high-end surround processor; I want it to be digital. The 360 does output digital 5.1 sound thanks to its integrated Dolby Digital encoder.

Well, that's about all I've got. Oh, the 360 plays some pretty incredible games too, but you already knew that. The only complaint I could possibly have is that the DVD drive is very noisy when playing games (it spins up much faster when playing games than it does playing DVDs).