The rumors were true: an upgraded Xbox 360 will be hitting stores later this spring. As reported at Gamespot, the Xbox 360 Elite will feature a black finish, a 120GB hard drive, and an HDMI output. The new unit will be available in North America on April 29 at a cost of $479. The Xbox 360 Elite will include a wireless controller, a wired Xbox Live headset (both in matching black), along with all manner of relevant cables: HDMI, Ethernet, and the combination composite/component A/V cable for connecting to standard and high-def TVs that lack an HDMI jack. Despite earlier speculation, the Xbox 360 Elite does not include an HD DVD drive or a Wi-Fi adapter. Likewise, the Elite is said to utilize the same underlying hardware as the current 360 models. That would seem to mean the rumored cooler-running 65nm CPU isn't quite ready for prime time, though its eventual appearance will be more of a cost-saving measure for Microsoft rather than something that offers a tangible benefit to the consumer.
The Xbox 360 Elite will be a permanent addition to the product line, not a limited edition product. Moreover, the $299 Xbox 360 Core System (which includes a wired controller and no hard drive) and the $399 Xbox 360 Premium will remain in the lineup. However, the 120GB snap-on hard drive will be sold as a separate accessory for $179, allowing current and future owners of the step-down 360 models to upgrade at their leisure. Also, the add-on drive will include a data cable to transfer everything from the old 20GB drive to the replacement model.
For prospective owners of the Xbox 360, getting HDMI compatibility and a hard drive that's six times as capacious is well worth the extra $80. Current 360 owners know that the 20GB drive gets quickly filled up with demos and Xbox Live Arcade games, as well as movies and TV shows from Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace. The HDMI output, meanwhile, offers the potential for somewhat better video quality and wider 1080p compatibility with a wider array of HDTVs (compared to the VGA and component output options on the current 360). For anyone who already owns a 360, however, reinvesting in a whole new system will be a much harder sell.
How does the Xbox 360 Elite compare to the PlayStation 3? The $500 PS3 has a much smaller 20GB hard drive, while the $600 PS3 adds built-in Wi-Fi and a 60GB drive, plus a multiformat flash card reader. But both PlayStations work as fully functional Blu-ray movie players, and both have HDMI outputs (though Microsoft, unlike stingy Sony, is at least including the HDMI cable in the box). Still, it's likely to be the lineup of games that will determine which console consumers buy.
We'll have a full hands-on review of the Xbox 360 Elite as soon as it becomes available.