Multiple Xbox 360s planned, one with WebTV?

Two different Xbox 360 bundles to hit retail in time for Christmas.

Microsoft's is still planning to ship two different versions of its Xbox 360 console at launch, according to sources close to the company - while reports suggest that the high-end version may feature the firm's WebTV system.

It's long been thought that Microsoft plans to ship two different Xbox 360 bundles, one with a hard drive and one without, and give users the option of upgrading the low-end system with a hard drive accessory.

Sources close to the firm have confirmed this week that there's much talk of two distinct price points, which seems to indicate that this is still the plan for launch - while a report on well-connected gaming blog Kotaku gives an indication of how the two different models will be differentiated.

The site reports that the basic edition of Xbox 360 - the version without the hard drive - will not have backwards compatibility, while the "premium" version with the hard drive will ship with Microsoft's WebTV functionality built-in.

WebTV is Microsoft's effort at bringing internet communication and media functionality to the living room, and includes basic functionality such as web, e-mail and IM access along with the ability to stream music and video channels from the 'net or from local PCs.

Integrating the system with Xbox 360 would be a logical move, and a major land-grab for Microsoft in this space - which is tipped to become more important in the coming years as increasing amounts of content are broadcast over the Internet as opposed to over traditional TV networks.

A major question mark over the possibility of a the two-tier Xbox launch, however, lies with the question of customised content - one of J Allard's most vaunted goals for the new system - and how that would tie in with a low-end Xbox 360 without a mass storage device.

One part of the answer to that question is the inclusion of a high-capacity solid state memory device with the system, which wouldn't be large enough to store music or movies in any significant volume - or to act as a cache for Xbox games, as the existing Xbox' hard drive does - but would be able to act as a cache customised game assets.

Indeed, last year Israeli flash memory specialist M-Systems confirmed that it is working on a memory solution for Xbox 2, with CEO Dov Moran stating that "when users want to save their e-mail messages, copy music, or anything like that, the only storage they’ll have is what we give them."

Another part of the answer to that question may come from Kotaku's sources, who indicated to the site that around 80 per cent of the systems produced for launch would be the "premium" version - suggesting that the lower-end model is, more than anything else, a concession to launching a competitively priced "games only" system.

Sony is also widely expected to launch multiple versions of the PlayStation 3 console, which is due to arrive in 2006, with both "home media server" and stripped down "basic console" versions believed to be on the cards.

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