The Xbox Music Mixer is an interesting little product that’s difficult to categorize. Not a peripheral-game combination like the Eye Toy but not a pure peripheral either, the Music Mixer was designed to more or less transform your Xbox into an all-in-one piece of digital entertainment hardware. In many ways it achieves this goal – assuming you’re not expecting much beyond a simple interface and some basic options.
The Xbox Music Mixer encompasses software with a playback interface and a handheld microphone. Its four key functions are playing audio, displaying image slideshows, singing Karaoke and allowing Xbox owners to become wannabe “v-jays.”
The audio player is essentially a simplified version of Windows Media Player, with its visualizations basically being overblown versions of those included in the Windows software. With that said, there are also quite a few interactive and customizable 2D and 3D visualizations. The most amusing are the Rave and Dance clubs, where real-time 3D men and women dance around the club to your music, with you changing their outfits and dance styles, as well as the video wall and camera views throughout the club. Watching them gyrate to some obviously out-of-place audio is definitely funny, at least for the first few songs. It’s also nice to display something entertaining on the TV while pumping tunes through your entertainment center.
As for those tunes, the Music Mixer comes with a sampler of songs in different genres (rock, electronic and rap), but most users will want to use their own audio ripped from CDs, or use their WMAs and MP3s, which they can transfer from their home PC using the PC transfer tool. Once on your Xbox hard drive, those tracks can be organized and renamed to create a nearly infinite number of playlists.
When selecting the playlist, the options included are fairly simple: rewind, fast-forward, play, pause and stop. There are also the options to use a pretty straightforward equalizer and turn on the video visualizations. The visualizations all pulse to your music as you’d expect from a Windows Media Player clone, so following a hip-hop song with a waltz definitely leads to new imagery.
The Slideshow feature is exactly as it sounds. You can import JPEGs using the PC transfer tool, organize them into “image playlists” and then select one of your audio playlists to go along with them. There are also options to alter the speed of the slideshow and the PowerPoint-like transitions between frames. Creating little albums of your vacations or friends/family/pets and setting them to music is definitely cool, but again, people looking for full-featured options should look elsewhere. It will probably impress non-techies and older family members, but it’ll be more of a novelty for standard Xbox users. When those older folks are around, though, they’ll be impressed that you can use the microphone to narrate the slideshow of their trip to Italy.
Karaoke is probably the biggest Xbox Music Mixer feature, and it’s arguably what the software does best. In addition to the 15 or so sampler songs included on the disc, there are now packs of Karaoke-enabled songs available for download via Xbox Live. In theory, you can also use your own imported audio with the vocal stripping option, but I couldn’t find a single song that the option worked well on. Most vocals just seem slightly drowned out at most.
The on-screen interface is standard Karaoke, and anyone who’s watched or taken part in singing Karaoke will feel right at home and extremely embarrassed. As you’d expect, the interface is extremely simple, and besides play/pause, you can also add some reverb or chorus to your voice. I tested the fun factor at a holiday get-together, but there weren’t enough song choices out of the box to keep everyone interested. With a larger music catalog or an extra microphone or Communicator for two-singer fun, things may have faired better, but what comes in the package just didn’t tickle anyone’s fancy.
Last but not least is the Rave mode, which lets you marry the audio and visualization modes with some real-time “v-jay” options. Unlike the fairly static Slideshow mode, the Rave mode contains some looping video segments of eclectic backgrounds, environments and dancers, all of which can be blended together with imported images to make a psychedelic music video. While the audio and video play, you can manipulate both using the Xbox controller. It’s really a cool little function. If you can figure it out.
The interface and instructions completely fall apart when trying to describe how to properly create and edit the visuals. Also, figuring out what button preset to choose and then what the buttons do is confusing as all hell. Once you navigate the disorienting menus, the final result looks pretty cool, though I can’t possibly imagine anyone actually using the Music Mixer at a rave.
The thing that annoys me the most, though, is Microsoft’s non consumer-friendly support of only Windows XP. The PC transfer tool is pretty cool, and anyone with a home network or crossover cable should get it working with no problem. Those without Windows XP, though, are out of luck. In small print on the back of the bottom of the Music Mixer package, Windows XP is clearly listed as a requirement. Many Xbox owners undoubtedly still have Windows 98, ME or 2000, and for Microsoft to leave out support for those versions is upsetting. The traditional workaround, CD-Rs, is also out of the question, since you can’t import images, WMAs or MP3s from CD-Rs directly onto your Xbox.
The Xbox Music Mixer is a fun, if overly simple, little gadget for your Xbox. For $34.95 you get a fully functioning Karaoke machine, a glorified Windows Media Player for your TV and a basic digital photo album. The interface and options are lacking, but the Music Mixer could be fun to mess around with at parties and other gatherings. Just make sure you add to the small catalog of music choices before unveiling this product to friends.
- Graphics: 6
- Sound: 6
- Replay: 8
- Overall: 6.5
- The potential for party fun, but it’ll take some work to get there.
— Jason Thomas