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Microsoft Unveils Xbox 360

NEW YORK — Microsoft introduced the world to its next-generation video game console — the Xbox 360 — during a half-hour MTV television special Thursday night.

Although the program was heavy on style and thin on substance, it did reveal a few key enhancements designed to encourage teenage and young-adult video gamers to make the shift from the previous generation machine.

Microsoft did not announce pricing on the console — that is expected to come at next week’s E3 Show in Los Angeles — but it did say that the video game system would be in retail stores in time for the holiday selling season.

The unveiling also comes as rivals Sony and Nintendo prepare to introduce next-generation systems of their own next week. Sony is expected to show its PlayStation 3, while Nintendo is expected to show a unit under the code name “Revolution.” Both of those systems aren’t expected to reach the market until next year.

The Xbox 360 features a sleek vertical-placement design and allows users to change the cosmetics of the case with interchangeable front panels.

Additionally, the new Xbox is designed to support up to four newly designed wireless video game controllers.

For added flexibility, the system will connect to PCs running Microsoft’s Windows XP. This will enable the game console to relay videos, music and photo files stored on the PC to TV screens.

Connections include three USB 2.0 ports and a built-in Ethernet port. It is said to be “Wi-Fi ready” with 802.11a, -b and -g compatibility.

Onboard storage is handled with a slot-loading removable 20GB hard drive — up from 8GB in the original Xbox, which can be used to store music and photo files in addition to gaming data.

To deliver more natural-looking graphics with greater speed and flexibility than current game systems, the Xbox 360 includes 512MB of 700 MHz GDDR3 RAM, up from 64 MB in the previous Xbox. At the heart of the console are three powerful 3.2GHz processors. The new unit was said to be capable of 1 trillion calculations per second.

Microsoft worked with both IBM and ATI Technologies on system and graphics processing chips to give the Xbox 360 more power than most PCs. The original Xbox runs primarily from a 733MHz processor.

The new console was also designed to play video games and videos that have been encoded in widescreen high definition (720p and 1,080i) as well as standard definition.

As in the current model, the Xbox 360 was designed for online multiplayer action. The unit will tie into Microsoft’s Xbox Live online-game service, which allows gamers to purchase and trade game levels, virtual weapons and other game capabilities. Xbox Live will also be used to download software upgrades and additional features and services for the Xbox 360.

Optional features of the new game player include a Web camera called Cyclops and a remote control.

Like the original Xbox, the new 360 will also play DVDs using its 12x dual-layer DVD-ROM drive. Supported media includes DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-DA, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, WMA CD, MP3 CD and JPEG Photo CD.

Microsoft representatives have said the player is also “extendable” to support other formats in the future.

Audio support includes multichannel surround sound, with 48KHz, 16-bit audio, 32-bit audio processing and over 256 audio channels.