Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
28 March 2007
The 360 Elite
Imagine you had a chance to redesign the 360.

What would you suggest? Maybe an Xbox 360 that doesn't run at an exceedingly toasty temperature, perhaps one which doesn't have a propensity towards trying to draw crop circles in your discs and one that can actually operate without sounding like it's going to rip open a portal to hyperspace? All good ideas.

Or, maybe something less significant, like fixing the controller with a D-Pad that doesn't groan and move like an ageing strumpet even when brand new? Sure, we live in the analog stick era but those Live! Arcade games should still play best with a D-Pad, right? It would make sense for Microsoft to fix that up.

Maybe we'll get all this stuff in the future. Instead, Microsoft have finally confirmed the Xbox 360 Elite. Seeing as everyone's doing their best to copy Apple's business model these days, it probably comes as no surprise to see that Microsoft are imitating the famous black tax. Oh, and HDMI is in it too. And a 120gb hard drive.

It's a bad move, for various reasons. First, you've got the black. You've got the HDMI. Playstation 3, anyone? It's clear that Microsoft has been put in a difficult position: if they decide to incorporate Sony's highly-touted PS3 features - Wi-Fi, HD-DVD and HDMI - into the 360 they'll have to bump up the price and lose their position as the 'cheaper' next-gen console, as well as having to go back on a year's worth of press releases exclaiming said features to be irrelevant. But the pricing becomes exactly why the Elite is such a ridiculous proposition. With an MSRP of $480, it becomes just that much closer to the PS3's $600. For $120 extra, at least Sony are throwing in Blu-Ray and Wi-Fi.

Make no mistake, the Elite is not about the games. This is not a 360 for playing games on. No, Microsoft are turning it into a media centre for enthusiasts with money to burn. A platform so that more people can download media from Xbox Live. No doubt Microsoft are letting the dream of beating the iTunes store influence their decisions. The thing is, if you're a real media enthusiast who would benefit from an HDMI port, you're probably going to want some kind of high definition DVD format. So, you've got to buy the unsightly HD-DVD add-on drive before you can even compete with Sony's offering. Coincidentally, you've now gone and spent $680 total. What kind of enthusiast is going to be, well, enthused by that?

What would have made good sense would be to create an add-on that allows users to put their own hard-drives in the 360's enclosure. Just like you can with the PS3. Charge, say, forty bucks for it. Then the media-savvy 360 users can upgrade. Then, in the future, when the 65nm cores are ready, when the failure rate isn't quite so high that the warranty has to be extended to avoid a class-action suit and when they've got the cooling sorted out, introduce a 360 with a HDMI port and charge slightly more for it. Or, hey, leave all those features out and just give it a black paint job and hope nobody notices.

By offering a third SKU, Microsoft are just muddying their position in a further attempt to grab some extra cash. They've inadvertently made the PS3 seem like it's good value. And that can't be a good thing for them to do. How should Sony respond? Slash the price of the PS3 a little bit, like they did in Japan. If they did that, the Elite might turn out to be a very bad business decision

The real burning question, however: what superlative can Microsoft use that beats Elite? When they release the model intended to supersede the Elite, what can they call it? The Xbox UltraAwesome? Or perhaps the Xbox MegaIncredible?
--Martin at 20:49
Comment [ 15 ]

Comments on this post:

I really have nothing to contribute, but I just wanted to say that it is ranting like this that keeps me coming back to the site. Excellent post.

By Anonymous Mateo Suge, at 29 March, 2007 01:33  

By annectdotal evidence only, Blu-ray seems to be becoming more popular than HD-DVD as well. I know I don't even see HD-DVD discs anymore, just Blu-ray. People only seem to talk about Blu-ray now. There are rumors of Microsoft making a Blu-ray add-on for the 360. Bandai Visual is now supporting Blu-ray in Japan, having originally been HD-DVD only.

By Anonymous Baines, at 29 March, 2007 02:25  

The thing about the Elite that even the "omg microsoft sux" press hasn't caught on to- the really, really terrible and bad thing, is that the elite is mostly worthless to Canadian customers.

You see, the Video Marketplace barely exists in Canada- the only actual TV show or movie canadians can download is Viva Pinata.

So, you say, just make a US Live account: Except you can't use Canadian point cards on an American account. I'm not sure if the same is true with credit cards, but I heard it was.

So, basically, they're releasing a bigger hard drive so people can store videos, and if they release it in Canada, well, we can't download the videos that the bigger hard drive is meant to store. As it is Canadian customers would be spending over a hundred extra dollars just to get a HDMI port.

I dont know if they're planning on releasing it in Canada, but damn, if they do.. it's worthless.

By Blogger webrunner, at 29 March, 2007 10:13  

If the premium 360 was pulled from the store all that ranting may have made at least a little sense. As it is, the new box is just another option and all the blabbering about the Xbox as compared to PS3 is irrelevant - because nothing has changed.

