the first thing you notice about Xbox isn't the remarkable graphics or the impressive selection of games developed for the machine's launch. It's the size of the damn thing.Microsoft's wildly anticipated and much-hyped foray into the video game world is a beast, an 8-pound box that's bigger than a DVD player and makes Nintendo's tiny GameCube look even smaller.
Even the controller is massive, as though it were designed for basketball players rather than kids with tiny hands.
That outsized approach suits Xbox.
Microsoft began talking up the machine a year ago as the future of video gaming and home entertainment, and will clearly do just about anything to put PlayStation 2 into its grave.
Bill Gates is spending upwards of $500 million to ensure Xbox's success, and with each $460 machine costing almost $700 to manufacture, he's also willing to lose upwards of $1 billion before the project eventually breaks even in 2004.
The current ad campaign is one you could politely call suffocating, aimed directly at PS2's domination of the market.
Physical size aside, the Xbox is a beast in other ways. The machine plays video games but is loaded with nifty extras to enable it to do much more.
Inside the box is a 733 MHz Pentium III processor that's faster than most home computers, as well as an 8-gigabyte hard drive. The built-in memory allows you to save games without an expensive memory card. It also lets you load things into the Xbox.
You can rip a CD and then create your own soundtrack to play during games.
Like PS2, Xbox also plays DVDs, but in true Microsoft form, you have to spend extra money on other components to make them work. There's also a peripheral port for online gaming, but the system won't be available until mid-2002. In the meantime, you can haul your Xbox into the office and connect over your own network.
All of these are welcome perks. As with the GameCube, though, the make-or-break point here will be Xbox's games. The machine launched last week with a mix of original games like the ferocious alien battle sim Halo and Project Gotham Racing and familiar titles like NHL 2002.
Because its processor is twice as powerful as the PS2's, the logical assumption that games will look better on Xbox isn't far off. NFL Fever 2002 is stunningly realistic, from the tackles down to the field itself. Play in snow and your footprints stay on the field all game long, while players' uniforms get wet and eventually soak through.
The real deciding factor between Xbox and PS2 is whether game addicts will be willing to try something new that's very different-looking and slightly better rather than sticking with what they know.
Considering that Microsoft is spending the GDP of a small island nation to make this thing work, it's hardly surprising that Xbox's launch has been extremely strong. If they can keep up the momentum, Sony should be very concerned.