Driving the Xbox 360--with feedback

Steve Bitton

October 20, 2008

Steve BittonOctober 20, 2008

As video game developers aim to give users a more realistic experience, more interactive peripherals are being created to stimulate users' senses. Sight and sound, the two senses typically associated with video games, are being used to near full advantage thanks to improvements in both video and audio technology (3D games are in the works). Touch is the next sense on Xbox 360 game developers' radar, as evidenced by the introduction of Microsoft's Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel, a wireless steering wheel controller designed to mimic the sensations of quick turns, rough terrain and high-impact crashes using Force Feedback technology.

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The two primary hardware components in the game controller are the dashboard with steering wheel controller, and the gas and brake pedal unit. A plastic clamp anchors the dashboard to a table. Based on my experience playing with ... er, testing ... the unit, I understand the need to anchor the dashboard--the twists and turns become increasingly intense as you drive some of the advanced race courses. The steering wheel is wireless, except for an Ethernet-style (four-wire) interface connecting the wheel to the pedal unit.

Unpacking the device, you can feel the weight of the main steering console, which is much more substantial than other video game controllers. The wheel itself is well-crafted--it feels a lot more like a real racecar steering wheel than, say, the steering wheel on my 1999 Mazda Protégé! The consensus among colleagues is that Microsoft's Xbox 360 and peripherals are mechanically sound hardware--quite good for a software company.

Upon taking apart the many layers of plastic that comprise the steering wheel controller, the main PCB is exposed. There are three large ICs, two with Microsoft markings, and a third, the Atmel AT91SAM7S32. The interesting parts are the Microsoft parts. Obviously Microsoft does not make chips, so whose ICs are they? We asked the good people of Semiconductor Insights to de-encapsulate (or decap) the devices to find out.

Bluetooth allows wireless control of the Xbox 360 driving experience.

Looking first at the shielded wireless device labeled "Microsoft X80199," it is revealed to be a National Semiconductor LMX420CL. Further inspection of the die reveals RF and analog circuitry, as well as a significant amount of logic. From the FCC filings associated with this device, the 2.4-GHz band is mentioned as the communications frequency, so this device is indeed a Bluetooth transceiver. This device cannot be found on the National Semiconductor Web site, but could be similar to their other LMX labeled Bluetooth offerings.

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