The X-Box Music Mixer is undoubtedly one of the most innovative ideas that has come out in the last few years. The emphasis is to turn your X-Box into a multimedia machine that will allow you to turn your living room into a dance club, karaoke bar or a homey environment in which flipping through traditional photo albums is passé because you can display all of your digital photos on your TV accompanied with music of your choosing to set the mood.
It comes packaged with a microphone to allow you to have a tr…e Karaoke experience. The disc itself has 15 Karaoke tracks that range from standard Karaoke fare – Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York to current classics – Lifehouse’s Hanging By A Moment and Len’s Steal My Sunshine. The microphone takes some getting used to as you have to hold it quite close to your mouth to get any sound out of it. That being said, once you get the hang of it, it works really well. The lyrics are displayed on the screen and light up in time to indicate when you are to start demonstrating your vocal expertise. To make the experience better, you can ever record your performances and share them with your fans. You can also import your favorite songs and remove the vocals so that you can improve on the original – but you have to provide your own lyrics. The problem is the vocals really aren’t removed but rather some of the dynamic range is removed to tone down the vocals. However, this also changes the sound of the song itself. To get the true Karaoke experience you can download new songs, at a price, from the Internet. I tried to browse what was offered through X-Box live but consistently got a message that stated “No new content available.” That might be because I’m in Canada and there may be copyright laws or something which precludes me from downloading from the Internet (this is apparently the reason why one can’t download songs from the popular iTunes store from Apple). So I checked out the website – www.xboxkaraoke.com and found to my surprise a huge amount of songs to download. However, be aware that it will cost $2 per song download. As far as karaoke goes despite these setbacks it is still pretty fun.
The music player is essentially a toned down version of Windows Media Player with the option to download WMA and MP3 files to the X-Box to create a library of you your favorite tunes and as more games come out that allow you play your own songs instead of the provided soundtrack, it will definitely add some punch (listening to Metallica, Offspring or Andrew W.K. while playing Halo is quite an intense experience). The control menu is simple – buttons for reverse, fast forward, play, stop, equalizer and visualizer are clearly delineated. The visualizer gives you the option to have background images available while listening to your music. There are 2-D designs that are familiar in appearance to what is available to Windows Media Player. The 3-D sets demonstrate computer animated men and women dancing in either a dance club or factory rave. The dancers are completely customizable from clothes to dance style. This is entertaining for all of about 10 minutes trying to watch them bump and grind out of synch to the music.
The Slideshow allows one to transfer JPEG images to the X-box and display them in a slideshow via the X-Box PC mixer tool which you need to download. Unfortunately, you can’t view single photos but rather must view them as part of a slideshow. There are options to change the speed of the slide show as well as the transition style – fade, wipe etc.
The Rave mode is the most complicated as it allows you to create essentially your own music video by looping various video clips in real time of people dancing and different moving backgrounds. However, each of these elements are controlled by different buttons and can be difficult to master due to it rather confusing nature.
This is tough to rate because it is based on the Visualizer and the computer generated backgrounds are not particularly impressive. While the 3-D dance club and factory have some bright colors and fluid character animation (the dancing is smooth) there really isn’t anything here that really demonstrated the power of the X-Box. The transition from watching it on a regular projection screen to an LCD screen was not particularly impressive. But one must understand that the graphics here are meant as a background effect and not the primary reason to use this disc.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital and there is decent dynamic response for the electronica music as well as the rock tunes. The bass comes through very well. However, unless you hold the mic up almost directly against your mouth, the vocal response is barely detectable. The other disappointing fact is that it sounds like it is in Dolby 2.0 as there was no sound from the surround speakers. I was hoping that at least there would be some separation of sound to simulate the dance club experience that the game was going for.
There is little replay value in all of the other features outside of the slideshow and karaoke. And the slideshow is not going to be a hit at any parties. The karaoke has replay value as long as you don’t get tired of the provided songs. Once that happens get ready to start dishing out the cash to get more tunes. Just remember that a typical album has 10-15 songs these days which translates to $20-30.
As a first attempt, Microsoft should be commended for trying to break new ground and turn the X-Box into a multimedia machine. However, there are too many setbacks to make this a truly enjoyable interactive experience. Here’s to hoping that this will be a work in progress and that an improved version comes out in the future.