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The Xbox is a video game console manufactured by Microsoft. It was released on November 15, 2001 in North America, February 22, 2002 in Japan, and March 14, 2002 in Australia and Europe. It was Microsoft's first foray into the gaming console market. As part of the sixth-generation of gaming, the Xbox competed with Sony's PlayStation 2, Sega's Dreamcast (which stopped American sales before the Xbox went on sale), and Nintendo's GameCube. The Xbox was the first console offered by an American company after the Atari Jaguar stopped sales in 1996.

The integrated Xbox Live service launched in November 2002 allowed players to play games online with a broadband connection. It was one feature that made the Xbox so popular, with most critics stating that Xbox Live had a better online experience than PlayStation 2's online service, though Xbox Live required a subscription while PS2's online is free. The best-selling Xbox game is Halo 2 released in November 2004, which was also extremely popular through its online play on Xbox Live.

Xbox's successor, the Xbox 360, was launched in November 2005. The Xbox was discontinued in late 2005 in Japan where sales were poor. It was discontinued in late 2006 in Europe and early 2007 in North America. The last Xbox game in Europe was Tony Hawk's Project 8 released in November 2006, and the last game in North America was Madden NFL 09 released in August 2008. Support for out-of-warranty Xbox consoles was discontinued on March 2, 2009, stating that any in-warranty repair now needed will not be undertaken and faulty consoles will be replaced with an Xbox 360 instead. Xbox Live support was discontinued on April 15, 2010.

History

In 1998 four engineers from Microsoft's DirectX team, Kevin Bachus, Seamus Blackley, Ted Hase and DirectX team leader Otto Berkes, disassembled some Dell laptop computers to construct a prototype Microsoft Windows-based video game console. The team hoped to create a console to compete with the Sony's upcoming PlayStation 2, which was luring game developers away from the Windows platform. The team approached Ed Fries, the leader of Microsoft's game publishing business at the time, and pitched their "DirectX Box" console based on the DirectX graphics technology developed by Berkes' team. Fries decided to support the team's idea of creating a Windows DirectX based console.

During development, the original DirectX box name was shortened to Xbox. Microsoft's marketing department did not like the Xbox name, and suggested many alternatives. During focus testing, the Xbox name was left on the list of possible names to demonstrate how unpopular the Xbox name would be with consumers. However, consumer testing revealed that Xbox was preferred by far over the other suggested names and "Xbox" became the official name of the product.

The Xbox was Microsoft's first video game console after collaborating with Sega to port Windows CE to the Dreamcast console. Microsoft repeatedly delayed the console, which was first mentioned publicly in late 1999 during interviews with Microsoft's then-CEO Bill Gates. Gates stated that a gaming/multimedia device was essential for multimedia convergence in the new times. When Bill Gates unveiled the Xbox at the Game Developers Conference in 2000, audiences were impressed by the console's technology. At the time of Gates' announcement, Sega's Dreamcast sales were diminishing and Sony's PlayStation 2 was just going on sale in Japan.

Due to the immense popularity of gaming consoles in Japan, Microsoft delayed the release of the Xbox in Europe to focus on the Japanese video game market . Although delayed, the European release proved to be more successful than the launch of the Xbox in Japan.

Some of Microsoft's plans proved effective. In preparation for its launch, Microsoft acquired Bungie and used Halo: Combat Evolved as its launch title. At the time, GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 had been one of the few hit First-person shooter (FPS) games to appear on a console, some of other ones being Perfect Dark and Medal of Honor. Halo: Combat Evolved proved a good application to drive the Xbox's sales. In 2002, Microsoft made the second place slot in consoles sold in North America.

Popular launch games for the console included Dead or Alive 3, Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding, Halo: Combat Evolved, Fuzion Frenzy, Project Gotham Racing and Jet Set Radio Future.

Discontinuation and successor

The Xbox's successor, the Xbox 360, was officially unveiled announced on May 12, 2005 on MTV and released in North America on November 22, 2005. Nvidia ceased production of the Xbox's GPU in August 2005, which marked the end of brand-new Xbox production. The Xbox was discontinued in Japan in 2005 immediately after 360's launch, due to poor sales in the country. Sales were much better throughout Europe and North America where the console was discontinued in late 2006 and early 2007, respectively.

