Given recent news that Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3 will be priced at a premium, Microsoft's announcement that Xbox 360 pricing will start at the same levels as did the original Xbox comes as somewhat of a surprise. Microsoft will offer a basic Xbox 360 console package for just $299 when the systems become available this holiday season. A premium version of the Xbox 360, which includes a hard drive and numerous other add-ons, will cost $399.

"I'm confident that we're on track for the Christmas holiday," said Microsoft Vice President Robbie Bach, though the company declined to specify an exact release date. "The system is ready and primed." Many analysts expect Xbox 360 to ship in November.

Microsoft announced two Xbox 360 bundles yesterday. The entry-level version, called Xbox 360 Core System, includes the Xbox 360 console, a wired hand controller, a removable faceplate, and a standard AV cable that works with most of today's TV sets. The premium edition, simply called Xbox 360, features the Xbox 360 console, a 20 GB removable hard drive, a wireless hand controller, a removable faceplate, a headset for online play, a component HD-AV cable for connecting to HDTV displays, membership in Xbox Live Silver, and, for a limited time, a bonus remote control which can control the unit's Media Center Extender capabilities.

Additionally, Microsoft also announced pricing for a number of Xbox 360 peripherals. Those peripherals include a 20 GB hard drive ($99.99), a 64 MB Memory Unit ($39.99), a wireless hand controller ($49.99), a Play & Charge Kit ($19.99), a rechargeable battery pack for the wireless hand controller ($19.99), a wireless networking adapter ($99.99), a headset ($19.99), a universal remote control ($29.99) and various AV cables ($29.99).

Xbox 360 will launch simultaneously in the US, Japan and Europe. For more information about Xbox 360 pricing and peripherals, please refer to my recently updated Xbox 360 FAQ on the SuperSite for Windows.