Xbox 360s are finally beginning to flow into Britain again, after the initial shipment last November came and went to the dedicated few who had preordered. I put my name down at Game two weeks ago and was shocked to get a call this weekend that one unit had come in. Lucky me! Or so I thought. It turns out that the backwards compatibility with old Xbox games is woefully poor, something I cover in more detail in my Xbox 360 Backward Compatibility – Not! post. It was the straw the broke the camel’s back in terms of making me go off the Xbox 360 — and possibly the Xbox platform entirely.
I’ve written before that we’re not a huge gaming family, but we do play the occasional game. We finally got an Xbox about two years ago, after we’d been staying at a holiday cottage where someone had a unit for visitors staying to use. I loved Project Gotham and one of the snowboarding games. After that, I dropped a few hints that an Xbox for my birthday would be an excellent idea.
Since then, we’ve acquired a number of games, mostly for the kids. Why get the Xbox 360? We don’t have an HD TV yet, but we will after we move in about two months. The better image quality the 360 offers sounded great. Plus, since we’ve got a library of old games already, staying with the Xbox platform also made sense. Finally, I had a good excuse to get one of the latest and greatest toys. I explained to my wife that by getting the Xbox 360, I could then take the old unit down to her mother’s, so we had it handy for me and the boys when we just wanted to kick back down there. All excellent reasons, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I picked up the unit last Saturday, unpacked everything and got going. The instructions are dismal. We don’t have an HD TV, as I said. But the AV unit can be set to HDTV, then the resolution set to 480p. What’s 480p? Would my TV support it? Is 480p better than standard PAL or PAL 60? No advice.
My TV is a Toshiba 32ZP, about a year and a half old and one of those that does picture processing and progressive scan display. Since it had all the right composite inputs for the AV cable, I tried the HD mode. At 480p (I’m guessing that’s a smooth, 480 progressive display similar to what a DVD player would output), everything seemed fine. At 720p, I got a blank screen. At 1080i, I got a half-size picture. I figured 480p must work, guessed it was probably a little better than standard AV, hoped it wasn’t somehow going to damage my TV and stuck with it.
I did try checking up on this via the Microsoft Xbox site. I didn’t find any particular help. What I did find was a big lack of advice for the poor slobs over here in the UK paying far more for the machines than those in the US. I’ll talk support first, prices next.
Here’s the Xbox support area for the US, which in turn has tons of How To info, though still no advice even on the AV page on the various HD modes or if 480p is better than standard AV. In contrast, this third party article suggests 480p is better than standard resolution, as does this. This forum post and this excellent article reassure that if you can feed your TV a composite signal, then it can play 480p just fine. This article interestingly explains that 720p may be better than 1080i.
Now head to the support area for the UK. There’s no How To advice. What is there is far less than on the US site. Sure, much of what’s on the US site is applicable. But if so, then don’t bother having a separate UK area. Just have an English language area. It’s just insulting to feel like you’re an afterthought, especially when you pay so much more.
Ah, prices. What’s the price of an Xbox 360 on Amazon in the US? The Platinum System (the unit with the hard drive) is around $375 to $400. Over in the UK, it’s £280, or around $490 to $500.
The price hikes don’t end there. Want a play and charge kit for your wireless controller? That will be $20 in the US, versus £15 ($26) in the UK. Universal Media Remote? That $20 in the US, £20 ($35) in the UK. The Wireless Networking Adapter? That’s $80 versus £60 ($105).
I haven’t tested this, but I’m virtually certain any of the accessories for a US Xbox 360 will work just fine for a UK one. That was the case with the old units. I’d pick up a memory unit or extra controller in the US, and it would work perfectly in the UK. So got a trip back to the US? Pick up your accessories there.
Games are another matter. Xbox games for the US in the past wouldn’t run, to my understanding, on UK Xboxes unless the Xbox had been chipped or modified. You also needed a TV that could play NTSC signals (mine does; many do) or have the game output in PAL 60, to my understanding. I never bothered trying, even though the US seemed to have a bigger selection of games and at a cheaper prices.
Prices are still cheaper in the US. Want to play King Kong on your Xbox 360 in the UK? That will be £50 new right now, $88. Cost to buy it in the US? About $55.
If that’s not annoying enough, what’s the deal with the price difference between old and new Xbox games? King Kong for “old” Xbox is only £20. Is the HD version of the game really worth a 150 percent premium? Somehow, I doubt it.
Another surprise was that the 20 GB hard drive reports as having only 13 GB free. Why? It’s preloaded with some “bonus” content along with other material you can’t remove. It’s also apparently a pretty bad hard drive. I don’t really think I need that much space, of course — and I could stream music from our Windows Media Center PC. But it’s just another annoyance.
In the end, I decided I could do without my Xbox 360 for now. Game, where I got it, has a great 10 day refund policy in theory. Then it turns out, they won’t issue a refund. They don’t specifically say consoles are excluded for a refund — look here at their policy and tell me if you spot what I’ve missed. They were willing to issue a credit, but since Xbox 360s are selling at a premium still on eBay, I might try giving that a go first.
It’s really not an issue of money, however. I can afford the box even at the usual rip-off UK prices. It’s more a matter of feeling annoyed with Microsoft overall. They stuck with regionally coded games for no good reason. They overpriced the units here. Then the xbox 360 backwards compatibility turns out to be more myth than reality. I don’t need the Xbox 360 right now. When I do get an HD TV in a month or two, the Playstation 3 will be near to launch. Perhaps I’ll just wait for that and shift over to an entirely new platform.
After all, that’s what Xbox is trying to make me do. Since my old library is pretty much useless, they want me on an entirely new gaming platform. Well, good job. If I’m going to buy all new games, I don’t have to buy them for your platform. Alternatively, if I am going with the Xbox 360, I’ll wait a bit for better deals or just bring one back from the US.