Which Game Console Was The First To Feature Built-In Ethernet?
At first glance the Xbox seems notable largely because it was the first offering from Microsoft in the console gaming market and it introduced variety and competition into the console gaming market. The Xbox was also the first game console with a internal hard drive (which opened the door for downloadable content and local storage of media). While noteworthy, what the Xbox really did, with the inclusion of an Ethernet NIC, was make online gaming easily accessible.
The Xbox was a member of the sixth generation of home gaming consoles, right along with Sony’s PlayStation 2, Nintendo’s GameCube, and Sega’s Dreamcast. What distinguished the Xbox from the other sixth generation consoles was that, right out of the box, it was ready to connect to an Ethernet network. The other consoles had accessories, in the form of clunky add-ons (or hardware updates in later models), that made online and/or LAN play possible, but they lacked the elegance of the Xbox’s built in network interface. Setting up a massive Halo LAN party, thanks to the Xbox’s built-in NIC, was as simple as taking your Xbox to a friend’s house and jacking into their router.
Further more, you could easily play against your friends online with Xbox Live thanks to the built-in connectivity. Although we take the idea of console makers providing a gaming network for granted now, in the early days it was highly unorganized. Microsoft led the pack with Xbox Live while other console makers dropped the ball. In the early days, for example, Sony relied on game companies to provide their own servers for online play. As a result the online-experience when using a PlayStation 2 wasn’t uniform, quality of game play varied wildly, and as game companies folded or redirected their efforts elsewhere they took the game servers with them.
The other console makes eventually caught up, and the seventh generation consoles all include either Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity as well as a unified game server, but in the early days of online play the Xbox reigned supreme.