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Ears of war

Last year, the Xbox 360 had the limelight all to itself as the first “next-generation” console to hit the market. This year, though, the console has fought to stay in the zeitgeist, crammed between the novelty of play driven by the Wii and the hard-to-find horsepower of the PlayStation 3.

Microsoft’s promise that it had a lot of tricks up its sleeve for this holiday season held true enough. Most of the news out of the Xbox group this fall has been aimed more directly at competing with Sony — the graphically rich grit of Gears of War, the enhanced network play of the wireless headset, the downloading of movies via Xbox Live. support of 1080p, and the availability of the external HD-DVD drive And yet, the whole doesn’t seem more than the sum of its parts.

Microsoft may simply be falling victim to the attention around the PlayStation shortages, a phenomenon that it experienced firsthand last holiday season. Such shortages drive a lot of PR in the short term, but hurt a brand if they go on too long. In contrast, while there has been some scarcity associated with the Wii, most of the attention on the product itself and even the launch titles has been positive. It seems like anyone who wants a Wii by a tree will be able to get one without resorting to desperate measures.

One way the Xbox group could steal a little bit of thunder back would be to release a hard drive upgrade for the 360. Of course, this wouldn’t do much for gaming, but it would enable Microsoft to position the 360 as both a hub and a great Media Center extender client.