The Xbox 360 supports a limited number of the Xbox's game library if the player has an official Xbox 360 Hard Drive. Xbox games were added up until November 2007. Xbox game saves cannot be transferred to Xbox 360 and the ability to play Xbox games through Xbox LIVE has been discontinued. It is still possible to play Xbox games on the Xbox 360 with a System Link between the two consoles.

Hardware and accessories

Hardware

The Xbox was the first video game console to feature a built-in hard disk drive, used primarily for storing game saves and content downloaded from Xbox Live. This eliminated the need for separate memory cards (although some older consoles, such as the Amiga CD32 used build in flash memory and others like the TurboGrafx-CD, Sega CD and Sega Saturn had featured built-in battery backup memory prior to 2001). An Xbox user could rip music from standard audio CDs to the hard drive, and these songs were used for the custom soundtracks in some games.

The Xbox was the first gaming product to feature Dolby Interactive Content-Encoding Technology, which allows real-time Dolby Digital encoding in game consoles. Previous game consoles could only use Dolby Digital 5.1 during non-interactive "cut scene" playback.

The Xbox is based on commodity PC hardware and is much larger and heavier than its contemporaries. This is largely due to a bulky tray-loading DVD-ROM drive and the standard-size 3.5 inch hard drive. The Xbox has also pioneered safety features, such as breakaway cables for the controllers to prevent the console from being pulled from the surface it rests on.

Several internal hardware revisions have been made in an ongoing battle to discourage modding (hackers continually updated modchip designs in an attempt to defeat them), to cut manufacturing costs, and to make the DVD-ROM drive more reliable (some of the early units' drives gave Disc Reading Errors due to the unreliable Thomson DVD-ROM drives used). Later generation units that used the Thomson TGM-600 DVD-ROM drives and the Philips VAD6011 DVD-ROM drives were still vulnerable to failure that rendered the consoles either unable to read newer discs or caused them to halt the console with an error code usually indicating a PIO/DMA identification failure, respectively. These units were not covered under the extended warranty.

In 2002 Microsoft and Nvidia entered arbitration over a dispute on the pricing of Nvidia's chips for the Xbox. Nvidia's filing with the SEC indicated that Microsoft was seeking a US$13 million discount on shipments for NVIDIA's fiscal year 2002. Microsoft alleged violations of the agreement the two companies entered, sought reduced chipset pricing, and sought to ensure that Nvidia fulfill Microsoft's chipset orders without limits on quantity. The matter was privately settled on February 6, 2003.

Launch-era Xbox gaming units were made in Hungary and the controllers made mostly in Indonesia.

Controllers & Accessories

Xbox-Duke-Controller

Original "Fatty" Xbox controller

Xbox-s-controller

Xbox controller S

The Xbox controller features two analog sticks, a pressure sensitive directional pad, two analog triggers, a Back button, a Start button, two accessory slots and six 8-bit analog action buttons (A/Green, B/Red, X/Blue, Y/Yellow, and Black and White buttons). The standard Xbox controller (also nicknamed the "Fatty" or the "Duke" was originally the controller bundled with Xbox systems for all territories except Japan. The controller has been criticized for being bulky compared to other video game controllers; it was awarded "Blunder of the Year" by Game Informer in 2001, a Guinness World Record for the biggest controller in Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2008, and was ranked the second worst video game controller ever by IGN editor Craig Harris.

The "Controller S" (codenamed "Akebono"), a smaller, lighter Xbox controller, was originally the standard Xbox controller only in Japan, designed for users with smaller hands. The "Controller S" was later released in other territories by popular demand and by 2002 replaced the standard controller in the Xbox's retail package, with the larger original controller remaining available as an accessory.

An 8 MB removable solid state memory card can be plugged into the controllers, onto which game saves can either be copied from the hard drive when in the Xbox dashboard's memory manager or saved during a game. Most Xbox game saves can be copied to the memory unit and moved to another console but some Xbox saves are digitally signed; each console has a unique signing key, and some games (e.g. Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball) will not load saved games signed by a different Xbox, limiting the utility of the memory card. Some game saves can be tagged as uncopyable or simply padded to over 8 MB (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). The signing mechanism has been reverse-engineered by the Xbox hacking community, who have developed tools to modify savegames to work in a different console, though the signing key of the recipient Xbox (the "HDkey") and the ramped-up title key of the game (the "authkey") must be known. It is also possible to save an Xbox Live account on a memory unit, to simplify its use on more than one Xbox.

The Xbox includes a standard AV cable which provides composite video and monaural or stereo audio to TVs equipped with RCA inputs. European Xboxes also included an RCA jack to SCART converter block as well as the standard AV cable.

