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Xbox 360 Elite vs. classic: the test

Well, we've had a few hours with our Xbox 360 Elite wherein we've done nothing but test it against the most rigorous (unscientific) means at our disposal. But finally we are able to answer the question: is an HDMI-enabled Xbox 360 capable of outputting noticeably higher quality gameplay and movies? We compared our classic Xbox 360 (manufactured 12/08/2005) with our spankin' new 360 Elite (manufactured 3/4/2007). Ready for the face-off? Check out the gallery, and read on for our conclusions.

We tested the consoles with a Sharp 46D62U (46-inch) 1080p LCD and a 5.1 surround system -- we went HDMI vs component, since it's safe to assume the majority of people don't have VGA inputs on their HDTVs (including us). We played the first stage of Gears of War (on casual, so what?), and then plugged in our HD DVD drive and watched a few scenes from Batman Begins.

Console noise
We know how much you all wanted your Xbox 360 Elite to quiet down a bit, but we have some bad news for ya. As we heard from our sources who supplied us with much of our info about the Elite, unfortunately the noise level is about the same as before. It doesn't use the new 65nm chips, so it seems to require the same number of case fans.

The same is true of the disc drive. Our Elite and classic drives do sound different, and it's obvious they're not the same make or model. However, unfortunately, they're equally loud. Sorry guys, you're still going to have to put up with the same level of noise as before -- don't come looking to the Elite for something that sounds less like a shop-vac.

As we said before, these are using the old round of 90nm chips, not the 65nm variety. So it goes without saying that using the same chips as before, these things are going to produce the same amount of heat. We didn't run an 18 hour stress test or anything (obviously), but both units did feel about the same after an hour of playing games and movies, and they both felt like they were outputting about the same amount of heat.

HDMI 1080p vs component 1080p/i
We're going to be totally honest here, we hardly noticed a damn difference at all. We figured the best visual test would be playing in 1080p on both HDMI and component video, and we were right. What little difference we did notice, we noticed it with that test. In a couple of darker scenes in Gears there seemed to be a little more depth to the blacks (and a bit more distance detail because of it). But to tell you how subtle it was, we didn't even notice it until we literally started flipping back and forth as fast as we could. Fast motion, spinning, action, all the rest -- it looks almost identical on both consoles.

When watching an HD DVD in 1080p on HDMI and 1080i on component, we definitely didn't really notice anything different. The age old question though, right? Is 1080p actually noticeably different? Not to us, and probably not even if you have a 720p set -- assuming you're viewing on anything less than a massive, massive display. By the way, before you make any judgments about perceived visual quality based on our screen caps, please remember that those were taken with a regular camera, not pro screen capturing tools . In other words, what you may think is a big difference in quality may actually just be a small change in light metering or exposure. In other words, you'll kind of have to take our word for it when we say it looks almost identical.

We can now definitely confirm that despite its HDMI output, the Xbox 360 Elite still doesn't enable advanced codec support (like Dolby TrueHD). You still have the same three options as you had before: digital stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DD with WMA Pro. When we played back an HD DVD with TrueHD audio (Batman Begins), it just stayed on DD5.1, nothing else happened. Bummer. But again, that's what we were expecting.

Other minor bits
We did notice that the front power button on the Elite console is much clickier than the squishy power button on our classic 360. Probably not enough clikiness to actually justify the purchase in and of itself, we'd imagine.

Also, the black controller is entirely matte, whereas the white controller is matte everywhere except the slick silver strip on the bottom. Since that bottom strip is where a couple of your fingers rest when holding the controller we found the entirely matte black controller slightly preferable.

We haven't yet checked out DVD upscaling, but that's on our list of thing sto do. Anything else you want to know or see? Leave us a comment.

Final thoughts
Basically, unless you are seriously eagle-eyed, have a massive friggin screen, or for whatever reason need to use HDMI because you're all out of component inputs, your investment in the first-gen Xbox 360 is probably safe. Do yourself a favor, just buy that 120GB drive if you need the space, the HDMI really just doesn't justify replacing your whole console for a new $480 unit. Then again, if you're truly "elite" then all the stuff we just said really doesn't matter, and you're probably gonna buy this thing anyway. Cheers, enjoy!