Xbox 360 Elite Questions and Comments Answered

Lots of questions and comments about the new Xbox 360 Elite, so here is a run down with some answers.

Question: is it quiet?

It’s said to be the exact same hardware as the Core and Premium systems.  If you consider them to be quiet, then yes the Elite is also quite.  If you consider the Core and Premium systems to be loud, then yes the Elite is also loud.

Question/Comment: Why not insist for Xbox Certification, games must be delivered on standard DVD media (for now) and if Bluray became defacto, then new models would just have a bluray drive.

This isn’t anything you need to worry about.  If Blu-ray were to win the overall High Definition format war, that means nothing in terms of game consoles.  Microsoft could still (if they wanted to), ship an Xbox with HD DVD to get the increased storage of blue laser HD DVD.  I wouldn’t imagine they will do this at all though.

Comment: I fail to see the value in this device. It is riddled with DRM and VERY expensive.

It’s not “riddled with DRM” any more than the $300 Core system.  The “DRM” in question would be to protect the hardware/software from being hacked.  And of course, this only gets in your way if you happen to be trying to hack it.

It’s less expensive than a PS3, but yes it is expensive.

Question: I have a standard XBox360, connected to my living room HDTV with the same type of component cables that are used on my HD STB. Can I connect it to my CableCard equipped Vista Media Center PC and use it to watch HDTV programming at their full resolution? Or would I need to purchase and HDMI-capable XBox360 Elite now?

Yes, you will be able to connect your new PC with CableCARD to your current Xbox 360.  Here’s how it works.

VGA = 540p always; CIT set or not

Component = 1080i (full resolution) if CIT is not set; 540p if CIT set

HDMI-HDCP = 1080i (full resolution) always

I do not know what cable companies have CIT set on.  Might be just things like HBO, might be nothing.

Question: If all I need is an extender to a Vista Media Center with Cable Cards, will the XBOX 360 Elite do anything else beyond HDMI interface and 120 GB hard drive?

The Elite should guarantee full resolution output using HDMI on all CableCARD content and on HD DVD content.



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Is Transcoding is Here to Stay?



Yesterday I wrote about how important file format and codec support is and a few people have other thoughts on the subject.  Weldon Dodd at ReWinD says that transcoding is here to stay, mainly because of the royalties that companies have to pay for each codec that they support.  This is a good point, and is very true but I have a few thoughts on this too.

There are a few things that can counter this problem.  Still on my v2 Extender rant, these royalties will already be paid when OEM’s purchase the SoC/IC/processer from Sigma.  In other words, Sigma already paid the royalties to include the decoding functionality in the hardware.  Weldon covers this as his first example, and I agree 100%.  This is clearly the way to go, and it’s why devices from NetGear, KiSS, etc have such great codec support.  This isn’t going to happen in an Xbox 360 however.

Weldon’s next example comes with software decoding, or what the Xbox 360 and TiVo are doing.  This is where the cost goes up, as Microsoft or TiVo need to pay individual royalties to all companies involved.  It’s also a problem because decoding in software takes a lot more work.  I would say this is a huge problem for a TiVo, but not a problem for the Xbox 360.  The only thing the Xbox 360 needs is specialized decoders to take advantage of the hardware.  In fact, this can already be seen with the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive.  The Xbox 360 can already decode MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264 at HD bitrates and resolutions.  All we need Microsoft to do is port that code so it’s useful to the Media Center Extender side of things.  Not as easy as it sounds I imagine, but I’m sure it could be done.

Now, assuming that for some odd reason Microsoft could not get those codec’s to work in the Media Center Extender side of things, my suggestion since before the Xbox 360 was released was to open the Live! Marketplace to codec developers.  Let DivX Inc. create an MPEG-4 ASP decoder and let them sell it to me for $15.  Microsoft get’s a kickback from that too, and I’m happy.  I’m going to pay for the codec either in the price of the console or standalone, as long as the Xbox 360 can identity the codec in question and direct me to the Live! Marketplace I don’t see a single problem with this approach.

There is still a place for transcoding, but I think so much more needs to be done first on these devices for them to really succeed.  As I said before, there is no way any company can support all codec’s and file formats, so this is where I would leave transcoding open (and for those who don’t want to buy the codec from the Live! Marketplace).

