As expected, thousands of consumers around the US gathered in front of retail consumer electronics stores at midnight last night in order to be among the first to get their hands on Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game console. Over 4500 retailers from around the country opened their doors at 12:01 am this morning in a "midnight madness" event the scope of which hasn't been seen in the decade since Microsoft launched Windows 95.

"The debut of Xbox 360 marks one of the biggest consumer launches in Microsoft’s history," says Microsoft president and chief Xbox officer Robbie Bach. "With its sheer power, portfolio of graphically stunning games, rich online capabilities, and features for enjoying music, movies and photos, Xbox 360 delivers integrated digital gaming and entertainment experiences that simply can't be matched." For now, anyway: Microsoft's next generation competition from Sony and Nintendo won't launch until some time in 2006, giving Microsoft a clear shot at gaining an early lead.

To bolster the Xbox 360 launch, Microsoft and its partners have shipped 18 game titles and dozens of hardware add-ons for the system. In my testing of the Xbox 360 and its launch titles over the past few weeks, I've identified a few high-quality games, including "Call of Duty 2," "Kameo," and "Perfect Dark Zero." Most other games are average, from what I have seen. But while we might have to wait until 2006 to see games that truly take advantage of the Xbox 360's technical prowess, the hardware is truly fantastic and will supply years of amazing gaming and digital media experiences. In other words, the Xbox 360 is worthy. It's only a question of timing.

For gamers, my advice is simple: You're going to want an Xbox 360. But unless you are an early adopter who doesn't mind spending thousands of dollars on new technology, wait until after the holiday season to get an Xbox 360 when the supply will be more plentiful. Also, the second generation of Xbox 360 games, due in 2006, will make this system truly stand out from the upcoming competition, while this season's launch titles are mostly average at best. My exhaustive review of Xbox 360 will be posted to the SuperSite of Windows today, in installments over the course of the day.