It was way back in November 2001 that Microsoft put its money where its mouth was and launched the big black Xbox into the world. Spin on four years and the firm is gearing up for round two with the Xbox 360.
Sony may be talking up the strength of the Playstation 3 hardware - the same computing power as a small village in Yorkshire, last we heard - but the 360 has a head start: it's here right now. Americans only got a one-month lead, with the UK launch at 12:01am today.
Microsoft has clearly listened to, and learned from, all the criticism of its first adolescent. Gone are the brooding blacks and butch corners, replaced by peaceful whites and generous curves. Put the original dark and moody Xbox in the hands of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy for 60 minutes, and the 360 is the result.
Games are obviously the main focus of any console - and initial views suggest Microsoft has incorporated plenty of grunt for this purpose (see Project Gotham 3 review) - but the 360 offers sooo much more.
First up, it's your all-singing, all-dancing media client. Got a Media Center PC? Then you can stream telly, movies, music and photos to your heart's content, thanks to the built-in Media Center Extender. This has been vastly improved since the first standalone Extenders hit the market Stateside this time last year. There's also a Windows Media Connect client, so it can talk to boring old XP PCs, too.
Then there's the online side of things. Every 360 comes with a Silver Xbox Live subscription, with Gold (which enables online multiplayer gaming) available for just £40 a year. In addition to playing games against your mates online, you get access to the Xbox Live Arcade, where you can download additional titles, trailers and demos. Bored of what you've got but can't be bothered going to the shops in the rain? Fulfilment is just a few clicks away.
Finally, there's the pricing. The Xbox 360 proper will set you back £280 - not bad when you consider the original was pushing £300 at launch. But there's more. Opt for the Xbox Core System, which means you don't get the hard drive, wireless controller and, for a limited time, a Media Center remote control and you'll have to stump up only £210. Bargain.
This review will appear in the February 06 issue of PC Advisor, which hits the shops on December 15