Transcoding is here to stay, but needs to be here on a smaller basis.

Great blog Weldon!



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DSC To Offer Life|Ware Home Automation Package



DSC security dealers can now offer their customers the best value on the most advanced security, home automation and entertainment solution in the industry.

Columbus, OH – March 30, 2007 – DSC introduces tomorrow’s home today with the DSC HOME Powered by Life|ware™ solution. This product bundle brings together home security, home automation, and home entertainment; all controlled in the living room via the TV screen, digital entertainment center and TV remote control. It means the customer’s TV will become the dashboard for managing security, lighting, temperature, music, pictures, video, movies and television.

Customers can conveniently control security in every zone of the house using Life|ware and the TV remote control. They can arm perimeter home security or specific zones such as the garage, while at home; or arm zones from outside the house, using electronic key fobs. The solution also includes a real-time IP camera for keeping an eye on the front door, back deck, or inside for children, pets and elderly relatives.

Customers can adjust home lighting and temperature in different areas using the TV remote control; or (with add-ons to the product bundle) operate motorized drapes, blinds and appliances the same way. They can even open and close the garage door using an electronic key fob.

In addition, the bundle includes a TV screen and entertainment center that permits homeowners to pause live TV and schedule recordings of shows and movies. Customers can manage music collections, watch DVDs, and create DVDs. They can also organize digital picture collections and create custom slide shows with them.

“We are excited to provide our installers with an opportunity to be among the first in the security industry to take customer homes into the future,’ said Bryan Watts from DSC. ‘DSC HOME and the great value offered by the Powered by Life|ware product bundle allow our customers to get into a rewarding new business very quickly with almost no learning curve. And we think the operation of the home using the TV remote and our electronic key fobs is an unbeatable combination. It’s exactly the kind of convenience that the homeowners of tomorrow will be seeking.’

Steve Cashman, vice president of sales for Life|ware said, “DSC is leading the industry by offering builders and security installers the first WSD intelligent home network-connected security system, along with a home entertainment and automation solution.”

Life|ware provides instant and simple control over home automation, security and surveillance systems from the same Media Center used to manage and distribute digital content.

DSC HOME is a program that will include many different security products relevant to the home of the future. DSC dealers can begin ordering the DSC HOME Powered by Life|ware solution through DSC distributors in the USA this spring.

For more information please visit www.dsc.com or www.life-ware.com.



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File Format/Codec Support Very Important in Convergence Devices


Ben at EngadgetHD asks if people want PC’s in their livings rooms, seeing as HP just dropped their HTPC-line I posed the question this morning.

The first commenter on EngadgetHD replied to Ben’s notion that “most people want their home theater experiences to be drop dead simple” with “I think that’s what TiVo does. It handles limited formats, but that’s all “most people” need.”

This is a critical problem that most people don’t seem to understand.  Limited formats is not “all most people need,” in fact, they need the exact opposite.  The problem with all of these devices is that they can’t play the random files people download online.  I’m not talking about pirated content, just the little stupid clips that have now made YouTube and Google Video what they are.  And while they are starting to overtake online video, there is still a ton of video in dozens of other codec’s and file formats out there.

This is a huge problem!  People don’t care how the video is encoded, they just want to play it.  Right now, they can’t do this.  The Xbox 360 supports limited formats.  TiVo (HMO) supports limited formats.  Apple TV supports limited formats.  Despite these companies’ ideas and concepts that limited codec support is all people need, it is the first way to kill your product from ever being popular (v1 Extenders would have been a hell of a lot more popular had they supported other formats, I guarantee it).

All of these devices need to be able to decode as many formats as possible to make the user experience better and more integrated.  The concept of these devices is that you can play the content on your PC in your living room.  Right now if I download some random DivX clip I can’t play it on the Xbox 360.  I can’t play it on a TiVo (HMO).  I can’t play it on Apple TV.  All of these devices have failed to do what the average consumer is buying them for.

If any of these companies want to push a good solution, it needs to support as many codec’s as possible.  And before someone replies with that fact that you can use Transcode 360 or like, that’s not the point.  Out-of-box video playback play is.  We can hack almost anything and get it to play the content, but that’s no way to move into the average consumer’s home.  XMBC is a great solution, but telling people to go rent a specific Xbox title to soft-mod their Xbox is not.  Telling people that to play XviD on Apple TV you have to strip it down to OS X underneath is not either.