Operating system

The Xbox runs a custom operating system which was once believed to be a modified version of the Windows 2000 kernel. It exposes APIs similar to APIs found in Microsoft Windows, such as DirectX 8.1. The system software may have been based on the Windows NT architecture that powered Windows 2000; it is not a modified version of either.

The user interface for the Xbox is called the Xbox Dashboard. It features a media player that can be used to play music CDs, rip CDs to the Xbox's built-in hard drive and play music that has been ripped to the hard drive; it also let users manage game saves, music, and downloaded content from Xbox LIVE, and lets Xbox LIVE users sign in and manage their account. The dashboard is only available when the user is not watching a movie or playing a game. It uses many shades of green and black for the user interface, to be consistent with the physical Xbox color scheme. When the Xbox was released in 2001 the LIVE service was not online yet, so the dashboard's LIVE feature was unusable.

Xbox LIVE was released in 2002, but in order to access it users had to buy the Xbox LIVE starter kit containing a headset, a subscription, and supplemental. While the Xbox was still being supported by Microsoft, the Xbox Dashboard was updated via Xbox LIVE several times to reduce cheating and add features.

Xbox Live

Xbox-live-logo

Xbox Live logo from 2005 to 2012.

On November 15, 2002, Microsoft launched its Xbox Live online gaming service, allowing subscribers to play online Xbox games with other subscribers around the world and download new content directly to the system's hard drive. The online service works only with a broadband Internet connection. Approximately 250,000 subscribers signed up within two months of Xbox Live's launch. In July 2004, Microsoft announced that Xbox Live had reached one million subscribers; in July 2005, membership reached two million, and by July 2007 there were more than 3 million subscribers. By May 2009, the number had ballooned to 20 million current subscribers. On February 5, 2010, Marc Whitten posted on gamerscoreblog that Xbox Live support for the original Xbox games would be discontinued as of April 14, 2010. Services were discontinued on schedule, but a group of 20 gamers continued to play for almost a month afterwards by simply leaving their consoles on connected to Halo 2. APACHE N4SIR was the final user to play on the original Xbox's Live Service and was finally disconnected on 2010-05-11 at 01:58 Eastern Time Zone (EDT) (UTC-4).

Games

The Xbox launched in North America on November 15, 2001. Its most successful launch game was Halo: Combat Evolved. Its sequel, Halo 2, is the best-selling Xbox game worldwide. Although there were several more popular second-party launch titles, including NFL Fever 2002, Project Gotham Racing, and Dead or Alive 3, the early public reputation of the Xbox was damaged by the failure of Azurik: Rise of Perathia and other games designed and marketed by Microsoft.

Although the console gained strong third party support from its inception, many early Xbox games did not fully use its powerful hardware, with few additional features or graphical improvements to distinguish them from the PS2 version, thus negating one of the Xbox's main selling points. Sony countered the Xbox for a short time by temporarily securing PlayStation 2 exclusives for highly anticipated games such as the Grand Theft Auto series and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

In 2002 and 2003, several releases helped the Xbox gain momentum and distinguish itself from the PS2. The Xbox Live online service was launched in late 2002 alongside pilot titles MotoGP, MechAssault and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon. Several best-selling and critically praised titles for the Xbox were published, such as Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Ninja Gaiden and LucasArts' Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Take-Two Interactive's exclusivity deal with Sony was amended to allow Grand Theft Auto III and its sequels to be published for the Xbox. Many other publishers got into the trend of releasing the Xbox version alongside the PS2 version, instead of delaying it for months.

In 2004 Halo 2 became the highest-grossing release in entertainment history, making over $125 million in its first day and becoming Xbox Live's first killer app. That year Microsoft made a deal to put Electronic Arts's popular titles on Xbox Live.

The last game released on the Xbox was Madden NFL 09, on August 12, 2008.

Technical specifications

Xboxinside02

Xbox drives

Marketing

Sales

Region Units sold
(as of May 10, 2006)
First available
North America 16 million November 15, 2001
Europe 6 million March 14, 2002
Japan 2 million February 22, 2002
Worldwide 24 million

On November 15, 2001, Xbox launched in North America and quickly sold out.

The Xbox has sold 24 million units worldwide as of May 10, 2006, according to Microsoft. This is divided out to 16 million units sold in North America, six million units in Europe, and two million units sold in Japan.

