The Xbox 360 Elite has a larger hard drive, a prettier package and an HDMI-out option. Enough to justify upgrading? No. But if you're in the market for a new console, this is a no-brainer.
By contributor
updated 5/25/2007 6:53:00 PM ET 2007-05-25T22:53:00

Microsoft's latest gaming console offering is a study in the adage that beauty is only skin deep.

The Xbox 360 Elite ($479.99) is essentially an Xbox 360 painted black with chromed-out accents, a larger hard drive and a high-definition HDMI out port.

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The console's larger hard drive is a nice addition to Microsoft's console. The drive, a whopping 120 gigabytes bigger than the previous Xbox 360 and twice the size of the drive inside the PlayStation 3, is quickly becoming a requirement for anyone who makes use of the Xbox 360's video download service.

But Microsoft has already launched a replacement drive for those who wanted to level up their storage capacity — it hit stores at the same time as the Elite 360, and cost $179.99.  So if all you're after is more storage, it makes much more sense to just upgrade the drive — not the whole system.

That leaves the HDMI-out option — and the PS3-like exterior — as the only reasons to buy the Elite. HDMI is a video output that gives you a crisper high-definition image quality through a single cable that you plug into most modern televisions. What’s puzzling about this feature is that Microsoft spent the better part of last year reassuring Xbox 360 owners that they didn’t necessarily need HDMI out to fully appreciate high-definition video. What gives?

The graphics of Xbox 360 games do seem slightly — ever so slightly — better when viewed through an HDMI cable, but the changes aren’t noticeable unless you really look closely.

There's also the added benefit of only needing to use one cable when connecting your console. In general, that HDMI-out lets you use the console's high-def output with more modern televisions than the less-supported VGA cables the standard Xbox 360 comes with. Unfortunately, Microsoft opted not to use the latest version of HDMI, which means that if you opt to buy the add-on HD-DVD drive for the console (at $199) you won't be able to watch those movies in many of the best audio formats, such as DTS-HD or Dolby True HD.

Besides the new port, the guts of the Elite remain unchanged, which means you still get access to the console's robust line-up of excellent video games, the ability to rent movies, purchase arcade games and television shows online and everything else that makes the Xbox 360 one of the best consoles on the market.

The bad news? All of the problems that have plagued the Xbox 360 since its first iteration are still an issue with the Elite. The console still has the occasional overheating incident – and the noisy fan that attempts to cool things off. And the Elite version of the Xbox 360 still has that godawful, mammoth power supply that's more than a third the size of the console itself.

While most of the issues the Elite suffers center around Microsoft's decision to not fix problems that cropped up in their last version, the Elite does bring one fairly unique issue to the table, though it is more annoying than crippling. If you already own an Xbox 360 and elect to buy this second version, you're going to have some trouble transferring the content you purchased via Xbox Live to the Elite's larger hard drive.

Microsoft decided to hamstring any video game or video you purchased on their Xbox Live Arcade service by forcing you to sign onto your account to access them. In other words, after transferring the games and television shows you purchased from your old hard drive to your new one, you will no longer be able to play or watch them without first connecting to the Internet and logging into your account.

This has nothing to do with technology – Microsoft made this decision as an attempt to limit piracy. And Microsoft does not allow you to transfer any of the movies you may have rented through their Live service to a new hard drive — you have to watch them on your old hard drive first.

Microsoft does make a free "migration kit" available to previous Xbox 360 owners who buy an Elite. The cable includes instructions for the fairly simple process of moving your data from your old console's drive to your new one.  The process takes less than 30 minutes and leaves the old drive wiped clean. But it’s an extra step that adds to the “con” list when considering the Elite.

The Xbox 360 Elite is probably not the most sensible purchase for someone who already owns an Xbox 360. Unless you are into blinged-out consoles — and truth be told, it's not that blinged out — or you just have to have an HDMI-out, most current owners should probably steer clear.

But for $80 more than the cost of a Xbox 360, the Elite is almost a no-brainer for those just getting into this console.

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