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Best Xbox 360 Accessories;
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Although Rock Band is technically a game, since it ships with peripherals and must be played with these accessories, it’s really an experience. Harmonix, the developer behind the best-selling Guitar Hero franchise, has taken rhythm gaming to the next level with Rock Band, a four-player real band experience using plastic instruments and licensed rock tracks that allows anyone to experience the virtual life of a rock star. In addition to creating the actual game, which offers band mates the option of gathering together in the same room or connecting via Xbox Live, Harmonix created each of the instruments that ships with the over-sized box: a four-drum set, a wired controller, and a microphone.
There’s the replica Fender Stratocaster guitar, which comes with a wire in the box, but is also sold separately as a wireless device. I highly recommend getting two wireless guitars for this game. Rock Band actually requires two guitars, so you’ll have to buy an additional one anyway. But the heart of this game is the drum set, which is sold separately but comes packed in the bundle as well. This sturdy peripheral, which comes with real wood drum sticks, has been built to withstand the most intense pounding. The game’s been designed so that players who make it through the Difficult setting as a drummer will actually be able to play real drums. How cool is that? Rock Band has opened up the door to millions of new gamers and allowed music fans the chance to live out their dreams - at least virtually. And the music never gets old as entire albums can be downloaded off Xbox Live.
When it comes to racing games, the one thing that always differentiated the sit-down arcade experience from the home console was that cool gear shifter, steering wheel, and floor pedals that immersed you in the vehicle. Now that Xbox 360 has caught up with the arcades in the visual department with games like NASCAR 09, Dirt, Project Gotham Racing 4, and Forza Motorsport 2, Microsoft has cut the extension cords and delivered an authentic wireless racing wheel. This wheel can be set up anywhere in your gaming room and secured to a table or even your lap for the ultimate racing action. (I recommend securing the wheel to a table for the most realistic simulation.)
In addition to the wireless technology, which is plug-and-play, this wheel offers both dual rumble vibration and authentic force feedback. There’s simply nothing like roaring down the asphalt at 170 mph and then attempting a sharp turn, only to have the wheel fight against you with the weight of a real car. The rumble feature goes into overdrive with off-road racers like Dirt. The pedals and gears work just like a real race car and when coupled with the ergonomically-designed wheel, make any racing game more fun (and also a lot easier than using the traditional controller).
When it comes to gaming, there’s nothing quite as cool as literally seeing yourself in the game. There are a growing number of game developers that are giving gamers the chance to put their head on virtual avatars in games ranging from EA Sports’ Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 08 to Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 1 and 2. The Vision is much more than just a camera; it offers VGA 640H x 480V video at 30 frames per second and still photos at 1.3 mega-pixels. It’s a window for gamers into the virtual worlds they spend endless hours exploring.
The Vision camera, which offers plug-and-play functionality and requires an Xbox Live Gold membership (standard for any online game playing), offers game makers different ways for gamer interaction. Online casual game players can see their opponent’s faces in real-time with games like Chess. Anyone who plays EA’s Burnout Paradise and owns a Vision will get his picture taken at the exact moment an opponent knocks him out with a takedown and said photo is immediately plastered on the game screen of both players. But the most intriguing use of the camera is its ability to capture a real face and map it onto a 3D avatar, which adds a whole new dimension to online games like Rainbow Six Vegas.
When it comes to the typical gamer today, the Xbox 360 isn’t the only console in his room or entertainment center. Beyond other game consoles, there’s also likely some type of high definition cable or satellite box, a home theater system and other tech toys. That means a lot of cables even for the most advanced HDTVs on the market today. Joytech makes gaming easier with its Control Center 540C, which offers four rear-mounted component, composite, S-Video and optical audio inputs, one front-mounted composite and S-Video input, a proprietary Xbox 360 AV input, and a 10/100 Ethernet hub with five inputs.
Gamers know how many wires and Ethernet cables are involved with just a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the room, not to mention the cable or satellite box with their broadband connections. Now everything plugs into this one stylish box, which matches the original white Xbox 360 design, and offers a remote control for easy HD switching between cable, satellite, gaming, DVD and Blu-ray Disc playback. The programmable LCD display makes it easy to switch from one device to the next. For the price, you simply cannot get a better deal and this sturdy box will greatly reduce the quagmire of wiring that typically engulfs a gaming room.
