So this caught me slightly on the hop: the Xbox 360 Elite has begun shipping three days ahead of schedule.
The swanky (or not so swanky, depending on your viewpoint) console was due to touch down in US and Canadian shops on 29 April but since a raft of 'unboxings' have begun appearing on YouTube – it is safe to say either Microsoft or the retailers themselves have jumped the gun.
To refresh, the Elite has two major benefits in comparison to the original Xbox 360: a 120GB HDD and an HDMI port (with bundled cable). The former will obviously provide Live users with far greater storage potential while the latter will enable the console to output in 1080p (it was previously limited to 1080i).
More superficially, the Elite also comes with new black styling including a wireless black controller and black wired headset. There's also a new price tag: $479.
Initially reaction to the console has been rather muted with US bloggers saying it is virtually impossible to tell the difference in picture quality between the HDMI's 1080p and its previous component connectively at either 1080i or 720p. This makes sense since unless you have a truly huge screen (50 inches or more) jumping resolutions on HDTVs does tend to be rather negligible.
Furthermore, the console's optical drive and case fans are no quieter than the original Xbox, dashing previous hopes of a new quieter optical drive and CPU upgrade. In addition, the PSU is as gigantic as ever.
In sum, the role of the Elite appears primarily to drag attention away from the PS3 and with 120GB HDD upgrades being made available for existing 360 owners ($179) there is little need to splash out on a whole new machine. That said, if you have yet to take the plunge on a new gen console or simply have a fetish for black it does offer a more compelling alternative to Sony's behemoth.
Now eyes peeled for a European launch... *ouch, that hurts*