The Xbox 360 Elite will come with one matching black wireless controller and headset. Black controllers, headsets and batteries will also be available in stores.

The new Xbox 360 Elite retail packaging.
The Xbox 360 is back in black

Sunday saw the release of a new iteration of Microsoft’s gaming console, the Xbox 360 Elite. The updated version of the Xbox 360 is dressed all in black, along with matching accessories, plus new features that are aimed at those with advanced high-definition televisions looking to enjoy downloadable multimedia.

“This console includes a 120GB hard drive, a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) port, a high definition (HD) cable and a premium black finish, and comes with a wireless controller and Xbox Live headset,” said Peter Moore, the head of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business. “The Xbox 360 Elite’s larger hard drive gives the gaming community an opportunity to enjoy all that the next generation of entertainment has to offer – from video games to movies and TV shows available through Xbox Live Video Marketplace.”

Priced at $479.99, the Xbox 360 Elite is the third SKU in Microsoft’s console roster, joining the Pro and Core packages at $399.99 and $299.99, respectively. Unlike Sony, who recently trimmed its PlayStation 3 lineup with the deletion of the 20GB console, Microsoft intends to maintain all three product variants in the retail channel.

“Xbox 360 Elite joins the ranks of our Core and Pro offerings that provide consumers with the flexibility to purchase the version of Xbox that best fits their unique needs,” said Moore.

The Xbox 360 Elite will stand out from the rest of the line as being the new top-end model for hardcore gamers and high-definition enthusiasts. “Xbox 360 Elite’s larger hard drive and premium accessories will allow our community to enjoy all that the next generation of entertainment has to offer,” Moore added.

The HDMI port is a feature that will remain exclusive to the new Elite console, but the 120GB hard drive is one that can be retrofitted onto a Pro or Core system. For existing Xbox 360 owners who simply want to upgrade their hard drives, the detachable accessory will be sold separately for an estimated retail price of $179.99. Gamers who don’t buy into Microsoft’s justification of the $179.99 price point may brave warranty-voiding tactics to build their own 120GB hard drive for a $100 savings.

The general consensus regarding the new HDMI output is that it provides a picture that is slightly superior to that from component cables, but is not worth the upgrade for existing owners. Aside from the HDMI port, the Xbox 360 Elite is almost no different in functionality of a current Xbox 360 console with the expanded hard drive. The Elite console still omits any sort of Wi-Fi feature and utilizes the same types of optical drives that give the Xbox 360 the reputation for a being a loud console. Reliability, however, may be something Microsoft is attempting to address with the Elite. Found in a recent dissection of the new console were minor changes presumably aimed at averting the notorious Red Ring of Death that many Xbox 360 owners have experienced.

The road leading up to the Xbox 360 Elite is a long and storied one. The new console version was officially announced a month ago, but whispers of a bigger hard drive—something that gamers have long demanded—started last fall when pictures of a 100GB HDD appeared in presentation materials for Korea. Shortly after, an 80GB HDD appeared in the flesh at a Microsoft press event pushing the Xbox Live Video Marketplace.

What started off with rumors of a bigger hard drive morphed into rumblings of a more drastic hardware revision after pictures leaked in January of a prototype Xbox 360 with HDMI output and new scaling hardware. Microsoft’s Chris Satchell quickly responded saying, “At the moment, everything you might have seen is just looking at our experimentation back in Redmond, not really a product that we're thinking about announcing.”

After a couple months of silence, the rumor mill spun again after a gaming magazine leaked key details of an updated Xbox 360 console dressed in black. Then the very machines in question were snapped by a camera phone during their infancies on a Chinese production line. Finally, an XNA Developer made it all but official after replying to a question about coding on the new HDMI Xbox 360.

The shift to a smaller, cooler running Xbox 360 chips, however, is one thing that was unable to make it into the Xbox 360 Elite. Microsoft revealed plans nearly a year ago to shrink its current 90nm chips to the 65nm process, something that’s now slated for later this year.

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