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Xbox 360 Review Part 9: Xbox 360 accessories

Microsoft is providing the following 13 Xbox 360 accessories at launch. I will be evaluating the majority of these separately in the coming weeks as well.

Xbox 360 Wireless Controller

The Xbox 360 wireless controller (Figure) includes no cable in the box with the controller, requiring you to purchase a separate Play and Charge Kit for wired play, or to use a rechargeable battery that's more sophisticated than two AA batteries. In wireless mode, the controller operates for an alleged 25 hours of use, and can be used up to 30 feet away from the console. You can connect up to 4 controllers, wirelessly, to the Xbox 360 at any time (more via wires). Each controller costs $49.99. Unless you buy a retailer bundle, you will want at least one more Xbox 360 controller, so factor that cost into your purchase.

Xbox 360 Controller (wired)

The wired version of the Xbox 360 controller is smaller and more svelte and, in my opinion, a nicer option than the wireless version. At $39.99, it costs less too, and can be used with Windows XP-based PCs.

Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter

If your Xbox 360 is too far away from your home network to run a wire, you can consider the relatively expensive wireless networking adapter, which supports 802.11b (not recommended), 802.11g (better), and 802.11a (best) networking. The wireless networking adapters provides you with all the functionality you get from an Ethernet cable, albeit at balkier speeds. It costs $99.99 and looks a lot like an iPod shuffle with an antennae sticking off the side. The adapter latches on to the back of the Xbox 360 console and jacks into a USB port next to the Ethernet adapter.

Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote

While it's possible to control Xbox 360's digital media functions with the wireless and wired controllers, most consumers will feel more at home with the Universal Remote Control (UMR), a $29.99 add-on that features back-lit buttons, and a comfortable layout (Figure). This is a must if you're going to use Xbox 360's Media Center features. Note that for a limited time, the premium Xbox 360 package includes a smaller Media remote, which shouldn't be confused with the larger and more full-featured UMR.

Xbox 360 Faceplates

The fashion conscious may want to invest in one or more Xbox 360 faceplates, which cost $19.99 each and give the system console a customized look. There are two reasons to get a new faceplate: You're actually concerned about the Xbox 360 fitting in to the d?cor of your living room and have found a faceplate that matches the room's color scheme, or you're a teenager who thinks that skulls and flames are cool. I'm not sure I can rally around either cause, but I do feel that customization features like this make the Xbox 360 more personal, so I won't make fun of you too much. That said, I think it's time to apply the burning flames faceplate to my Xbox 360. Seriously, it matches my living room.

Xbox 360 Hard Drive (20 GB)

The 20 GB Xbox 360 hard drive is a must-have accessory, but then chances are you got one with your Xbox 360 console. If you ended up getting a Core System (the shame), run, don't walk, to Best Buy or wherever it is you sell your soul to the retail gods, and get a hard drive immediately. The unit costs $99.99 and provides you with a wealth of functionality that isn't available on a non-hard drive system. You simply must have an Xbox 360 hard drive. Don't get cheap on me here.

Xbox 360 Headset

The Xbox Live Headset is a simple mono, one-headphone headset with a dedicated microphone that plugs into a small port on the Xbox 360 controller (wired or wireless). Designed primarily for interacting with players in multiplayer deathmatches, the Xbox 360 headset also provides two other unique features. It can be used to control voice command enabled games (of which I've not yet seen any), and it can be used to perform audio chats and record audio messages with your buddies. You get a Headset in the $499 Xbox 360 package, but if you went low rent and got a Core System, an add-on Headset will set you back $19.99.

Xbox 360 Memory Unit (64 MB)

If you accept my notion that every Xbox 360 needs a hard drive, then you can forget about the oh-so-PS2 Memory Unit (Figure), a 64 MB external storage device that lets you save games, transport your Xbox Live account to other Xbox 360 devices, and store a limited amount of Xbox Live downloaded content. With Xbox 360, users can take their hard drives with them and plug them into other Xbox 360 consoles in order to retain access to their personal settings, downloads, and other personal data. But a Memory Unit does serve one useful role: It is a decent way to move content from Xbox 360 to Xbox 360. For most users, however, the $39.99 Memory Unit is unnecessary.

Xbox 360 Play & Charge Kit

The Play and Charge Kit (Figure) lets you connect an Xbox 360 controller to the console using a USB cable. This cable performs two important functions: It charges the controller's new rechargeable battery and it lets you play in wired mode if desired. (Additional rechargeable batteries are also available separately in a package called Rechargeable Battery Pack, see below.) The Play and Charge Kit docks neatly with the port found on the back top of the Xbox 360 controller, which is exactly where you'd expect a cable connection to occur on a dedicated wired controller. At just $19.99, this is a must-have accessory in my opinion.

Xbox 360 Rechargeable Battery Pack

Essentially just a rechargeable battery for the wireless controller, the Rechargeable Battery Pack (Figure) is a bargain at $11.99, assuming you go completely wireless with the Xbox 360. Because of my lackluster experience with wireless keyboards and mice on the PC, I'm not completely sold on wireless quite yet, but certainly it pays to have extra batteries lying around. My advice is to grab at least one of these for each wireless controller and to get at least one Play and Charge Kit (which includes a rechargeable battery too) so you can recharge the batteries.

Xbox 360 Component HD-AV Cable

This cable is required for users with HDTV displays or other TVs that support the component (blue, red, and green connectors) standard. You get this kind of cable with the Xbox 360 system, but Core System buyers with HDTV sets will need to upgrade. It costs $39.99. Note that this cable set also includes a composite video connection, so it should work fine with most TVs.

Xbox 360 S-Video AV Cable (US only)

The S-Video AV cable is the next step up in video quality from the composite video cable that Microsoft supplies in the Core System and should work on just about any TV set. It retails for $29.99.

Xbox 360 VGA HD AV Cable

Why Microsoft never made a VGA cable for the original Xbox is unknown, but now one is available for the Xbox 360, letting you connect that console to virtually any standard PC display (Figure). What's awesome about this cable is that it supports all of Xbox 360's display modes, including 480p, 720p, and 1080i. It also includes stereo composite audio cables for 5.1 surround sound output. If you have a sweet computer display that you'd like to interface with the Xbox 360, this is the way to go. It costs $39.99.

On to Part 10...

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