Microsoft Pumps Up Storage in New Xbox 360 Elite

Microsoft on Wednesday announced the upcoming release of the long-rumored new version of the Xbox 360 gaming console, a system with beefed-up storage capacity, a high-definition port, a black case and more.

The unit, called the “Xbox 360 Elite,” will sell for about US$480 and be in stores April 29, Microsoft said.

The biggest difference between the Elite and the current top-level Xbox 360 Pro is the hard-drive size. Xbox 360 Pro comes with a 20 GB unit while the Elite will be equipped with a 120 GB drive, according to Microsoft. The top-of-the-line console also features a HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port which is not part of the Pro package. It comes with a high-definition cable, wireless controller and Xbox Live headset, all of which are included in the Pro, but the Elite’s case, controller and headset are now available in black.

However, Microsoft said it will sell the new 120 GB drive as an add-on accessory for current Xbox units. The drive will cost about $180.

Additional Xbox 360 Elite accessories, including the black Xbox 360 Wireless Controller, an Xbox 360 Play & Charge Kit and the Xbox 360 Rechargeable Battery Pack, will also be sold separately.

Unfulfilled Expectations

After weeks of online speculation about the new Xbox, the Elite’s features were somewhat disappointing when they were finally announced. It was expected that the new console would come equipped with a built-in HD DVD movie drive and WiFi connectivity, features that would have made the Xbox more feature-for-feature competitive with the $600 Sony PlayStation 3.

“Nine out of 10 consumers we interviewed were expecting HD DVD and a larger hard drive,” Envisioneering gaming analyst Richard Doherty told TechNewsWorld. “They were also expecting 802.11 wireless, in that order. We don’t know who Microsoft surveyed with this except, maybe Wall Street.”

Envisioneering was hoping Microsoft would reveal a more feature-packed but bargain-priced console, according to Doherty. “Robbie Bach (Microsoft entertainment and devices division president) is under pressure from Wall Street to show profits for the Xbox division,” he said. “This is probably designed to appease Wall Street, not Microsoft’s existing customers.”

To HD or Not HD

Microsoft painted itself in a corner — when it comes to including HD DVD capability within the Xbox — by criticizing Sony’s inclusion of a Blu-ray player in the PS3, Doherty suggested.

Adding an HD DVD drive, now available as a plug-in accessory, “would have raised the Xbox cost another $200 and that would have gone over [the] PS3 price,” he added. “A lot of Microsoft’s messages (questioning the need for built-in high-def movie players in game consoles and the inherent price increases that brings) would have seemed hypocritical. It would have made for some very awkward comparisons.”

Microsoft may have purposely left out the HD DVD drive to avoid embracing a high-definition movie technology that might not win the ongoing format war. The company believes Xbox 360 owners should have freedom to decide whether they want to use their game consoles as movie players, Microsoft said.

A true test of whether Microsoft made a smart move with the Elite will be eBay, claimed Doherty. If there is a surge of people trying to sell current Xbox 360 consoles, that might indicate they want to trade up to the new unit.

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