Number two on the Best list goes to Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which was the first of what I consider the third-generation of modern consoles. (Some call them seventh generation, referring back to the first consoles ever created. Others, like me, see a modern era beginning when Sony, and later Microsoft, started competing with Nintendo.) The Xbox 360 was released nearly a full year before Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 3, which in terms of game development was a huge head start. The Xbox 360 is compatible with most original Xbox games, although this backwards compatibility requires the console to be equipped with its optional hard drive.
The Xbox 360 comes in three flavors: Core, Premium, and Elite. The Core system is the basic game console, Premium adds a 20GB hard drive, some chrome, and wireless controllers, and the Elite model includes built-in wireless networking, an HDMI port for connecting to your high-definition TV, and expands hard drive storage to 120GB. Both the Premium and Elite versions can play standard DVD movies, and an available external drive adds HD DVD high-definition movie playback. All Xbox 360s support Dolby 5.1 sound output and, after a software update in the fall of 2006, video resolution of up to 1080p. Windows Media Center will detect and support Xbox 360 consoles as media extenders, which allow you to stream content from your PC to your entertainment system through the game console.
The strongest draw of the Xbox 360 might be the online gaming network, Xbox Live. All Xbox 360 games are Xbox Live enabled, although in some cases this only means the game receives updates over the Xbox Live system, not that it supports online multiplayer mode. Xbox Live allows subscribers to message each other and voice chat over the same connection. A player matching system ranks your skill as you win and lose games, automatically finding competition of comparable skill. Xbox Live Marketplace offers downloadable game titles, optional expanded content for retail titles, and a variety of media content. Although other video game consoles have online capabilities, nothing approaches the level of development and functionality you’ll find with Xbox Live.
If online multiplayer game play is your favorite thing, or if an Xbox 360 exclusive title like Halo 3 is your favorite game, then you would no doubt rank this console as your choice for number one on the list. Given circumstances like that, I would not argue with you. However, my task is to evaluate the consoles based upon how well they fulfill their primary role, which is to play video games. The first word in video games is video, and when it comes to the most jaw-dropping graphics you can get from a game console, you have to give the nod to my number one pick.