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XBOX 360 Tips

By Jeff Buckland, 12/12/2005

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For those who already have your Xbox 360, you might have already figured some of this stuff out. For those that are still trying to find one, then set a bookmark and come back when you have your console. The 360 is a complicated piece of machinery and runs the most complicated games the console world has seen, so it's no surprise that there are quite a few tips and tricks that you may find useful.

Unlike the original Xbox, the 360 can play your music from a number of sources whether you're in a game or not. Once you've got it set up, you can press the Guide button on your controller at almost any time and load up some music to play in your favorite game. Because the Xbox dashboard's always running in the background, it will override and mute any music going on in your games. The only downside is that you won't be able to do this with original Xbox games running via Backwards Compatibility.

iPods work, as well as standard thumbdrives and USB storage devices. Off-brand MP3 players are a stickier issue, as many won't work - check out this list on the Microsoft site. You might need to update the software on your MP3 player to get it working, which might mean having to erase all the files on it. Make backups if you have to!

Another option is to share your MP3s from your PC directly over your local network with Windows Media Connect software for your PC. Finally, you always have the option of tossing an audio CD into your 360's DVD drive. It'll rip the tracks directly to the 360's hard drive, but be aware - the 360's hard drive only has about 12GB of free space, and the most you can possibly free up (by deleting pre-loaded media) is another gigabyte. If you've got a large music collection, then you'll need to use some kind of sharing.

If you want to play MP3s off of a portable hard drive or thumbdrive, then you need to make sure that the drive is formatted with the FAT32 file system - even though the superior NTFS file system has been used in Microsoft's own Windows for years and years now, the 360 for some reason won't read anything formatted NTFS. This can commonly be a problem for 360 owners if they have an old hard drive that used to be installed in a computer and have since bought a USB enclosure to make the drive portable.

To check whether your portable drive is NTFS, connect it to your PC and go to Control Panel -> Administrative Tools. Open Computer Management, and select Disk Management from there. Find your portable drive in the list, and it should say what file system it's using. You'll need to delete the drive and recreate a partition to get it right, but from then on the 360 will read it perfectly!

This has got to be one of my favorite stupid little features included in the 360. You can power on the console without leaving the couch by pressing the Guide button on your controller (that's the big one in the middle) and holding it for a couple of seconds. Likewise, you can do the same while your 360 is on, and a little sidebar will pop up giving you the option of either turning off the wireless controller or shutting down the whole console.

Some people leave their consoles on the carpet with a blanket bundled up directly behind them. But the Xbox 360 has more power under its hood than almost any modern PC out there - it needs airflow! Make sure your console is getting enough ventilation; it should be pretty warm at the back when running a game, but it shouldn't be so hot that you can't touch it. Also, a power brick that's working right should only be barely warm to the touch. If it's any hotter than that when the 360's playing games, then you can jury-rig a few things to keep it cool, but you will be better off calling Microsoft and getting warranty service to get the problem fixed instead.

Got the Premium Xbox? You might find that the Media remote that came with it is useless, but it has at least one nice feature. If you're playing your own custom soundtracks in the middle of a game, you can press the Next and Previous track buttons on the Media remote to switch tracks at any time - without popping up the dashboard!

Want to go wireless and don't have $100 to dump on the 360's Wireless Adapter? You can use what's called a Wireless Ethernet Bridge instead - it connects to a wireless network and then reproduces an ethernet port which you can then use to connect your 360 with. It may take a little more effort to configure, but you can get a wireless bridge online for as low as $30. Search Froogle and eBay for "Wireless bridge" - but this is not a recommended solution if you're sharing movies through a Windows Media Center PC, as you'll need raw speed from an 802.11a connection to do that right. Check this compatibility list on the Xbox site for more info on which wireless bridges are the easiest to set up.

The Play and Charge kit will give your wireless controllers a shiny new rechargeable battery, and a very fancy USB cable to recharge it with. But if your house is like mine, you've got a laptop nearby and stringing that cable across the living room's a terrible idea. The solution: plug your charging cable into any powered USB port to charge it - the controller will continue to work fine!

This is more of a caution than a tip, but it's important to note. Do NOT, under any circumstances, switch your 360 from a horizontal to a vertical position (or vice versa) while any disc is inside the DVD drive. There's a good chance your disc will get partially mangled and will come out unplayable. Microsoft will not be too helpful if you do this, because it even says in the documentation that you need to take the disc out of the drive before moving or tipping your 360.