Support as many file formats and codec’s as possible in your devices and have a much better chance of making it into my living room.  For Microsoft specially, it would be nice to have a product that lives up to the “Media Center Extender” name.  You know, actually being able to “extend” the Media Center options I have no my PC!

No devices will be able to support all the codec’s in the word, there are just too many of them.  However, you must support the following in your product at both SD and HD resolutions.  MPEG-1, MPEG-2, WMV7, WMV8, WMV9 (VC-1), MPEG-4 ASP (DivX, XviD, Nero Digital), MPEG-4 AVC (H.264).

Now, it’s worth saying that there are a few devices out there that play most, if not all, of these formats.  However, I choose to include Xbox 360 (Media Center Extender), TiVo HMO, and Apple TV because these are integrated solutions.  Other standalone devices generally have a lackluster UI which also kills the consumer experience.



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HP Drops Digital Entertainment Center PC Line


If you have not heard, HP is dropping their Digital Entertainment Center PC line (Via Missing Remote).  While this is sad news, from my point of view it tells me once again that people don’t want PC’s in their living room.  HP was not the first big OEM to produce an HTPC-style machine, Gateway had an amazing one a few years ago as did other big OEM’s and they all failed to.

The average consumer doesn’t want a PC in their living room.  I’m in firm belief that a huge positive factor in the Media Center platform is the ability for the consumer to choose several different PC platforms (Desktop, HTPC, etc) and compliment that with Media Center Extenders.  Even some hardcode Media Center users have moved to an Xbox 360 in their living room, and this is kind of the direction HP is taking, minus Media Center.

HP wants you to use their own software, dubbed MediaSmart instead of Media Center Extenders.  This software is built in to several of HP’s HDTV’s and is basically just UPnP media software like any Windows Media Connect device.  It doesn’t support anything like a PVR, just browsing and playing back of audio, video, and photos.  Lower level basic stuff, not the same caliber as Media Center by any means.  It will however integrate some of the same online services as Media Center does (CinemaNow, etc).

I’m not a big fan of this approach.  If HP thinks they are going to build a platform around me buying all my HDTV’s from them they have a lot of thinking to do.  That’s more crazy then thinking I’m going to buy five Xbox 360’s from Microsoft.  A (likely) $1500-$2000 new HDTV isn’t on my list my things to buy to get content from my PC to me living room.  I would rather spend $1500 on a new PC, and $300 on a Media Center Extender.  Likely to be around the same price, and it does much more.  However, it seems that HP might not be going after those interested in Media Center.

What’s your opinion?  I know a lot of ya’ll are still using PC’s in your living room.  Do you think this will affect your decisions to keep a PC in your living room in the future?  Was this the right or wrong decision my HP?

Note: HP will still be selling Desktop/Laptops with Windows Vista, which means they are still selling Media Center PC’s



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Showtime Interactive in Vista Media Center


Review: Showtime Interactive in Vista MCE (Missing Remote) | Niall let everyone know Showtime Interactive had been released, and Mike at Missing Remote got the first review in.  It looks like there are still a few bugs, which is really to bad considering how long they have been planning this.  Be sure to check out the full review, because there are a lot of high points of the service.  An On-screen keyboard, ability to backup content to CD/DVD, no time limit on downloads, and Extender compability all top the list there.

Full review here 



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The Media Center Show #101


The Media Center Show #101 | 29th March 2007 (1hour  33sec) MP3 – 20.8MB (Download Here)

This week Ian Dixon talked with Orb’s Ian McCarthy about using Orb to get your Media Center content on to a Wii and other devices, what Orb is doing with Myspace and getting Divx video on to your Xbox 360. Alo email and news items and I also introduce a new feature on the show called “Ask Charlie Owen”



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Microsoft Unveils Xbox 360 Elite


Microsoft Corp. today announced the upcoming availability of Xbox 360™ Elite, a new model of the video game and entertainment system that will include a 120GB hard drive, a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) port, a high-definition cable, and a premium black finish for the console, wireless controller and Xbox LIVE® headset. Xbox 360 Elite has enough space for a library of Xbox LIVE Arcade games and thousands of songs, as well as downloadable high-definition TV shows and movies available on Xbox LIVE Marketplace. The new 120GB hard drive also will be sold as a stand-alone accessory to give current Xbox 360 owners greater choice and flexibility in their games and entertainment experience. Additional Xbox 360 Elite accessories, such as the black Xbox 360 Wireless Controller, Xbox 360 Play & Charge kit and the Xbox 360 rechargeable battery, will be available separately. The Xbox 360 Elite and its accessories are expected to begin arriving in U.S. stores on April 29.

