Xbox 360 is here — and with it has brought major hype, major shortages, and armed robbery of new systems. We’re going to assume that must mean it’s a big deal. Resident gaming expert W. Brent Latta looks at what the Xbox 360 might mean for digital music with a roundup of past coverage. But in short: game systems are a major new platform for music. And that could mean new ways of listening (for better or worse), and greater acceptance of high-definition, surround-sound digital media. Take it away, Brent . . . -PK

By now it is practically old news: Microsoft has launched the Xbox 360. The first round of systems is selling out quickly across the US, and early reports suggest that the system is solid and offers what we’d expect from a next generation system: hi-definition video support, full surround sound, a well-implemented multiplayer and online system, and some solid launch titles.

Gaming sites and bloggers across the web have detailed nearly every aspect of the upcoming system, so I wont bother to reproduce that material here. By almost all accounts, this is a great system and despite the relatively limited number of launch titles, early adopters will not be disappointed – though their wallets will certainly be considerably lighter. Sony and Nintendo will not be offering their competing next-gen systems until Spring of 2006, so Microsoft has a solid head-start on its competitors, and it is making a strong showning out of the gate.

What does this mean for musicians and music-appreciators, you might ask? Well, you may recall a story we did awhile back regarding custom-playlists on the Xbox 360. In a nutshell, Microsoft has stipulated that all Xbox 360 titles must fully support custom playlists, allowing players to import their own audio to the Xbox 360 hard drive in order to replace in-game soundtracks with their own music. Microsoft’s official Xbox site states, “No longer will a developer choose whether to include the feature or not. It’s out of their hands; Xbox 360 does it for you, so listen to whatever you want, when you want, during any part of any game.”. However, some game developers statements seem to oppose this stance, claiming that they, “would not be allowing players to stream their own music as it woul!
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l the ambience…”
Regardless of my opinion on this functionality (I think the choice should lie with developers), the truth has yet to be seen. In the end, I suspect the decision will be in the hands of the developer, yet most games will likely support the feature.

Of course soundtracks and in-game-music in Xbox 360 games is making great strides. Already a number of high profile titles such as Project Gotham Racing, Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero have been getting high marks for their excellent soundtracks and sound design. The PGR3 soundtrack features a variety of licensed music from such well known acts as Aphex Twin, Chemical Brothers and Covenant (oh yeah!). This is only the beginning, and I’m sure we’ll continue to see and hear more about music on this system as more titles ship.

I haven’t seen any updates on the preloaded visualizer/game that Peter reported on earlier in the year, but I suspect reports will come in soon. Be the first and let us know if you happen to be one of the few who got your hands on a system. It looks like 2006 will be an excellent year for games and game audio. If you have any reports, keep us posted!