Get a grip.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 29 March, 2007 11:27  

I have to concur with the "get a grip" opinion.

The guys who are going to buy this console are the same guys who are going to pony up $130 for the cat helmet edition of Halo3. Microsoft might well sell half a million of these things in the first month. It's just a further attempt to mine the ultra-hardcore.

But is that really a bad thing? I mean, they are a company, they're attempting to run a business here. If all you want to do is play games, then there's a $300 core pack for you that plays essentially every game perfectly well (exceptions being a soccer management sim that you can't even get in North America and FFXI).

Seriously, if there's a market out there (and I think that beyond a doubt there IS, because the PS3 is proving it), then why not sell to them? If you feel like paying 80 bucks more for a bigger hard drive and a black system, more power to you.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 29 March, 2007 14:00  

Wait, wait, wait. Are the last two commenters really saying that Microsoft is selling a version of the Xbox 360 to the ultrahardcore (whatever the frick that means) which doesn't even make the modest improvements that Martin has suggested? You know, the ones that people have been talking about for over a year?

I mean, I'd think that someone paying big bucks would expect a really polished, high-quality piece of hardware, not last year's model with a bigger hard drive and a new video cable. Please explain what it is about the new model that these big spenders will find so very attractive -- other than the conspicuously high price?

By Blogger jvm, at 29 March, 2007 14:07  

Jeremy: I think you're right, but also wrong.

Yes, I think the people that will inevitably end up paying for these are the kind of people who think their paper is somehow crisper and their books are magically more entertaining when they get lugged about in a Microsoft Xbox 360 Backpack. Especially like, as webrunner says, outside of the US, where there is no option to enjoy media content on your 360. Something I'll no doubt come across in the UK.

However, I think the people who are supposed to be buying these are the tech-savvy, media-concious enthusiasts. This is the target audience. The Elite fails to be a serious contender in that respect. Which is why "get a grip" is your argument and not "no Martin, you're wrong, it's a perfectly capable media unit for its price!" Not to mention that It's also the first serious revision of the 360 hardware, which has an esteemed reputation of being unreliable. So, instead of devoting their R&D departments to fix what doesn't work, they've produced this. It's not what people expected, or particularly wanted. Which just isn't something anyone should be okay with. But fanboys will buy it, so that's okay!

I don't go so much for the "they're a company, they're trying to make money" angle. Yeah, that's their job. We've all got our roles in the retail circuit. My job as a consumer is to make sure that my money is being spent wisely and not being frittered away on a black coat of paint. Just because people will buy it, doesn't mean they should. Microsoft could, nay, should be putting out a better product than they are. When we're resigning a product to "hey, at least the crazy devout fanatics will pick one up" on something like day three of its official life, it can't be a good sign.

By Blogger Martin, at 29 March, 2007 14:39  

The 'Get A Grip' position may be summarized thusly:

MS put out an additional version of it's console with improvements I, personally, and probably other people, have no interest in whatsoever.

That is not the same thing as argued by the original text barf, which suggested that the new product was a disastrous strategy because of its price and features.

Suddenly, the pros of the 360 vs. those of the PS3 are not irrelevant, as was suggested. The competition is the same - no products have been taken off the market. The original argument makes no sense.

If someone is saying (JVM may be saying this, it's hard to tell) that the new 360 doesn't make the changes suggested here, well, so what? I'd like to see some of those changes, too. But that is a long way from what was originally written.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 29 March, 2007 16:39  

No products have been taken off the market, but one has been added. This changes the market. They're not just dumping the Elite out of some backdoor with a "those who want it, come get it" approach. They're spending time striking up deals with more media vendors and creating advertising campaigns. In order to facilitate the bigger hard drive, Microsoft (at least in the US) has to pad out Live with even more media. Not to mention, this costs development time and money. And it takes the focus off the games, and developing those highly sought after additions to the 360 console that a lot of people have been waiting for. Even if they're developing those cooler cores and more reliable units, they can't introduce them for a good 6 months now. It would undermine the Elite.

Just because I have a Premium, it doesn't mean that the Elite won't affect me. My argument is that this not only affects what will happen to Live in the following months, or at least speculates as to certain priorities that Microsoft have, but it also affects what could have (should have, if you ask me) been prioritised over this.

I find the whole idea that you can introduce a new SKU and have everything remain the same a little naive. And, yes, as it stands, the price and features of the Elite are disastrous. But this, by extension, affects the pricing of the Premium versus that of the PS3. If a black shine and an HDMI cable cost Microsoft $80, well, by golly, they must be expensive things to add to a console. No wonder Sony charges so much, right? Those features are expensive, which gives Sony's argument credibility. Business wise? Yeah, I think it's a sloppy move. I think if they'd have held off and introduced the Elite with the cooler cores and whatnot, then more people would be willing to spend more money to get hold of one. Generating better revenue for Microsoft, and happier consumers willing to spend more cash on other Microsoft products. Of course, this is all anecdotal, but that's the beauty of personal opinion.