As of this writing, there are playable demos for four Xbox 360 games that are available for free download over the Live Marketplace. It might take an overnight download for each one of them to finish, but it does give you a chance to try a game without having to leave the house. Oh, and just for the record, Kameo's a much better game than the demo would lead you to believe.

Those who are used to spending $50 or more for their games might scoff at the offerings that we're given over the Xbox Live Arcade. But seriously, try them - with prices ranging from $5 to around $10, these great little time-wasters are still plenty of fun, and some of them are actually playable online! I heartily recommend the classics like Gauntlet and Joust as well as the truly kickass Geometry Wars. Even the bundled free game, Hexic HD is pretty fun, especially with its more advanced challenges and online scoreboard for tracking the world's best scores.

This alarmist article may worry some folks, but Xbox Live only transmits to other players specifics on what game you're playing - it doesn't tell people any info about what movie you might be watching on your 360, or the filenames of music or pictures you might be playing or looking at at the time. But if you still don't want this information to be broadcasted, then you can go into your Gamer Profile, then to Edit Gamer Profile, and finally to Privacy Settings. From there, you can change the Online Status option so that no one can see what you're doing on your Xbox 360.

It pains me to know that some 360 owners have had some of the dreaded crash and overheat issues that plague a small percentage of the consoles, yet they do nothing about it. Taking your 360 to a store will get you funny looks if you tell them you want to exchange it, because they likely don't have any to exchange in the first place. But Microsoft does include a rather modest 90-day warranty for their product, and if you give them a call, they'll make the process relatively painless. You'll be without your 360 for a week, but you're more likely than not to come back with a whole new box, with your original hard drive (and save games and settings) attached.

Everyone who can connect their console to their local network should at the least take advantage of the new free version of Xbox Live called Silver. Once you create your offline profile for the first time, go ahead and get set up on Live even if you don't plan on subscribing to the Gold service any time soon. And remember, you can't move your save games around between profiles (nor will the 360 do it for you), so it's just best to get it set up early.

Tired of using the controller to fill in your address? The 360 lets you plug in a USB keyboard for entering text in. And before you ask - no, you can't use it to play games. That was a conscious decision by Microsoft.

The headset that comes with the Premium 360 package (or the retail 1-year subscription for Live) looks flimsy, but it actually works pretty well and isn't near as painful to wear long-term as the original Live headset. Still, you can plug in any headset you want that has the same plug - but you'll lose the cute little mute switch and volume control. But wait! You can actually rewire that little adapter at the end of the Live headset and solder your own favorite headset in. Not everyone has the know-how or even the desire to go this far, but the serious Live players should consider it if they think the default headset is a bit uncomfortable.

Are you disappointed that the $10-$20 faceplates for the 360 don't cover the whole console? I was too. But there's a solution in third party skins. As of this writing, both DesignerSkins and DecalGirl both have a nice selection. These durable, removable decals lay over your 360's shell and will cover not only the face, but the top and bottom of the box as well. Want your 360 to match the rest of your entertainment center's components? There's even a flat black skin.

If you're cramped for space or just don't have $1500 to blow on a nice TV, you might consider using the Xbox 360's VGA cable. You can plug the thing directly into your monitor and get high-quality graphics in a small space easily this way. The 360 will support resolutions up to 1280x1024, and some games will even display at that full screen mode with more detail than that massive HDTV could possibly show! One warning - Microsoft's VGA cable is a ripoff at $40, but you'll soon be able to buy third-party cables from Pelican and Mad Catz for half the price (and they'll look just as good as the MS cable). The MadCatz doesn't have a VGA gender changer, but the Microsoft version does, so if your monitor doesn't have a detachable VGA cable, then you'll either need to get the MS version of the VGA kit or go to Radio Shack and get a VGA gender changer.

Additionally, while the 360 supports plenty of video modes, not everyone will be satisfied. The 1280x1024 mode sounds ideal for those with 17" LCD monitors which have a matching native resolution, but some games will not display correctly unless they're being shown on an actual wide screen. While you can send a 1280x720 picture to your monitor to make these games to show up correctly, you want to make sure that if you have a non-widescreen monitor, it needs to be able to show that image without stretching it vertically across the whole screen. The best way to test this is with your PC. Switch Windows to a lower video mode, like 800x600, then fiddle with your monitor options to see if it will show the 800x600 display without scaling it up to the whole screen. If it can, you're in business; if not, you might want to reconsider the VGA route.


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