Hardware Test: Xbox 360 Elite • Page 5

Has Microsoft done enough revision?

HDMI vs VGA vs Component

Or... "Should I upgrade from my classic 360?"

OK, so the nice black case looks a bit better than the original retail Xbox 360. And that 120GB hard disk is not to be sniffed at. But the $64,000 dollar question boils down to whether the HDMI output of the Elite is sufficiently better than the VGA and component options that the current unit already possesses. In short, is the Elite a worthwhile upgrade if you already have current generation 360?

Microsoft has said time and time again (presumably to counter PS3 hype) that the analogue options on the 360 are more than good enough to match a pure digital output. Indeed, they've been dubbed 'broadcast quality' on more than one occasion by Microsoft's ever-present internet evangelists such as Amir Majidimehr from Microsoft's Consumer Media Technology group, a regular on the AVS Forum

Now, thanks to the option of a digital output, we can finally put that to the test once again thanks to the Digital Foundry HD capture unit, a machine that captures the full quality of any HD signal, be it analogue or digital, component or VGA, DVI or HDMI.

In-Game Tests

Just like the HDMI quality test, we chose games where we could get exact frames duplicated, so we could capture the same action using all three output options. So that would be a welcome return for Ridge Racer 6's AV Player, a recorded battle from the Halo 3 beta featuring Johnny Minkley and Richard Melville being ruthlessly gunned down like stinking pigs, and a couple of shots from the intros to Shadowrun's training missions.

rr62

There's a small degree of difference in the colour levels between all three shots (which may well be down to the capture unit - calibrating analogue is not an exact science) but the important thing to notice is that all the key resolution is maintained in both the analogue (component, VGA) shots and the lossless HDMI output.

Now, the Digital Foundry HD capture machine is extraordinarily precise - far more accurate than any consumer monitor has any need to be. So the real question revolves around how good your display is. Typically, cheaper HDTVs and flat panels work better with digital (converting analogue signals back to digital can be a tricky business), whereas you'll be hard-pressed to notice the difference between component and HDMI on a good screen.

My test screen was a Dell 2405FPW, and while HDMI looked brilliant, there was a tangible loss of quality on VGA and component looked far worse. I'm sure it'll be a different story on many different displays.

So while Microsoft is right to extol the virtues of its component and VGA outputs, the fact is that a digital output cuts out an additional element of processing analogue to digital at the display end and in many cases, this gives a huge quality boost. The only question is, if picture quality is an issue, do you upgrade your Xbox to Elite status, or do you put the cash towards a better display? Much as I prefer the Elite to the original 360, I think I'd sooner have a higher quality display capable of better results from a wider range of sources both analogue and digital.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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