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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today, people who are really into video games and people who are really into Christmas shopping lined up to be among the first to buy Microsoft's new game console, the Xbox 360. NPR's Robert Holt didn't have to stand in line. He's been trying out a demo unit over the weekend, and he calls the Xbox 360 expensive but worth it.

ROBERT HOLT reporting:

Would you spend $400 just to sit around and play games? And that $400 just gets you in the door. To really experience the stunning and beautiful graphics and powerful sound of the Xbox 360, you need a full-blown home theater setup; a wide-screen high-definition television and a six-channel surround sound system. A setup like mine costs over $3,000. So to me, the $400 for the Xbox 360 is worth it, but I'm a hard-core gamer.

(Soundbite of video game sound effects)

HOLT: I played three terrific games this weekend. They all take advantage of HDTV's clearer pictures and brighter, deeper colors. They use surround sound to great effect. For example, in Project Gotham Racing 3, you can hear a car passing you from behind and to the left.

(Soundbite of Project Gotham Racing 3 sound effects)

HOLT: I also played Perfect Dark Zero, a first-person spy action game set in the future.

(Soundbite of Perfect Dark Zero)

Unidentified Man #1: Stop her!

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Woman #1: Look out!

(Soundbite of gunfire; sound effects)

Unidentified Man #2: Hey, watch it! I've been hit! No!

Unidentified Woman #1: No!

(Soundbite of sound effects)

Unidentified Man #3: Hey, come here, girl. No bullets? Hey!

(Soundbite of gunfire; sound effects)

HOLT: It's quite violent and for older players only. But if you're in the mood for a game that appeals to all ages, there's Kameo: Elements of Power, a fantasy adventure game.

(Soundbite of Kameo: Elements of Power)

Unidentified Man #4: What would you do without ...(unintelligible)?

(Soundbite of sound effects)

HOLT: But there's no stand-up blockbuster game like Halo or Grand Theft Auto. This may be because the Xbox 360 is so new, and sometimes it takes a while before game developers are able to take full advantage of the power of a console. But I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

Here's one big disappointment. The Xbox 360 will only play some of your old games, so you'll need to keep your original Xbox around. Microsoft says they'll be adding support for more, however.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man #5: Help me out here!

(Soundbite of gunfire)

HOLT: With the Xbox 360, Microsoft has updated Xbox Live, its already superior online gaming service. It's even easier and more fun to go online and play against other gamers.

(Soundbite of video game sound effects)

Unidentified Woman #2: Joe, Zeigler's(ph) case is close by. Your sea gulls are right by it.

HOLT: As part of its plan for world domination, Microsoft wants you to do more than play games with its Xbox 360. You can watch DVDs, you can look at photos, listen to music and watch videos stored on your Xbox 360 on a connected PC or even an iPod. It's a very good digital media hub.

If you're not a hard-core gamer, I'd suggest waiting until the killer games come out for it before you buy it. There is a cheaper version of the Xbox 360, a core system that costs $300. I wouldn't recommend it because of its lack of features. If you're really into gaming, the Xbox 360 is worth buying, even with its $400 price tag. And, hey, if you're a hard-core gamer, how could you not have the most powerful video game console on the planet?

(Soundbite of music from unidentified video game)

SIEGEL: Robert Holt is a manager for NPR Online.

(Soundbite of music from unidentified video game; sound effects)

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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