But, overall? No, I don't believe the competition is the same. This addition changes things. This isn't a Panasonic Q or a limited edition black release, this is a third SKU.

By Blogger Martin, at 29 March, 2007 17:17  

"However, I think the people who are supposed to be buying these are the tech-savvy, media-concious [sic] enthusiasts. This is the target audience. The Elite fails to be a serious contender in that respect. Which is why "get a grip" is your argument and not "no Martin, you're wrong, it's a perfectly capable media unit for its price!""

Tech-savvy media conscious people already know that the 360 premium is a more than adequate media device when paired with a Media Center PC, which pretty much everyone's going to have within the next few years if they are PC people instead of Mac people, because every copy of Vista Premium and Ultimate comes with Media Center functions.

I could care less about the media storage capacity of my 360. My media is stored on the approximately one terrabyte of storage that I've got on my PC, and it's streamed to my 360 as needed. And guess what? I can expand it with cheap hard drives to my heart's content.

I can and do rip entire uncompressed DVDs to my hard drive and stream them to my 360, where they play back in perfect screen ratios, with upscaling and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.

I can stream lossless audio to the system. I can download movies from amazon or wherever and play them on my 360 from my PC. I can rip HD DVD content to my hard drive and play it back on my 360 over my LAN.

So, yeah, the only people who are going to be buying the elite are the ones who have more money than sense, because the current system does everything that a tech-savvy media hound would dare to dream of.

You wanna play DIVX and XVID files? Go ahead. The only thing I've had trouble with so far is content that's in a matroska container, but that can be fixed easily, and if I was more motivated, I'd probably be able to find the appropriate plug in to enable that container format in Media Center instead of just in Media Player.

I mean, seriously, what are you even attempting to get at? The inability of the 360 to load up a media format that is ALREADY outdated and selling fewer units by the day isn't important in any way shape or form.

The person who wants to have all of their media on their 360 is a strange creature indeed in my mind. I want to be able to get my media from anywhere in my house, I want to be able to load it onto portable devices. I want to stream it over the internet to my freaking hotel room in Hawaii.

Let me know when you can do that on PS3.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 29 March, 2007 23:21  

And you can do ALL of the things that I mentioned with a core unit as well, BTW. With or without a memory unit.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 29 March, 2007 23:22  

"I could care less about the media storage capacity of my 360. My media is stored on the approximately one terrabyte [cheeky sic] of storage that I've got on my PC, and it's streamed to my 360 as needed. And guess what? I can expand it with cheap hard drives to my heart's content."

Isn't important to you, maybe. It was certainly important to a friend of mine who spent a fortune importing a HD-DVD player all the way from America because he didn't want to wait. Coincidentally, I think he's an idiot. And, yeah, it's not important to me. When it comes to streaming media I still can't beat XBMC.

But buying media off Live is certainly important to Microsoft, else they wouldn't have released the Elite. Surely? And considering it's a sloppy half-job, it's worth calling them on it. That's what I'm getting at.

By Blogger Martin, at 29 March, 2007 23:50  

They released it because it makes them $100 every time someone buys it. They released it for the same reason that there is a cat helmet edition of Halo3.

It is serving their commercial interests by making them money. That's why they're releasing it. Not to iterate the platform.

This is almost exactly the same as those stupid iMacs that were suddenly available in colors reminiscent of life savers. Someone's going to buy it and it's going to put money in someone else's pocket.

You're giving corporations way too much credit if you believe that innovation is more important than profit. Innovation is spurred on by profit opportunities, or by strategic market management opportunities (like the Xbox project, which is entirely about killing off a future competitor in the PC and living room space).

This is about tweaking the strategy to take some gravy with your fries.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 30 March, 2007 07:48  

When a quick search shows most industry analysts saying the release is a bad move... when it materially alters your position vs the competition - remember all the reviews point out that the PS3 has a better architecture for media content than XBOX, which is designed more for games, when your top offering (assuming purchasing a HD Drive) is now more expensive than your competitor, when you still have a smaller brand (remember all those PS2 sales going on right now keeping folks on Sony), when you are basically saying everyone who bought early are not elite, and in a sense outdated...

you've changed the market

it's not a 'get a grip' situation

you've probably weakened your overall position when you're business is stretched and your core underperforming (poor Vista sales and Dell going back to XP)...

so good article and I agree, this was a silly move and simply shows that in truth, MS are still scared of Sony in this market and felt they needed to match their offering rather than continue to push their offering as different.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 03 May, 2007 14:55  

This is a bad move, I agree.

And what the hell are you talking about profit for?

MS Games division is a loss maker - and don't go on about MS having pots of money, as a business it is reported and judged by wall street as a loss maker, so a move which could very well weaken your position vs your main competitor is a stupid move indeed

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 03 May, 2007 14:58  

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