This Friday the Xbox 360 Elite finally makes its way into European shops; HDMI, beefy hard drive and all.
The updated system arrives at a price point of £299.99 - 50 quid more than a Premium console and £120 more than a bog-standard Core system. It's black, it's got tons of memory, but is it really worth the upgrade?
Apart from the lovely black finish (which does look much better in the fles... erm, plastic), the Elite system comes with a handful of improvements over the vanilla premium package, the most notable of which is the addition of a 120GB hard drive.
This will undoubtedly prove more and more useful as Microsoft's ever-growing Xbox Live Marketplace vision expands. In the US HD movie and television downloads are already available (and promised for Europe before Christmas). Xbox Live Arcade games are also starting to hog more and more hard drive space now that the size cap's been upped to 150MB.
Does the world need a bigger Xbox 360? We don't right now, especially here in Europe where Video Marketplace is yet to emerge. In the CVG office we're in agreement that unless you're going to go a bit mental on Marketplace, you can live comfortably with 20 gigs. For now.
It's clear the demand for a larger drive is there; plenty of 360 owners happily download every last game demo and still rip Phil Collins' entire back catalogue, but considering that desperate Core and Premium owners have the option to shell out £129.99 to upgrade the HDD on their existing consoles, why should anyone upgrade their 360 to the Elite console for a whole lot more?
Could it be for the built-in HDMI port, which other than a very slight improvement in visual quality, offers the convenience of having both audio and visual signals through a single cable?
We've tested both HDMI and Component connections side by side and only when you've literally got both pictures together on a picture-in-picture set-up can you notice the slightly sharper picture of the HDMI connection. Definitely then, a purchase decision on the merit of this new connection is going to be made by hardcore TV enthusiasts / fetishists only.
On top of that, Microsoft is already starting to roll out new Premium console models in the US with the HDMI port included, and surely will start doing the same on our end very shortly. In a swift stroke, that's another of the Elite's bullet points off of the box.
So the Elite doesn't look like a particularly attractive purchase for existing Xbox 360 owners, but the question most will be asking is how it stands up to the slightly pricier PlayStation 3.
The most blatant omission to the package is the Xbox 360's HD-DVD support, the equivalent of Sony's built-in Blu-ray playback. But seeing as the 360 doesn't - and most likely never will - use HD-DVD for games (and of course the Elite is £100 cheaper) this is a somewhat of moot point.
But if you absolutely must match the PS3's movie playback capabilities the extra £130 for an Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive will bring you roughly up to the same spec, and price as Sony's console.
It should also be noted that gamers are getting considerably more gigabytes for the £50 they're paying over the 20GB Premium console, than if they were to pay the extra £100 on a PS3.
So with that HD movie play back price difference considered, the Elite stands up quite nicely alongside the PS3. What it's missing is the ability to charge wireless controllers out of the box and all of the PS3's wireless internet capabilities. But then the PS3 can't actually be hooked up to a HD TV out of the box, either...