Xbox 360 promoted to Elite

A new $479 black, HDMI-enabled, 120GB version of Microsoft's latest console will arrive on April 29; $179 120GB HDD add-on to be sold separately; Sony unimpressed.

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Following months of speculation, Microsoft has officially unveiled a new version of the Xbox 360. Called the Xbox 360 Elite (pictured), the console will go on sale in North America April 29, with European and Japanese launches later in the year. In the US, the console will retail for $479.

As previously hinted at on many forums and blogs, the new console will have a variety of bells and whistles different from the traditional Xbox 360. It will indeed feature a 120GB hard drive to better accommodate game downloads from Xbox Live Arcade and video content from Xbox Live Marketplace. The news coincides with the announcement of a new batch of television and movie partners who will offer content on the service.

The Xbox 360 Elite has a "premium black finish" that matches the wireless controller it comes with. (Controllers and rechargeable battery kits with the same hue will be sold separately.) The console will also sport a matching black wired headset and, as widely rumored, an HDMI output port. The console will come bundled with an HDMI cable as well as a component video cable.

One thing the console will not come with is a data transfer cable, as had been rumored. However, a stand-alone, $179 120GB drive for the console will be released alongside the Xbox 360 Elite bundled with a data transfer cable. The cable will allow for the transfer of all Marketplace downloads and game saves from an existing 360 hard drive to the new hard drive.

According to Albert Penello, Microsoft's director of global platform marketing, the old hard drive will be blanked following the data transfer and can then be attached to any other 360. "The stand-alone drive is the main option we're suggesting to existing Xbox 360 owners," he told GameSpot.

So what about HDMI-craving HDTV owners who want to get an Xbox 360 Elite and transfer their current XBLM content to it? In one word: Wait. Penello said that Microsoft is "working on a solution" for transferring data from current 360s to Elites, but he would not elaborate.

Hardware-wise, Penello said the Xbox 360 Elite has the same disc drive and processors as "current models." He also confirmed it would not have an internal HD-DVD drive, as some had suspected. "We don't want to segment the user base," he told GameSpot. He also confirmed that the external Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive would not be available in the Elite's black finish for the foreseeable future.

Another thing the new console won't have is Internet Protocol TV functionality, which Microsoft announced it was bringing to the 360 platform at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. "[IPTV] trials will start this summer," said Penello, who didn't have a start date for the service.

As for the fate of the current hard-drive-less $299 Core Xbox 360 and 360-equipped Pro Xbox 360 models, Penello said they would continue to be offered. He also confirmed that the new model would be a permanent addition to the 360 product line and not a limited edition.

The fact that the Elite is only $20 less than the 20GB PlayStation 3 and does not have next-generation video format playback did not go unnoticed by Sony. “We think every PlayStation 3 owner should have an 'elite' experience, which is why we include an internal hard drive and HDMI output in every PS3 we sell, along with the 50GB of storage capacity on a high-definition Blu-ray disc," said Peter Dille, Sony Computer Entertainment's senior vice president of marketing. Sony also issued a series of talking points asserting that the release of the 360 Elite "further validates the PS3 business model, which [Microsoft] criticized at launch."

For more details on the Xbox 360 Elite, check out GameSpot Hardware's complete examination of the console.

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