The red rings of death issue simply refuses to go away for Microsoft, and no matter how much it reduces the cost and extends the warranty one simple question remains: will the Xbox 360 ever be fit for purpose?
I guess that the headline should have read 'Will my Xbox 360 survive past Christmas?' given that I intend to use my own experience of Xbox 360 ownership to highlight that, no matter how hard Microsoft tries to convince the public differently, it just cannot seem to fix the hardware problems users of the Xbox 360 face.
Are you sitting comfortably? Great, then I will begin. My story starts almost exactly a year ago in October 2007, with a badgered father giving in to the requests of his son to buy an Xbox 360.
After doing some research, the newly released Xbox 360 Elite seemed to be the perfect choice as it was meant to have fixed the dreaded red rings of death problem. It was also black, and I like black gadgets when it comes to audio-visual stuff.
So it was that the considerable investment in the Xbox 360 took hold. There was the inevitable Halo 3, followed by Guitar Heroes in various flavours, some karaoke affairs, and ultimately a Rock Band. Along the way I fell into a serious GTA IV habit, I confess.
All was well in the Winder household. Even 'the wife' who never plays console games found herself absorbed in some CSI forensics fantasy or other. There can be no doubting that when it comes to game play, the Xbox 360 has it all.
Unfortunately, game play stumbles a tad when you have no console to play upon. And with just a couple of weeks of the original warranty left, the almost inevitable happened: three red rings of death.
Xbox support is called, collection of the dead device arranged and eventually the console is shipped off to Microsoft in Frankfurt, Germany for repair. In fact, having talked to a few people who had experienced the red rings problem, I was expecting a replacement with some other refurbished 360 Elite.
I wasn't expecting what I got, a couple of weeks later, when my original Xbox 360 was returned.
Just how badly had Microsoft screwed up, and what did their spokesman have to say about it when I revealed my journalist credentials and asked for an explanation?
The UPS man arrives with a big box, all seals intact, and I hurry away to open it and get the repaired Xbox 360 installed and running ready for the kids when they get back from school.
We have repaired your Xbox" the letter from Microsoft that accompanies it assures me. We are returning the system to you "so that you can continue to enjoy the exciting video game experience that Xbox offers" it says.
Apparently, so the letter tells me, the problem was associated with the motherboard and the "failing component has now been replaced and your Xbox game console has been tested extensively using both manual and computer diagnostics."
So far so good, indeed I am reassured by the fact that my console has "passed a rigorous two hour computer generated and monitored final test" to be sure it is in 100 percent working order.
What a shame that it rattles like someone has released a bag of marbles inside then. What a shame that when I connect it up and switch it on the Xbox 360 very quickly dies once more, this time with only two red rings. Perhaps I should be grateful that I am a red ring down?
I look it up, two red rings is an overheating problem. Not too surprising seeing as the fans do not fire up and it sounds as if something has come seriously adrift inside the box. The console is well and truly broken, so I must applaud it for passing that 'rigorous two hour test' before it came back.
OK, you might argue that it was UPS at fault. Perhaps they played football with it on the way back? But this left Microsoft encased within Microsoft approved packaging, firmly held inside the box in order to withstand the international journey.
Either the packaging is not sufficient for the journey, or the quality control at the Frankfurt repair centre is pants. Either way, Microsoft loses.
So where is the Xbox 360 now, how painful was my next support call and what did Microsoft have to say about all this?
There follows what can only be described as a painful call to Xbox support once more. Painful as the customer service chap refuses to believe it was sent back broken, and insists it is a power supply problem.
This despite the power supply working just fine, and the Xbox 360 console itself doing a great impression of a pair of maracas. This despite my surprisingly calm explanation of events explaining how it arrived back broken.
I then have to wait for another box to be sent for the return of both the console and the 'broken' power supply. As I write, I note that my Xbox was delivered to the Frankfurt repair centre this morning so I await the next exciting installment in the 'how to annoy customers and upset children' drama with interest.
Luckily for my kids, being a tech journalist and self-confessed hopeless early adopter, I had got hold of a Sony PS3 on launch day and funnily enough it has never as much as hiccuped with regards to technical troubles.
At least the kids can still play games while Microsoft plays games with their console.
Of course, I placed my journalist hat firmly on at this point and requested some answers to questions such as "What are you doing to resolve the red rings of death problem, beyond the
'we will repair it for three years' sticking plaster, considering it has been a known factor for so long now?" and "How can you explain a 'repaired' console arriving direct from Microsoft in a broken condition? Exactly what quality control processes are involved?"
Perhaps my favourite, though, was "Can you convince families that they should spend hard earned money on the Xbox 360, given the likelihood it will break within a year, when neither the
Wii nor PS3 suffer from similar problems?"
Want to know what Microsoft has to say about broken Xbox 360 consoles?
In response to my questioning, here is the official comment from a Microsoft spokesperson, received this very morning:
Prompted by what Microsoft viewed as an unacceptable number of repairs to Xbox 360 consoles, a year ago Microsoft announced an expansion of its Xbox 360 warranty."
"Effective July 5, 2007, any original retail Xbox 360 customer who experiences a general hardware failure indicated by three flashing red lights is covered by a three year warranty from date of purchase, with all other issues remaining covered by the standard one-year warranty."
The spokesperson continues "The company conducted extensive investigations into potential sources of general hardware failures and after identifying a number of factors which can cause the general hardware failures, Microsoft has made improvements to the console."
Apparently, Microsoft insists, "The three flashing red lights error message does not signal a single issue and can be caused by a combination of factors."
And concludes "We encourage anyone who is experiencing issues with their Xbox 360 console to call the customer support centre. Our customer service team is well equipped to ensure that all Xbox 360 repairs go smoothly."
I did point out that suggesting that "all Xbox 360 repairs go smoothly" when I was asking specifically about one that had not would appear to be a bit on the bizarre side, as far as sweeping statements go.
Microsoft may have made improvements to the console, all I can say is that they have not worked as far as this one year old Xbox 360 Elite is concerned.
To answer my original question, right now my Xbox 360 is most definitely not fit for purpose and I have huge doubts as to if it ever can be in the current hardware incarnation.
Perhaps the Xbox 720 will truly solve the problems. I will not find out, as my father always told me never to throw good money after bad. So with Christmas coming up, it looks like Santa will have a Nintendo Wii in his sack for me... ! More PlayStation 3 News...