Overall, the Xbox was a success especially in North America. Sales were also positive in Europe, but Japan saw poor sales, with only 2 million units sold there. However, there were some games from genres which are popular in Japan which were released exclusively for the Xbox, such as Dead or Alive 3 or Ninja Gaiden. These hugely contributed to the sales of Xbox in Japan.

UK advertising controversy

In 2002 the Independent Television Commission (ITC) banned a television advertisement for the Xbox in the United Kingdom after complaints that it was highly distasteful, violent, scary and upsetting. It depicted a mother giving birth to a small boy who was fired like a projectile through a hospital window and who aged rapidly as he flew through the air yelling. As he soared across a large area, he passed quickly through stages of his life as though time was passing him by. After aging into an old man, he crash-landed into his own grave. Dust and smoke poured from the grave. The advertisement ended with the slogan Life is short. Play more.

Modding

Xboxinside01

Xbox motherboard, with installed modchip

The popularity of the Xbox, as well as (in the United States) its comparatively short 90-day warranty, inspired efforts to circumvent the built-in hardware and software security mechanisms, a practice informally known as modding. Within a few months of its release the initial layer of security on the Xbox BIOS (which relied heavily on obfuscation) was broken by MIT student Andrew Huang and the contents of the "hidden" boot ROM embedded on the MCPx chip was extracted using some custom built hardware. Once this information was available, the code was soon modified so that it would skip digital signature checks and media flags, allowing unsigned code, Xbox game backups, etc., to be run. This was possible due to flaws in the Xbox's security. Modding an Xbox in any manner will void its warranty, as it may require disassembly of the console. Having a modified Xbox may also disallow it from accessing Xbox Live, if detected by Microsoft, as it contravenes the Xbox Live Terms of Use, But most modchips can be disabled, allowing the Xbox to boot in a "stock" configuration. Softmods can be disabled by "coldbooting" a game (having the game in the DVD drive before turning the console on, so the softmod is not loaded) or by using a multiboot configuration.

There are four main methods of modding the Xbox:

  • Modchip: installing a modchip inside the Xbox that bypasses the original BIOS, with a hacked BIOS to circumvent the security mechanisms.
  • TSOP flashing: reflashing the onboard BIOS chip with a hacked BIOS to circumvent the security mechanisms. The Xbox BIOS is contained on a commodity EEPROM (the 'TSOP'), which can be made writable by the Xbox by bridging points on the motherboard. Flashing is usually carried out by using a specially crafted gamesave (see 'Game save exploit', below) to flash the onboard TSOP, but the TSOP can also be de-soldered and re-written in a standard EEPROM programmer. This method only works on 1.0 to 1.5 Xboxes, as later versions replace the commodity TSOP with an LPC ROM contained within a proprietary chip.
  • Softmods: installing additional software files to the Xbox hard drive, which exploit programming errors in the Dashboard to gain control of the system, and overwrite the in-memory copy of the BIOS. Soft modification is known to be safe for Xbox Live if the user enables multibooting with the Microsoft dashboard and an original game disc is used. (See also: Xbox softmods)
    • Game save exploit: using select official game releases to load game saves that exploit buffer overflows in the save game handling. When these special game saves are loaded, they access an interface with scripts for installing the necessary softmod files. Disassembly of the Xbox is not required when installing most game save exploits.
  • Hot swapping: using a computer to change the data on the hard drive. This requires having the Xbox unlock the hard drive when it is turned on, then swapping the powered hard drive into a running computer. By using a Linux-based Live CD, data on the hard drive can be read, altered, and deleted. In most cases, an automated script will automatically install the softmod files directly to the Xbox hard drive. This technique has been used extensively to harbor cheating on many online games. Disassembly of the console is required to perform a hot swap.

Alternative operating systems

Beyond gaming, a modded Xbox can be used as a media center with XBMC.

There are also distributions of Linux developed specifically for the Xbox, including those based on Gentoo, Debian, Damn Small Linux and Dyne:bolic.

List of alternative operating systems:

  • Xbox Linux is a project that ported Linux to the Xbox.
  • FreeBSD and NetBSD have also been ported to Xbox.
  • Windows CE
  • ReactOS
  • A partial port of Windows XP is available on some modding websites but this usually involves removing the CPU and resoldering a different Pentium III as well as a heavily modified BIOS. One advantage over a regular, unmodded Xbox, is the ability to use a trainer.

See also

External links


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