New 360s to be HDMI-compatible?

Could Microsoft be readying another version of its premier hardware that supports upcoming high-definition interface?

Source: An article written around a blurry photo from an anonymous source on the Xbox-mod site Xbox Scene.

The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--a Microsoft spokesman.

What we heard: Over the weekend, Xbox Scene reported on possible plans from Microsoft to put a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) port into some future version of the Xbox 360 hardware. According to the article, a source "who wishes to remain anonymous" sent them a picture of an Xbox 360 motherboard with an HDMI port on it. Whoever the source is, he's apparently seen three such motherboards.

HDMI is a video/audio interface that allows high-definition content to be displayed in uncompressed form over a single cable. It also supports high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP), an antipiracy measure expected to be encoded into HD-DVDs and Blu-ray discs that would artificially downgrade a high-definition signal on noncompliant hardware. Basically, to get the best visuals out of an HDCP-equipped disc, you need an HDCP-supporting monitor or television, or the system will output a reduced-resolution image to your screen, no matter how high a resolution it could actually handle.

However, it bears mentioning that it is the content creator's decision whether or not to use HDCP, regardless of format. Given that there are plenty of high-def TV sets that don't support the technology, any company choosing to use HDCP now would exclude many consumers. It seems if these companies are smart, they won't use HDCP in their products until HDTV penetration rates are way up and the average consumer is assumed to have HDCP-compliant players and monitors.

The sticking point here is that Microsoft has already announced an HD-DVD playing add-on for the Xbox 360. So without an HDMI port on the system, how would owners of the 360 HD-DVD player make use of their new toy to watch truly high-definition content if content creators decide to make use of the HDCP standard? It seems pretty natural that Microsoft would examine its options here and see what it takes (and costs) to get the 360 outputting signals through HDMI. That said, a sighting of three motherboards doesn't exactly portend an imminent worldwide launch of an HDMI-equipped Xbox 360.

The Xbox Scene photo is blurry, and the anonymous source leaves room for questions, but Microsoft is almost assuredly looking into the feasibility of adding an HDMI port to the 360. Otherwise, in a worst-case scenario where every major studio decides to release its HD-DVDs with HDCP standards in effect, how could they justify the purchase of an add-on that would give users almost no more functionality than the system's factory-standard DVD drive?

Bogus or not bogus?: Can't speak to that photo or source, but ultimately not bogus.

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