“Today’s games and entertainment enthusiast has an insatiable appetite for digital high-definition content,” said Peter Moore, corporate vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. “Xbox 360 Elite’s larger hard drive and premium accessories will allow our community to enjoy all that the next generation of entertainment has to offer.”

Distinguished by its black finish and signature metallic detailing, Xbox 360 Elite will have an estimated retail price of $479.99 (U.S.) and will come packed with components and accessories for the ultimate high-definition entertainment experience:

  • Xbox 360 Elite console. The console is equipped with a premium black finish and three powerful core processors capable of producing the best in HD entertainment (up to 1080p), 16:9 cinematic aspect ratio, anti-aliasing for smooth textures, full surround sound, HDMI output and DVD playback with upscaling capabilities right out of the box.
  • Xbox 360 120GB hard drive. The 120GB detachable hard drive allows gamers to save their games and store television shows, movies, music, pictures, trailers, levels, demos and other content available from Xbox LIVE Marketplace.3 The hard drive is sold separately for an estimated retail price of $179.99 (U.S.).
  • Xbox 360 Wireless Controller (black). This award-winning, high-performance wireless controller, now in black, features the Xbox® Guide Button for quick, in-game access to friends and music. It has a range of up to 30 feet and a battery life of 30 hours on two AA batteries. It is sold separately for an estimated retail price of $49.99 (U.S.).
  • Xbox 360 headset (black). Now available in black, the headset lets gamers strategize or trade taunts while playing games and send voice messages to friends on Xbox LIVE.
  • Xbox 360 HDMI cable. New to Xbox 360, HDMI allows consumers to get HD video (up to 1080p) and multichannel surround sound, all from one cable.
  • Xbox LIVE Silver Membership. With this, gamers can chat with friends online, collect achievements and gamerscores, send and receive voice and text messages, and access Xbox LIVE Marketplace content such as game demos, HD movies and TV, as well as the best in downloadable games from Xbox LIVE Arcade.
  • One-month subscription to Xbox LIVE Gold. An Xbox LIVE Gold Membership provides a complete online entertainment experience. Those who subscribe to this premium service can engage in competitive online multiplayer matches, tailor their matchmaking via feedback and accomplishments, chat with more than one person at a time, and take advantage of unique privileges in the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and Xbox LIVE Arcade.

The following accessories for the Xbox 360 Elite console will only be sold separately:

  • Xbox 360 Play & Charge kit. Complete with a charging cable and a black rechargeable battery pack, the Xbox 360 Play & Charge kit allows gamers to recharge their Xbox 360 Wireless Controller without interrupting their gameplay. It is sold separately for an estimated retail price of $19.99 (U.S.).
  •  Xbox 360 rechargeable battery (black). The rechargeable battery pack provides more than 25 hours of gameplay per charge. It is sold separately for an estimated retail price of $11.99 (U.S.).


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Reed Hastings Joins Microsoft’s Board of Directors


Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix just joined Microsoft’s Board of Directors.  Though on the finance committee, this could be an interesting move when you think about how it could relate in terms of media.  Will the closer connection between Hastings and Microsoft lead to integration of Netflix download service inside of Microsoft products like Xbox 360 and Media Center?  Hmmm



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20% Off at SmartHome | Start Your Home Automation Projects


SmartHome has a 20% off sale going until the 26th.  If you are interesting in starting a home automation project with Media Center, you can pick up INSTEON, Z-Wave, X10, etc hardware for cheap.

I’d suggest the mControl Software + INSTEON PowerLinc Controller for $109 after the 20% off.  You could also go for the HomeSeer + INSTEON PowerLinc Controller for under $200 (still need to buy the Media Center plug-in if you go that way).

20% is about the best you are ever going to get, so I’d jump on the offer. 



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