Although there are a lot of options out there when it comes to universal remote controls — many of them from Logitech — this Harmony packs a lot of options for the low price (it’s the most affordable of any Logitech remote). This fully-programmable remote controls up to twelve home entertainment devices from an online catalog of 2,500 manufacturers and 80,000 IR devices. Chances are slim that your HDTV, game consoles, surround sound system, cable box, and other new gadgets won’t be easily programmable (via a PC).
The Harmony 360, which offers a backlit LCD screen to better guide you through your choices, easily navigates today’s gamer entertainment centers, many of which utilize multiple AV channels to switch from HD cable/satellite to games to Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD. This one remote will make that pile of remotes in your home obsolete. For those who use Microsoft’s Media Center, Logitech makes full use of that PC to Xbox 360 functionality for digital content sharing around the home. It may not have the fancy touch screen color display of more pricey remotes, but it certainly gets the job done.
While Rock Band certainly offers the best four-player music experience, those who want to go solo or battle against a friend will find a different experience with the Guitar Hero franchise. And the centerpiece of this game is the Les Paul guitar. Activision just released a wireless version, which I recommend over the limiting wired version that comes in the box. You’ll need a second guitar anyway, so wireless is the way to go.
While the game offers a never-ending library of music (thanks to new downloadable songs through Xbox Live), it’s the simple plastic Les Paul guitar that really rocks. The Guitar Hero franchise has introduced millions of new consumers to the magic of gaming because it’s simple to use (no musical talent required) and a lot of fun to play. The on-screen rhythm is very challenging and the range of rock music offers something for all tastes. There’s certainly room in any library for both Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Nintendo Wii’s not the only console to promote exercise. Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution franchise has been getting gamers in shape for years across all platforms. MadCatz offers a great wireless option that’s much nicer than the standard pad that comes bundled with any of the Konami games.
This dance pad sticks to any type of floor thanks to its high grip, non-slip rubber base. The pad is made of a durable foam that better replicates the dance floor feel of the arcade original. Beyond the added safety, the bottom line is that this pad just feels right to dance on. And with a never-ending supply of downloadable songs via Xbox Live, it will last a long time. I recommend two of these pads for anyone with kids, as it’s much safer than the pack-in pads.
When it comes to online gaming, talking to teammates in Gears of War squad-based combat is as imperative as trash-talking your opponent in Madden NFL 09. That’s why it’s best to go wireless with the Xbox 360 headset. The standard wired communicator, which plugs into the controller, is both cumbersome and uncomfortable for long gaming sessions.
This wireless alternative lasts a full eight hours and is rechargeable (it comes with a wall adaptor). The 2.4 GHz radio technology allows for clear communication within a 30-foot range, which gives gamers armed with a wireless controller (Microsoft has one in assorted colors) plenty of freedom. Up to four wireless headsets and controllers can be used on one Xbox 360 without any problems. It’s the only way to game for serious online warriors.
Anyone who owned an original white Xbox 360 worried about the console overheating and experiencing the red ring of death. While Microsoft has since fixed that flaw, game consoles that are used for long periods of time do overheat. That’s why it’s worth investing a measly few bucks to protect your $400-plus gaming investment.
Nyko’s Intercooler EX increases air flow away from the console. The device, which connects to the back of the console and allows for either vertical or horizontal display, is completely plug-and-play. The Intercooler runs off the Xbox 360’s power, so there’s no additional strain on your power grid. No matter how often you use your 360 to play games or watch movies, this small investment goes a long way in extending the life of your console.
When it comes to classic arcade gaming, Microsoft has kept a much tighter lid on peripherals than either Sony or Nintendo. So those angling for a classic controller feel from the days of joysticks will have to go with this GameStick. Microsoft has offered hundreds of classic and new Xbox Live Arcade games through digital distribution and many of these games, including classics like Pac-Man and Frogger, just feel better with an old-fashioned arcade stick.
In addition to getting this sturdy arcade joystick, this bundle includes points for three Xbox Live Arcade games — Frogger, Timepilot, and Astropop. As is the case with many Microsoft Xbox 360 peripherals, this GameStick will also work on any PC with a USB port. It’s definitely not something that everyone will need; the analog sticks on the traditional Xbox 360 controller work just fine. But there are those out there who like the look and feel of the original game controller.
The XBox racing wheel takes a little getting use to but it is much easier than using the joystick controller. It is much easier to control the car in the turns and straight a ways.
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