If you look to any of the gaming oriented websites today you're going to see lots of commentary on the rumored new Xbox 360 that comes with a 120 gigabyte hard drive and an internal HDMI port. You'll also sese plenty of mention about Microsoft's move into IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) which is, basically, a subscription service that allows you to use the Xbox 360 to essentially act like a set-top cable box. While the release of a new-and-improved console does stand to ruffle the feathers of those of us who already own the now seemingly nutered original version of the system, the IPTV announcement isn't really that significant in my eyes. Unless I'm horribly mistaken (possible) all it does is offer an alternative to cable and satellite tv. Sure, more players in the marketplace means more businesses competing for your dollars which could, theoretically, mean lower monthly rates. But when?
For as large as Microsoft is, it's going to take a long while before their IPTV service could possibly match the offerings of your local cable provider or DirecTV for that matter. If they go the a la carte route, then IPTV could be huge, especially for folks like me who don't get HBO and wouldn't mind kicking Microsoft a few dollars a month to get it if their rates are lower than DirecTV's, but it's not like this is going to eliminate the need for cable or DirecTV anytime soon. Not only would I hate to have my television coming in over an often finnicky DSL line, but I doubt Microsoft will be lining up channels like OLN (or whatever they call themselves now), or the Travel Channel anytime soon and will certainly not going to offer services like Sunday Ticket which lets you watch every NFL game every Sunday. IPTV could mean lower prices down the road, but it does not mean the end of high cable bills. Movies and tv on demand would be great, or an a la carte network plan would be great, but this technology is still in its infancy and even if every X360 owner ponied up for it, that would still only be 9 to 10 million or homes. A mere fraction of those served by other broadcasting providers.
But enough about IPTV, I really want to talk about why I do not feel cheated, threatened, or "ripped off" by the rumored new and improved Xbox 360. Let's take a look at what the two rumored enhancements are and, for now, assume they are true. The first is the 120 gigabyte hard drive. That's huge. It's massive. Sony was raving about their 60 gigabyte hard drive and how it dwarfed the size of the original X360. But, like in all good pissing contests, Microsoft wasn't fazed. Instead they unzipped their pants and unfurled a snake twice the size of Sony's. I care not and neither should you. Microsoft made the X360 so that even the most technological novice could swap out hard drives in seconds. Without the need to open anything or use a single screwdriver. If the day comes for me to need the larger hard drive for the X360 (for movies and game demos), I'll simply go out and buy it separately. And it will take no effort at all to migrate game saves and profiles from one hard drive to another via a memory card. Problem solved. If anyone should be upset by this, it's PS3 owners. When Sony undoubtedly fires back with a 200 gigabyte hard drive next year, PS3 owners will be required to buy a new console in order to upgrade because as far as I know the PS3 has no quick-swap ability for its internal hard drives. And opening that case will void your warranty.
The other big feature of the "new" Xbox 360 is the internal HDMI port. Now, for those of you who own an HDTV capable of 1080p resolution than, yes, this is big for you. You'll definitely want the internal HDMI port if you indeed want to take advantage of everything your ultra-expensive television can do.
For the rest of us with HDTV's that handle only 720p and 1080i resolutions, the lack of an HDMI cable is no big deal. The Xbox Live Marketplace started offering movies and television show downloads late in 2006 and we downloaded the 720p version of "Swordfish" the other night. It was a 4.7 gigabyte download that took several hours to complete and, as a rental, had to be watched within 14 days or it would self-delete. It cost roughly $5 to download the movie. But that's not why I'm telling you about it. I'm bringing this up because the movie looked and sounded far superior to any DVD I've viewed on my DLP television thus far. Naturally, being that I don't have an up-converting DVD player and have only been watching movies in 480p, I was expecting a significant increase in visual clarity with the movie, but even the audio was outstanding. The scene early in the movie when the bomb goes off was jaw-droppingly impressive. The quality of the picture, the detail, and vibrancy of what we saw on screen was only outdone by the incredible audio being pumped through the Bose 3-2-1 system I have in the living room. We had the volume cranked pretty big and the lights dimmed, and it was easily as impressive as anything we've seen in a theatre lately.
And that was via component cables and optical audio.
I can understand that HDMI does offer a slightly better picture quality over component cables and the fact that it also carries the audio signal does mean fewer wires and potentially less clutter behind the cabinet, but this upgrade is far from necessary. I'm no audio-/videophile but I definitely want a good movie viewing experience and from what I can tell from my admittedly limited experience with the "Swordfish" download, the original X360 with component cables and optical audio is more than adequate.
What this does make me want to get, however, is the new HD-DVD player for the X360. Especially since it up-converts standard DVD movies. There's always something...