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Not So Elite

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You’ll forgive me if this column has a whiff of déjà vu about it. It's just two weeks ago that I was complaining about SKUs, with particular reference to Vista and the Xbox 360. On that occasion the Core edition came in for particular criticism since only the most obtuse of fanboys could possibly claim it to be a useful addition to the Xbox brand.

Now, when I wrote that column, I was well aware of the rumours surrounding a new Xbox 360 SKU but chose not to mention them since there was no official confirmation. For those who have been hiding for the past few days, those rumours turned into reality last week when Microsoft confirmed its plans for the Xbox 360 Elite. Sporting a new all black livery with HDMI and a 120GB hard drive, many perceive it to be Microsoft’s reply to the PS3. My question: is it enough?

The obvious problem here is the lack of an HD DVD drive. Microsoft has, in the past, been at pains to point out that it would never use HD DVD for games. That’s fine, we get that. But, Microsoft has always been ambiguous about whether it would ever put an HD-DVD in the console rather sticking with the external drive.

Since Microsoft has been so reluctant to say either way many people have presumed that such a development was inevitable, and who would blame them? It’s a logical progression for the Xbox 360, especially considering Microsoft’s previous support for the format and the convenient counterpoint an HD DVD drive would provide to the PS3’s Blu-ray player.

So why has Microsoft neglected HD DVD? One can posit any number of reasons; cost being the first that springs to mind. There are obviously extra costs involved in including an HD-DVD drive, but it wouldn’t be a new development for Microsoft to underwrite the cost of its consoles. From the very beginning Microsoft has done this, with the profits from its other interests making it possible.

Paradoxically, it’s this fact that may well have contributed to this decision. Having spent a lot of time developing the Xbox brand, Microsoft has yet to actually make any money from the project. As advantageous as including an HD DVD drive might be, it isn’t difficult not to imagine the powers that be considering further haemorrhaging of money as a needlessly expensive strategy. Interestingly, it also shows a lack of belief in HD DVD as a format - perhaps Microsoft believes Blu-ray will win?

Another consideration is how a new HD DVD equipped Xbox would be perceived by its current owners. All those millions of consumers, who have put their money down and bought an Xbox 360, would no doubt feel very aggrieved if Microsoft brought out a far superior product above the Premium pack. As is stands, one can buy a new 120GB hard drive and have more or less the same functionality as the Elite. HDMI does provide a better quality image, but without HDCP protected content from a high definition optical format it’s hardly essential.

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