Release Date: 11/15/2001
The Good: PC components allow for great power and future-proofed features, great feeling S controller, HDD makes games save faster, and you can store music on it, Xbox LIVE was the most revolutionary feature for its generation
The Bad: Big and bulky, HDD is only 8GB, almost zero Japanese support, DVD playback requires additional hardware
Here’s something funny. All these years I passed up the original Xbox as just a failed experiment by Microsoft. Not until recently did I realize just how great this system was, what is was capable of, and how advanced it was for its time. I honestly think it got so much hate and low sales because no one understood what it was trying to do. No one really caught on until the Xbox 360 came out which was nearly the same system and design process, but because it was 5 years later everyone got it? I don’t think so.
I have to say that the size of the system didn’t help. Sure, the original PS2 wasn’t the slimmest system ever, but it was nearly half the size. This thing is the biggest console I have ever owned or seen. The reason for the huge bulk is that Microsoft thought to make a PC into a home video game system was a good idea, and it was. The main bulk of the system is the standard IDE DVD-ROM drive and 8GB HDD. These things are massive and heavy, and this is what contributes to the majority of the weight. The system has the power to throw around though being 3x as powerful as the PS2 and GameCube. The system was the first to feature PC type architecture with an Intel Pentium III at 733 Mhz and a Nvidia GPU called the NV2A at 233 Mhz. This made the system very easy to program for thus the frequent PC game ports and higher end visuals. Games like Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and many others looked astounding on the system and even most multi-platform games were superior on the Xbox.
That’s not to say the Xbox is better than the PS2 software wise. The PS2 was a much simpler system to use with just a memory card and disc drive. The Xbox Dashboard and Xbox LIVE were revolutionary causing Sony to push their PS2 Network Adapter faster and thus the eventual creation of PlayStation Network with the PS3. The Dashboard is the baby version of what we know today. You can change your system settings, and these stay stored thanks to the HDD, rip music to the HDD which was a huge feature and allowed custom soundtracks in games, and allowed soft modding the system which became a huge scene online. Sadly, Xbox LIVE was taken down a few years ago, so this is a single player system only. The system firmware can actually be updated to the latest with a copy of Halo 2 that has the firmware on the disc. DLC is also no longer available unless you soft mod your console and download them online. However, most DLC for the Xbox was multiplayer maps which are really no good anymore.
So with a bunch of processing power, a built-in HDD, and a proprietary online service, what stopped the Xbox? Japanese developers did. While Sega had an exclusive deal with Microsoft to create over a dozen games for the system, Square Enix cut off nearly all support thanks to Microsoft execs snotty and arrogant attitude toward foreign developers. This is what gave the PS2 a huge boost and quadruple the sales thanks to many Japanese exclusive that we have known to love such as Final Fantasy, Okami, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and many other Japanese developed games. Microsoft was stuck with their own in-house studios and everything but the Japanese market. That’s not to say the Xbox didn’t have it’s own excellent suite of games.
One feature I love about the Xbox is that it supports HDTVs which the PS2 and GameCube did not. The Xbox was so far advanced that it even supported 1080i which very few TVs touched back in the early 2000s. Growing up, I didn’t know a single person with 1080i input let alone know what that was. The Xbox also supports widescreen making it a perfect retro console for newer TVs. I plugged the system in via component and set the Xbox to HD output and all the game looked crisp and clear. The PS2 had very few games that supported 480p output as the system didn’t have the power to do so. With that said, the Xbox has 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS which sounds great even on newer systems. This is supported by the system thanks to the extra power that can process these channels.
The Xbox also had a fantastic S controller after the infamous Duke was discontinued. The S controller went on to evolve into the Xbox controllers we love today. I’m still not a fan of the Start, Back, Black, and White buttons that are on the arms of the controllers. It’s also odd to not have the bumpers on top, but most of the bulk is from the two memory card slots in the controller that were used to transfer saves to other systems. On a down side, the Xbox does not use the controller to play DVD movies which required a separate remote and dongle. This seemed like it was to get more money into Microsoft’s pockets as the controller could easily by programmed to work.
Overall, the Xbox is a fantastic system that had many flaws, but many high notes that make it a must buy for game collectors. It’s really cheap to collect for the Xbox and the system run around $50 on average. They are easily moddable and it has a vast library that you won’t get bored with anytime soon.