Xbox Sharpens Picture With High-Def Interface

The same week the world learned Microsoft had shaved US$50 off the price of its Xbox 360 next-generation gaming console, the company also rolled out refreshed versions of its Xbox 360 Premium models. Consumers picking up the consoles from now on will receive a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) port.

The news initially came from gamers who had recently purchased the console and were surprised to find it included the HDMI port, according to reports.

The addition offered another choice for console owners. HDMI-enabled platforms, according to a Microsoft spokesperson, are gradually being introduced by retailers. The HDMI-enabled consoles are fairly easy to spot, as they sport an HDMI logo placed on the box.

Double Whammy

The new functionality makes the device a bonus for gamers with high-definition televisions. The HDMI port allows gamers to simply connect their consoles to compatible HD TVs using a single digital cable. The resulting image on the screen will provide up to 1080p resolution, an improvement over the component video connections found on older models without the HDMI port that offer poorer resolution using more cables. It will also offer improve the game’s audio as well.

Combined with the $50 price cut, Microsoft’s latest addition provides consumers who have been toying with the idea of purchasing the console a little more incentive to do so, Mike Goodman, a Yankee Group analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

“It adds another little feature to the premium model,” he said. “If you’re gonna play games in HD and you’re gonna play them on an HD TV, then having an HD output is awful nice.”

‘A Nice Addition’

While only about 5 percent of households in the U.S. currently have an HD television, that percentage is expected to surge, and within five years will grow to as much as 50 percent of households by 2012, according to Michael Pachter, an analyst at WedBush Morgan.

“Gaming households both for the [PlayStation 3] and the 360 index higher with HD TVs than the national average,” he explained. “So it would be a nice addition.

“It’s very nice to have,” Pachter noted, “and necessary to have it or DVI (digital visual interface) if you want to run at 1080p.”

With the release of the Elite model last Spring, this announcement came as no real surprise, Brian O’Rourke, an InStat analyst, told TechNewsWorld. While it still does not remove the incentive to purchase a PS3, which boasts a Blu-ray high-definition DVD drive, it does make the console more attractive, he acknowledged.

“This really isn’t a surprising announcement. HDMI had already been announced in the Xbox 360 Elite, the high-end Xbox with the bigger drive. It’s not surprising they are putting it in the Xbox 360 Premium.”

So Long, Red Ring of Death?

The new devices come include an additional boon for gamers who have been leery about purchasing the Xbox 360 after many users reported seeing the what’s been dubbed the “red ring of death” — the flashing ring of red light on the front of the system indicating the console had suffered a catastrophic failure and would need to be replaced.

Microsoft announced in early July that the design flaw that triggered the much-dreaded red ring had been corrected. The company also unveiled its new extended warranty, which will cost Redmond more than US$1 billion.

For Pachter, the most significant aspect of the release of the HDMI-enabled consoles is that it “gives consumers a way to be sure they are buying a box that doesn’t have the design flaw that caused the red rings of death problem addressed by Microsoft’s extended warranty.”

The new machines are recently manufactured, he explained, so it would be a safe assumption that those devices would not include the flawed design.

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