Whether you're a career gamer with the wrist strength of an ox (and a serious Dorito habit to boot), or a ruddy-faced console ingenué, here's how to impress your mates (and your kids) with the lowdown on Microsoft's latest release. Enjoy.

When's this thing available, then?

The Xbox 360 goes on sale in the UK at 12:01 am Friday 2 December

So I can just rock up to my favourite bricks-and-mortar store and buy one?

Probably not. If you haven't already pre-ordered a console it's highly unlikely you'll be able to buy one before Christmas as demand is so great.

We've heard reports that Comet isn't taking pre-orders, instead selling them on a first-come, first-served basis – although you may want to check with your local store. However, if you haven't already set up camp curbside then your chances of snagging one are rapidly dwindling.

Touts will naturally be flooding eBay with their wares, but prices just for the Xbox 360 Core System are pushing £350 at the moment.

Core System you say? Is that better?

No. Confusingly, Microsoft has played a cunning marketing trick on you.

The Xbox 360 is available in two flavours: Xbox 360 and Xbox 360 Core System.

The Xbox 360, which henceforth we shall refer to as the Xbox 360 Premium Pack, includes the console, a 20GB hard drive, one wireless controller, an Xbox Live headset, a high-definition output cable and – for a limited time only – an infrared remote control for navigating Media Center from the sofa.

The Xbox 360 Core System, on the other hand, dispenses with the hard drive and remote control and substitutes the controller for a wired version and output cable for just a bog-standard-definition one.

Ah ha – I see what they did there. How much will it cost, then?

The Premium Pack retails at £280. The Core System will set you back a mere £210.

I heard that every Xbox 360 comes with a free Xbox Live account?

You heard right.

Wahey! So I can frag my mates online without having to pay a single dime to Microsoft, unlike with the previous Xbox?

No, you've been hoodwinked again. See Core System, above.

Every Xbox 360 comes with an Xbox Live Silver account, which allows you to chat with your friends online and access the Xbox Live Arcade where you can download games, demos and trailers.

If you want to frag your mates, as you say, you'll need to stump up for a Gold account, which will set you back forty squid a year.

So this High Def stuff - bet that will look awesome?

It will, if you have a high-definition telly. Play it on a standard telly, though, and you'll see no difference.

I gets you. What formats does it support?

720p and 1080i.

Is that good?

Well, it's fairly standard, so getting a compatible display shouldn't prove overly difficult.

I've got loads of Xbox games, can I chuck my big black box in the bin and run them on the 360?

Yes and no.

Out of the box, backwards compatibility is limited. Out of 10 games we tried, only one (Halo) would run.

Oh. Isn't that a bit rubbish?

Hold your horses, we're not finished yet.

Once you've got your Xbox Live account setup, if you pop in a non-compatible game it will dial into the mothership and see if an update is available. If so, it'll download it, and hey presto.

This increased our workable title count to four out of 10.

What if I don't want to sign up for the free Xbox Live service, for some inexplicable reason?

In that case, Microsoft will post monthly updates here, which you can download and burn to CD.

But I want to know now which games I can run, dagnamit!

Step right this way, sir.

What about all this Media Center malarky?

The Xbox 360 includes a built-in Media Center Extender, which allows you to stream telly, videos, music and photos around your networked home.

But I haven't got a Media Center PC.

Fear not. It will also function as a Windows Media Connect client, so you can stream from you standard XP machine, too.

Wow, it sounds amazing – where can I find out more?

We'll be posting our review of the console, plus Project Gotham Racing 3 online at 12:01 am 2 December. It'll be the top review.

Great. Is the picture of Paris Hilton really relevant to this story, or have you just put it up to lure people to your website?

Sorry, can't hear you - you're breaking up. About to go into a tun... [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep]

Update: Xbox 360 review here.