xbox360I shouldn't be difficult. The xbox360 is an awesome piece of technology. It's one of the more powerful computers in the house (okay, so it's very focused on graphics). It talks to the network. It's really easy to use. It can even stream live TV from the Media Centres digital tuners.

So. Why don't I love it more?

My daughter loves it. She uses it in preference to the MCE to play DVDs. She's even discovered Hexic (strictly rationed so she gets her homework done). But I don't love it because there should be more for her.

The number of games suitable for a 7 year old girl. Hmmm. Not many. There are a few great ones in the Arcade for a few Microsoft points. And there's a couple of commercial $100 titles that she might play a few times. But we've both got pretty poor attention spans and while I might spend a few bucks on something from the NineMSN arcade the Xbox360 doesn't really have the range available to it yet. Now what I'd love to see there is games like Chuzzles and Bricks of Egypt available as a licence I can use on the Xbox360, or on her Mac, or on my laptop - depending on where we are and what else is going on. If the licence also worked on my K-Jam I'd be very happy as the range of games there is pretty weak. And while I'm at it... can I use the licence on my Zune as well?!

So. Is it just the lack of kid friendly games that's stopping me loving my Xbox360? No. Not just that.

My next gripe is media support.

Sure it plays DVDs but it suffers from the restrictions of stupid, stupid region encoding and distributors who force you to watch anti-piracy rants and trailers for other movies before you even get to the menu. On my Media Centre I can bypass all that rubbish with AnyDVD so when I put a DVD in I decide what I can skip. But not so on the XBox360.

Then there's DivX. And Xvid. And AVI. And a bunch of other formats. Again, thanks to a bit of flexibility on my Media Centre I can add codecs and watch just about what I want. If I happen to have captured a bunch of decaying VHS tapes (that I own) to DivX so I can enjoy the movies of my youth... with MCE that's no problem. Stick them into the 'videos' folder, or on a USB drive or a NAS on the network and hey presto... there they are in all their glory. But can the XBox360 play them? Can it heck. It won't play video (even WMV and MS-DVR format) on it's own hard drive, let alone a USB attached device.

Luckily with the Media Centre I can still use the Xbox360 as an extender if I'm running something like Transcode. But if you're only other computer is a Mac then you're limited to something like connect360 - which only supports music and pictures at the moment. No video. But we shouldn't have to rely on third party 'hacks' and additional hardware to play what are pretty mainstream formats. I can pick up brand name DVD players in any electronics store which are DivX certified....

Getting stuff out of the Xbox360 is fairly pain free. The TV connections are many and varied and work well. Audio, for me, is a bit less optimal though. The connectors that come in the box give me stereo via RCA (which plugs into the TV just fine) or Optical (Toslink) output. Both of my 5.1 surround systems for reasons of oversight don't have optical inputs. They do have lots of ways to connect to the three 3.5mm jacks when my MCE PC is doing surround sound. And can I find a simple breakout box to go from one to the other? You guessed it... no. No huge issue though as the next round of upgrades will see better amp and speakers with optical inputs.

And the last little grumble.... the noise of a small cement mixer is out of place in the lounge. I know there's a heck of a lot of computing power going on in there, but do the fans have to be quite so noisy. All the time! 

I am a big fan of the Xbox360 and think that the team have done an awesome job. For the hours I've spent just relaxing with Hexic or Project Gotham Racer3 it's been a real blessing. And for the backup for the girls when they needed a 'quick' DVD fix it's well worth it's space in the cabinet. But I'm hoping the next refresh brings much more open media support (and that Vista doesn't take it away in the Media Centre environment).