The enhanced version of Microsoft’s successful gaming console has to realistically be marked down as a missed opportunity. On one hand it’s undoubtedly a powerful beast, and better equipped to go toe-to-toe with Sony’s Playstation 3 machine. But on the other, there was a real chance to seize the initiative here, one that Microsoft appears to have squandered.
The machine itself, to all intents and purposes, is an Xbox 360 with some welcome additions. Over the Premium version of the console, the Elite sports a 120GB hard drive compared with a 20GB device (comparing favourably to the PS3′s 60GB), and there’s an HDMI port on the back of the machine to allow easy and proper support of 1080p output (a connection that was picked up and optimised immediately when we hooked it up to our 52-inch 1080p test screen). Finished off in smart black, the list of enhancements stops right about there.
And that’s the problem. Given the 360′s well-reported problems with noise and heat, little seems to have been done to address these issues and refresh the technology inside the box. When under pressure, it still sounds unfavourably loud and can easily be heard over any game. Furthermore, it’s still a plain old DVD drive in the case, rather than an HD DVD device, the latter still sold as an additional extra (although, to be fair, there’s a strong argument that this still leaves consumers with the choice about whether they want to pay more for high-definition support).
On top of that, the HDMI support is restricted to 1.2, and not the most recent 1.3, robbing the machine of full Dolby TrueHD audio functionality. Microsoft’s confirmation that the future versions of all Xbox 360s will feature HDMI output also dampens the spirits a little.
On the upside, the content of the box is quite generous. Microsoft includes an HDMI cable with the machine (you won’t find one of those in a Playstation 3 box), and there’s also a breakout adapter if you want to run digital audio separately. Furthermore, you’ll find a wireless controller, a 360 headset and a SCART converter, as well as a month’s trial of Xbox Live Gold. Still no integrated wireless networking support, though, which is immensely frustrating and requires a £60 outlay for an adapter. That’s just not good enough.
The Xbox 360 was already a strong console, to be fair, and the Elite is inarguably the premium version of the machine now. But – especially given the recent price cuts for the other packs – the main enhancement is that hard drive, which seems logical for existing 360 owners to pick up as an upgrade when it inevitably becomes available.
For those who have been biding their time, the 360 Elite is a terrific gaming console; perhaps not the best value way to enter this generation of the tech battle, but unlikely to disappoint. If only Microsoft’s ambitions had been that bit more impressive with this update.
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