If you own an Xbox, the chances of you looking forward to Halo 2 are about as high as the chances of a hurricane hitting Florida next August. Halo 2 will slam onto Microsoft’s console November 9 with sustained winds of butt-kicking proportions. Meanwhile, companies far and wide are trying to ride the storm surge to profitability. 7-11 has Slurpees. Retailers have Midnight Madness parties. Buena Vista Interactive has a Master Chief-looking ad for its completely unrelated Tron 2.0 video game. But of all the marketing tie-ins to Halo 2, only one is meaningful: the Plantronics GameCom Halo 2 headset for Xbox Live.
Xbox Live gameplay is one of the biggest changes for the Halo sequel, and 16-player battles are bound to own the online service for months, if not years, to come. While you’re entrenched in those battles, you’ll of course want to coordinate CTF games with your team and talk limitless trash to your opponents. To do that, you need good voice communication, and that’s precisely what the GameCom Halo 2 headset provides.
Having “grown up” with the original Xbox Live Communicator headset, the first thing I noticed about the GameCom Halo 2 headset was its size. This thing is small yet sturdy and incredibly lightweight. The microphone and the hardware that slips behind your ear are the only pieces of hard plastic, and the arm connecting the mic to the main body is a flexible polymer that seems indestructible. You’ll suffer no broken plastic on this headset, folks.
The flexible arm, coupled with a rotating earpiece, also means you can alternate which side of your head you wear it on without disconnecting and reconnecting any components. Actually getting the headset on can be occasionally frustrating, though. The swiveling earpiece, while a Godsend for “switch hitters,” can at times swivel the behind-the-ear hardware right out of position while you’re trying to get the earpiece just right. As such, you often find yourself using one hand to hold the hardware in place while you adjust the mic and earpiece. It’s not a significant hassle, but it’s also not as easy as just slipping on a pair of headphones.
Once you’ve got it on, though, the GameCom Halo 2 headset performs darn near flawlessly. The earpiece slips directly in your ear, and Plantronics has engineered the speaker in such a way that it truly feels like you’re sitting next to the people you’re playing against (presuming they’ve got a good Internet connection on their end). The audio coming from your headset sounds just as clear, and gamers with noisy households will appreciate Plantronics’ noise-canceling microphone, which mitigates background noise getting picked up by the microphone.
Much like the swiveling earpiece, though, this directionally engineered noise cancellation introduces another slight hiccup with the Halo 2 headset’s performance: it doesn’t always pick up your voice. The directional nature of the microphone means sounds that come from right in front of the mic are picked up much more clearly than sounds on the periphery. This is great if you play with the mic right in front of your mouth, but if you like to play with the mic off to one side, be prepared for some of your communications (be it trash-talking or strategizing) to go unheard or, at the very least, sound muffled.
Fortunately, since the arm connecting the microphone to the hard-plastic body is flexible, it’s easy to fix this flaw on the fly. Of course, the flip side of that is you might not know your communications are going unheard until you lose a CTF match and ask your teammates why they didn’t respond.
On the whole, though, the GameCom Halo 2 headset is a technical wonder. Never does it suffer from “I’m-on-a-cell-phone” distortion, and its lightweight design makes it easy to forget you’re even wearing it. The $50 price tag might be a bit steep for gamers who are content with their current setup, but for anyone looking to replace their headset in time for Halo 2 fragfests, the GameCom Halo 2 headset is worth checking out.
- Comfort: 9
- Once it’s on, you hardly know it’s there.
- Ease of Use: 8.6
- Getting it on requires occasional retries, but then it’s as easy as A,B,C.
- Incoming Sound: 9
- Audio clear enough to make you think you’re in the same room.
- Outgoing Sound: 8.5
- Zero distortion, but make sure your mouth is right in front of the microphone.
- Value: 8
- It doesn’t do anything functionally different from other, less expensive, headsets.
- Overall: 8.8
- Very few technical drawbacks, but may be a bit pricey for its own good.
— Jonas Allen