In world of games, Xbox still is No. 2


News reports about a University of Maryland football recruiter who lost his job for allegedly giving money to a Baltimore prospect say it happened because the football player wanted to buy an Xbox.

So what is an Xbox? It's a video game system made by Microsoft.

The software giant's much-anticipated entry into the video gaming console wars took place in November 2001 with introduction of the Xbox, which plays DVD-based games. It also can play DVD movies once you plug in an add-on kit.

Despite Microsoft's high hopes and great hype leading up to launch, the $199 Xbox has remained behind Sony's PlayStation 2 (also $199) in popularity and sales. The Xbox is No. 2 in market share with about 5.4 million consoles sold in North America since its launch, compared to 17 million PS2's sold since its launch in October 2000.

In part, Sony's yearlong head start in the console wars has allowed Sony and third-party manufacturers to produce far more games for the PS2 than Microsoft and its third-party manufacturers. While the Xbox had 200 games available as of this past Christmas, the PS2 had more than 400 games, and it will play the more than 1,200 titles made for the original PlayStation game console.

However, Microsoft's late entry into the video game console market means it has brought more technology to enhance the gaming experience than Sony did with its PS2 - something that hardcore gamers have noted in their comparisons of the two consoles. Xbox game graphics appear crisper and more fluid on a TV screen than those from the PS2. The superior picture offered by the Xbox is most apparent on high resolution, high definition televisions.

In terms of technology, the Xbox is more a full-fledged mini-computer than the other two consoles on the market. The Xbox has a 733 MHz Pentium III processor, 8-gigabyte hard drive, 64 megabytes of memory, a 300 MHz Nvidia graphics card and an Ethernet port. The PS2 and GameCube come without hard drives or Ethernet ports. Both require users to buy separate memory cards to save games for play later. And the GameCube won't play DVDs.

Most of the offerings that can be played on the Xbox are oriented to young adults with violent first- and third-person shooters leading the way. The best-selling game on the Xbox is Halo, a first-person shooter that takes place in the future.

But gamers have an assortment of experiences they can enjoy with football and other sports simulations, role-playing fantasy games and arcade-style games available.

Microsoft market surveys show that most of the people who buy Xboxes are males in their late teens to late 20s. This would be true for PS2 buyers as well. The games of Nintendo's GameCube, which launched about the same time as the Xbox, tend to appeal to younger teen-agers and elementary-age children.

This fall, when Microsoft made it possible to play games online through the Xbox, more than 250,000 people paid $50 each to get Xbox Live starter kits that allow players to plug into a cable or DSL modem and go online to play games against each other.

Unlike the PS2 Online kit, which allows PS2 owners to use a dial-up connection to play online, Microsoft has limited its online playing public to those people who have broadband Internet connections.

Microsoft got kudos for its online gaming experience in part because the broadband connections made for smoother play.

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