With first person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo dominating the online arena these days, it’s becoming more and more apparent that external hardware is one of the best ways to get an edge over the competition. Headsets and gamepads have been around for years, but serious gamers know that a top-of-the-line headset isn’t just a luxury, but one of the tools that can turn a standard gameplay experience into an elite one.

Mad Catz has proven its quality in the past, but Xbox 360 owners have a few new reasons to be excited after the peripheral-maker rolled out its new line of headsets, gamepads, and a new force-feedback steering wheel at this year’s E3. If you’re serious about taking your gaming to the next level, now might be a good time to start.

In case you’ve struggled with compatibility issues in the past, or are simply a hardcore Xbox fanboy, then the new line of Mad Catz headsets are just what the doctor ordered. The new sets aren’t just designed with the Xbox 360 in mind, but co-branded, meaning they’ve received not only Microsoft’s stamp of approval, but integration with the system on all new levels.

For those simply in need of a new set of cans, Mad Catz has their entry-level headset, the Detonator. The pair is still a competent device for those simply looking for a well-developed pair of stereo headphones, and still enjoys the connectivity with the Xbox 360. the pair is wired for both the Xbox and for use with iPhone, and features a detachable microphone for non-gaming hours of the day (if there really are any).

But if you’ve done some serious gaming in the past and would like a bit more from your gaming headset, there’s the mid-range Devastator. Featuring 2.0 Stereo and what Mad Catz is calling HD Audio, the Devastator uses newly designed speakers from the company naming it the “best wireless stereo headset on the Xbox 360.” The Devastator is powered by batteries in the headset itself, and features a docking-cradle that allows for selection between movie, game, and music playback modes, as well as the signature Xbox light-ring allowing up to 4 headsets to work off one system.

The Devastator definitely packs a good amount of features into an attractive form factor, and for many, the Devastator will be the most compelling choice out of the new headsets rolled out. If you only enjoy multiplayer gaming, or listen to music for a few hours a week, then this is probably the way to go.

But for the hardcore gamers, they won’t be picking up the Devastator or the Detonator. For those of you who call online multiplayer home, and are willing to spend to get the best possible experience both in functionality and audio quality, you’ll want to hear about the Warhead 7.1.

Mad Catz Warhead Devastator Detonator

Running at 5.8 GHz as opposed to the more common 2.4 GHz to avoid any interference from other devices, the Warhead is already looking to stake its claim as one of if not the best headset on the Xbox 360. The console’s co-branding automatically sets it apart, and having the integration possible with such a deal offers plenty of perks. Pushing the Xbox controller’s guide button lets you know how much power remains in both the controller and the headset’s rechargeable battery.

The connection with the console itself means that there’s no need to go through the controller via wires of any kind, meaning the Warhead is a truly wireless headset. The motto for Mad Catz is to provide the best possible experience, and they see the ability to bypass the controller itself as an opportunity to avoid any constriction or degradation of the previously-mentioned HD Sound.

7.1 Dolby Surround Sound in a set of headphones is something that every gamer should experience at least once in their life, and having that level of performance in a truly wireless headset may be enough to get more affluent gamers picking up a Warhead as soon as it launches. The Warhead, like the Devastator, contains a cradle that allows iPod connectivity, and also features presets for music, videos, and gaming.

The docking station contains a second battery, allowing for hot-swapping of batteries so no player will ever have their play session cut short due to a dead battery. The list of features goes on and on, with the ability to change in-game audio and voice audio independently, as well as toggle your own voice on or off via buttons on the headset itself.

While the Warhead may be the headset that many of you serious gamers have been waiting for, it may also be something to look at if you’ve held off on purchasing a high-end gaming headset for some time. The manufacturer isn’t revealing any details on price, saying only that it will come in under $300. But with the ability to upscale stereo sound to 7.1 Dolby Surround, and the whole host of features included, the Warhead will demand some serious attention regardless of the price point.

The Detonator, Devastator, and the jaw-dropping Warhead 7.1 headset will be arriving in time for the 2011 holiday season.

Mad Catz Forza Steering Wheel

Headsets are great for the shooter and multimedia crowd, but Mad Catz is also going to be making plenty of racing fans happy as well, especially those who don’t want to take out a small loan to expand their game experience. With Forza 4, Microsoft’s system-exclusive simulation racer dominating plenty of the racing news coming out of E3, the timing couldn’t be better for Mad Catz to unveil their brand new force feedback steering wheel.

It’s been a few years since Microsoft pulled their set-up from retailers, making it exceedingly difficult for racing fans to get their hands on one without paying more than top-dollar. Now Mad Catz is ready to release their own design, shown to us behind closed doors at E3 2011. The previous Xbox 360 wheel and pedals were quality products, but this edition puts it to shame.

The combination of rubber and brushed aluminum-finished materials is sure to win the approval of racing fans right off the bat, and the completely wireless set-up and compatibility with games featuring both force feedback and rumble support means they’ve got their bases covered. But it’s the attention to detail that will be the answer to racers’ prayers.

One look at the image above shows the addition of an analog shifter – which can be removed and swapped to the left-hand side as well, and used as an E-brake – and a new take on pedal layout. Microsoft’s previous pedal system used the same bottom-mounting as an old school arcade machine, more akin to the Rock Band pedal than those in an actual car. The new layout has the pedal mounted from above, and while it may seem like a small detail, when combined with the abundance of footholds on the base of the unit, it’s clear that Mad Catz knows what they’re doing.

What isn’t seen in the image is the addition of buttons behind the wheel assigned to left and right analog presses, adding even more customization options. As well, Mad Catz has included an ethernet port to facilitate firmware updates via the internet. The new Force Feedback Steering Wheel is scheduled to release alongside Forza Motorsport 4 later this year, and those racers without a wheel or those in need of a better experience will want to consider picking one up. The price hasn’t been revealed, but given the cost of some of its competitors, it’s likely to be relatively affordable.

Mad Catz also detailed their upcoming FPS Pro Gamepads for the PS3 and Xbox 360, this year using the same analog modules as the system controllers themselves. Both feature the same rear buttons for analog stick presses to keep the sticks focused on aiming and navigation, as well as adjustable LEDs on the PS3 version for a little extra flair. The PS3 gamepad is wireless, but in keeping with tradition, Microsoft is keeping that feature exclusive to their own pads.

Whether you’re in the market for a professional grade headset, an intelligently-designed steering wheel made for racers by racers, or just a gamepad with some added functionality, you’ll want to keep an eye on Mad Catz’s offerings coming later this year. So far the Warhead and the Force Feedback Wheel are at the top of our wish list, how about yourself?

The Warhead 7.1, the Devastator and the Detonator are scheduled for a holiday 2011 release, with the Mad Catz steering wheel and pedals launching alongside Forza 4 this fall.

tags: E3 2011, Mad Catz