Sunday, June 5, 2011

Product Comparison: Microsoft Xbox 360 Headsets

I'm a bit of a casual gamer. I play a few rounds of games here and there on my Xbox 360, mostly connected online with friends. It's all fun and games (literally) until we actually need a way to communicate with each other in-game and thankfully, Microsoft was kind enough to supply a wired headset with a purchase of an Xbox 360. Too bad it just doesn't work.

The wired "default" headset is powered by connecting to the Xbox 360 Controller via 2.5mm cable. It has a speaker which will be on one ear as well as a mic for speaking. Speaker quality is not the best, but when your virtual self is being shot at in a battlefield, sound quality is not on my list of things to worry about. What I do worry about is my voice reaching whoever is on my chat. The mic for the lack of the better term, is not sensitive enough to pick up most of what the user says unless the user screams while pressing the mic up against the user's mouth. If a voice does get picked up by the mic, it's mostly muffled sound rather than English words one can recognize.

The headset itself is not very comfortable to wear for any longer than an hour or two. It does at least have a volume dial on the cable along with the mic on/off switch, which doesn't hurt to have, but not used often enough to make an impact with this particular headset. In addition to the frustrating problem of getting a headset that doesn't work as intended, the good folks at Microsoft deny this being an issue as the manual even suggests I speak with my "normal" voice and it should work.

Perhaps I'm the odd one out not speaking with CAPS LOCK ON on Xbox Live.

Earlier I have mentioned the headset having a 2.5mm cable. This means you simply can't use a good headset you may already have for your computer. Considering it's Microsoft who designed the controller and the headset, it's a bit painful to see as to why they couldn't have used a 3.5mm jack like everyone else. If the Xbox 360 was $10 or even $5 cheaper while not including the headset, I would have gone with that option. Unfortunately, Microsoft thought it was funny to get my hopes by giving me an awesome first impression, followed by a kick in the knee.

The wireless headset, retailing for about $40-new, is quite different from the wired "default" headset. Not just the fact that one is wireless and the other is not: the mic does work. Instead of screaming however, you simply have to speak up. Just use the "I'm-trying-to-speak-to-this-person-across-the-table-over-music-in-a-pub" voice. Not exactly screaming, but enough so that you have to put a little effort into it. While there are still considerable amount of muffles and cut outs, the mic is gets the job done 60-70% of the time you speak with a bit of a loud tone.

With the bar of expectation set so low thanks to the first headset, I was a bit happy with this one.

Design wise, it's rather compact and is little bigger than an average size Bluetooth headset and is intended to be worn like one. It tells you which controller it is synced with using an indicator right next to the mic, and has power/mute and volume buttons on the opposite side of the speakers, which can be easily accessed.

The downside besides still somewhat crappy mic is the fact that it's battery operated due to the wireless capability. When the built-in battery dies out, it's time to charge it with a USB cable which can be plugged into a computer or the Xbox 360 itself. The battery life is good for a gaming session of 2-3 hours on full charge. Since it is charged with a USB cable, it does charge a bit slowly compared to most electronics it's size. That said, I just might be spoiled with battery life of Apple products.

In the end, neither headsets from Microsoft proved to be useful. Not even sure if the wireless headset is even worth that $40. Now I'm on a journey to find an off brand now that'll do the job I need it to do. If you know any headsets that does the job for you for under $80, do post a comment regarding which one and I shall try it out.