The Xbox 360 is scheduled to be available for purchase in North America on November 22 (the Tuesday before Thanksgiving). International launches will follow soon after: December 2 in Europe and December 10 in Japan. Look for two versions of the 360 to hit store shelves: a $299 edition (dubbed the Core System) that comes with one wired controller, a detachable faceplate, and standard A/V cables; and a souped-up $399 version that ships with a 20GB hard drive, a wireless controller, a wireless headset, a limited-edition wireless Media Center remote (for the initial batch, at least), and HD-capable component A/V cables. Both SKUs will include a basic Xbox Live Silver membership.
Hardware: In addition to an IBM PowerPC-based CPU running at 3.2GHz and 0.5GB of RAM, the 360 sports a customized ATI graphics processor capable of advanced antialiasing and shader effects. What that technical jargon means, in practice, is that the new Xbox will have the processing power to deliver true 720p and 1080i wide-screen HDTV images for all of its games (by contrast, most games for the original Xbox maxed out at a DVD-level 480p). Multichannel surround sound is also standard, and the 360 natively supports up to four wireless controllers to cut down on cable clutter.
DVD vs. Blu-ray: The Xbox 360's optical drive is a standard DVD model. While using tried-and-true DVD technology may keep costs down, it also limits the games to just 8.5GB of space--that's pretty tight for high-def cut-scenes. By contrast, the PlayStation 3 will use a next-generation Blu-ray drive, which means more space for games (at least 25GB per disc) and compatibility with one of the competing high-def movie formats vying to replace DVD. Rumors persist that the 360 will get an HD-DVD drive at some point, but with Microsoft on an aggressive four-year console upgrade schedule, we're likely to see the third iteration of the Xbox (November 2009?) before we see a "360.1" with HD-DVD.