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Xbox 360 Elite System

The first thing that strikes you is the sleek, matte-black finish, although Microsoft's Xbox360 Elite has a lot more in store for gaming enthusiasts than just the outward cosmetic changes. With new additions such as the 120 GB hard disk and the HDMI 1.2 connector, this new gaming console is best for today's high-intensity games, most of which require plenty of space and have graphics that work well only in high-definition television sets.

If you already have the older version of Xbox 360, then it may not be all that necessary to upgrade to the new 'Elite'. However, if you are a first-timer, then the HDMI option alone should be enough to tilt your decision in favor of Xbox 360 Elite. Launched in April last year, this new gaming console is available for around $480, although prices vary depending on the retailer.

Most of the my first impressions of the Xbox Elite have turned out to be positive, especially with regards to the new improved features. This new gaming console from Microsoft offers improved integration with the optional HD DVD player and something that is even better is the HDMI compatibility that brings true to life images and graphics on your screen.

A Mostly Hassle-Free Setup

The initial setup and configuration process of Xbox 360 Elite, which went on smoothly and was over in just a few minutes, impressed me a lot. All you need to do is select the language and sign up for an Xbox Live account or use your existing one.

When you do this, you will see the High Definition Settings option on the console's screen, which you can use for optimizing the audio and video settings as might suit the requirements of your high definition television screen. However, there was a slight problem in that when I actually selected this option, it took me directly to the display settings when I was expecting a menu that would allow me to adjust the audio/video settings for my high definition screen.

The default setting of the Xbox 360 Elite was '1080i wide screen', but since I was using a high-def screen that had different settings, I had to go down two levels to match the 1080p resolution of the high-def screen I was using. There was also the option to adjust the screen format, although it was grayed out in the Elite unit that I was using.

After this, I started with the audio settings, which had Dolby Digital 5.1 as the default. Options that were available here included Digital Stereo and Dolby Digital with WMA Pro. As compared to the video, audio options are fairly limited as can be seen from on-screen messages that tell you that digital audio is available only through S-video, optional HD-DVD player, VGA HD AV cable and Advanced SCART.

What really surprised me however was the fact that there was not even a single item in the menu that might relate to the HDMI AV cable, supplied with the Xbox360 Elite. As such there is no way to ascertain the audio quality that will be available over HDMI. I am still to get a reply from Microsoft Xbox support, but it will certainly be disappointing if the digital audio option is not available over HDMI. It would be a waste then to buy HD DVD movies that have Dolby Digital Plus or Multi-channel Dolby digital soundtrack.

New Improved Features

With a phenomenal increase in hard disk capacity (20 to 120 GB) and the essential HDMI 1.2 interface, the Xbox360 Elite scores a lot higher than many of its predecessors. Now you do not have to worry about storing all the games, movies and music files that you might be planning to download via Xbox Live. You also do not have to worry about the quality of images and graphics on your high-def television screen since the newly added HDMI 1.2 interface effortlessly integrates the Elite to your high-def screen.

Many new hardware components have also been added such as the wireless controller, which has a matching black color and an effective range of 30 foot as per the specifications. When you open the packaging, you will find many other items such as S-video cable, HDMI AV cable, audio adapter, headset, a Component HD AV cable, and an Ethernet cable.

However, I noticed that some essentials are missing such as the Data cable that is required for transferring content from your existing Xbox to the Elite. Also not included in the standard package is a remote control that you need to buy separately for 20 dollars. If you want, you can however use the remote control that is available with Xbox HD DVD Player add-on.

High Definition Movie Playback

Having experienced the high quality images as enabled by Xbox 360, I was quite eager to know exactly how much of a difference can the Elite make in terms of video output quality. I started my tests on the Elite, using the HD DVD Player add-on drive and found that Elite really scored higher in terms of image quality and integration.

In most of the tests, I noticed that the Elite when combined with Microsoft's HD DVD Player add-on drive, offered a higher image quality that its predecessor Xbox 360. It was probably because the images on the Elite were available through an HDMI connection at 1080p whereas the Xbox 360 delivered it over a Component Video at 1080i and 720p resolution.
For example, when I played 'The phantom of the Opera', I noticed that the costumes were a lot crispier and that the on-screen images had a lot more depth and distinctiveness. I played many other movies and videos on the Elite and found that the image quality was almost always better than that available through the older versions of Xbox 360.

However, if you plan to use the Elite mostly for gaming, then you might not notice much of a difference because some of the most popular games that exist have been created at 720p resolution. So, if you really want to experience the difference, you will have to playback a HD DVD movie that is encoded at 1080p.

The Xbox 360 Elite certainly scores a lot higher than its predecessors, but I still have my doubts as to whether or not it can really match the video quality of a dedicated HD DVD player. I am still working on this and plan to carry out a side-by-side comparison in the days to come.

Xbox 360 Elite Cost

I am also not sure as to how many people will actually accept Elite's $480 price tag, just for its high-definition video playback feature. Moreover, since the high-def video requires an additional investment of $200 for the HD DVD player, it seems the Elite is in fact meant only for gamers and that the high-def is just an added advantage.

So, if you are a movie buff and not necessarily a gaming enthusiast, I will recommend that you drop your plans about the Elite and instead opt for a dedicated HD DVD player such as the 1080p Toshiba HD-A20. However, if you are someone who loves both movies and games, then the Xbox 360 Elite will certainly be the best option for you.

You can see that eventually it all boils down to your needs and requirements, even when the Xbox 360 Elite has a lot more to offer than its predecessors. As such, I would recommend that you assess your needs before actually jumping on the Xbox 360 Elite bandwagon.

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