Microsoft has launched phase two in its plan to stay ahead of Sony in the next-gen console war. The black Xbox 360 Elite has gone on sale in the US. It's essentially an update to the existing console with new HDMI output and a 120GB hard drive.
Microsoft stole a serious march on Sony when it unleashed the Xbox 360 a year before the PlayStation 3 was launched. Since then, Microsoft has flogged 11 million of its consoles, while the PlayStation 3 has seriously underperformed in the retail market since its inception earlier this year.
And now the American giant hopes it can give Sony another kick in the teeth. It's bringing the 360 bang up to date with new features which match, and in some areas exceed, the PS3 fixture set. And the Elite is still the cheaper console too.
The Xbox 360 is just as powerful a machine as the PlayStation 3, but being one year older than its rival, some parts of it are slightly outdated these days; notably the storage and the connectivity . So Microsoft has topped the PlayStation 3's 80GB hard drive with a 120GB drive in the Elite and has also included an HDMI output to equal that of the PS3.
It's not yet available in the UK though, but according to HMV it will go on sale here at some point later on in the summer.
But the hot new console has come under some criticism in the past weeks since it was announced by Microsoft. It only comes with HDMI version 1.2, and not 1.3 as sported by the Sony PlayStation 3. This means the Xbox 360 Elite isn't compatible with high definition surround sound formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
While this is bound to be a disappointment to more audiophile Xbox 360 fans, the overwhelming majority are unlikely to be affected.
Another criticism is that Microsoft has failed to include an internal HD DVD drive in the Elite. Gamers would have to spend around £100 on the external Xbox HD DVD player to watch an HD movie on the console.
But despite the missing high definition drive, Microsoft has been talking up the 1080p HD capability of the new box.
"Today's games and entertainment enthusiast has an insatiable appetite for digital high-definition content," claimed Microsoft's Peter Moore, corporate vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft.
Second placed console
"[The] Xbox 360 Elite's larger hard drive... will allow our community to enjoy all that the next generation of entertainment has to offer."
While the Xbox 360 has sold more than any of the other next-gen consoles to date, the Nintendo Wii is currently dominating the market with faster sales all round.