Xbox 360 Elite premiers Sunday

Retailers on Sunday will start selling Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Elite, a new version of the popular video game console with a slightly different look, more storage capabilities and built-in HDTV support. It costs $479.99.

The Xbox 360 Elite, clad in black with metallic detail, comes with a 120GB hard disk and a High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI). Also included are HDMI and component video cables, XBox Live headset, used to communicate with other players in multiplayer games through Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service, and a wireless game controller.

By comparison, the Xbox 360 Premium bundle — the white Xbox 360 in its most commonly available configuration — sports a scant 20GB of storage, no built-in HDMI and component video cable only. the 120GB hard drive is also available as a $179.99 accessory for existing Xbox 360 owners who want to upgrade their console’s storage capacity.

Microsoft has made an effort to expand the Xbox 360’s capabilities beyond gaming by adding features that make it an alternative to devices like the Apple TV. It can play regular DVDs and a $199.99 add-on accessory also lets it play HD DVDs. It can store music ripped from audio CDs or digital photos, and connects to a Windows XP-based PC to enable you to stream digital content between your computer and your entertainment system ( third party software exists to the connect the Xbox 360 to a Mac, as well).

Microsoft’s Xbox Live service has emerged as the Xbox 360’s equivalent to the iTunes Store — a place where users can buy and download high-definition TV shows and movies, download game demos and purchase games and other downloadable content for their Xbox 360s.

Some gamers have criticized Microsoft’s decision to leave out built-in wireless networking on the Xbox 360 Elite, a capability included with the less-expensive Nintendo Wii. Instead, Microsoft offers a wireless networking adapter as a $99.99 accessory. A $299 Core console, which eschews a hard drive all together, remains available as an option.

The Apple TV can’t play games, but it similarly bridges a connection between a computer (Mac or PC) and a home entertainment system. It connects to a wireless network using the fast 802.11n protocol and features built-in HDMI and component video support, but it only sports a 40GB hard disk drive. It can also stream content from Macs or PCs connected over a network.

This story, "Xbox 360 Elite premiers Sunday" was originally published by PCWorld.

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