An Xbox 360 Elite 2.0 Wish List for Home Theater Geeks

Because its official date is less than a week away, I've been thinking a lot about the Xbox 360 Elite. By and large, the gaming press doesn't really get it, but that's because its not for them. An alternative name for it could have been Xbox 360 Home Theater Nut Edition.

There's a lot of good to it. The HDMI cable allows for HD-DVD at 1080p over a single cable. Good because those of us with low-end TVs don't have to depend on the TV for deinterlacing. The HDD upgrade is welcome for storing more HD movies. But those are rentals that expire. And DIY hacks as well as an official upgrade for the regular 360 will be around, it's questionable how much value that drive has.
So it comes down to HDMI and black paint.

Still, as someone who's taken an intense liking to the Xbox video marketplace and the HD-DVD player, I still want one. (Pay for one is a different story.) But what I really dream about is a version that commits the console to the living room in a much greater way. Here's my wish list:

DVR Functions: Let's start out with a bang. I want to forget about the Vista box in the living room, and shove it in the office, the way it was intended to be (See: HP ditching Home Theater PCs). Right now, to have both gaming and a DVR in the living room, the Microsoft ecosytem stupidly requires you to have both a media center PC and Xbox side by side. That's pretty idiotic. Just give the Xbox an external, USB 2.0 Cablecard tuner and a firmware update with DVR functions inside. Done.

Then...

Native Vista Media Center Interface: Right now, the sore spot on the Xbox's user interface are the music, photo and video browsing menus. They're slow when it comes to large amounts of media, even when stored on the Xbox. Maybe it's not so bad, but it pales in comparison with Vista's Media Center interface, which can be accessed only when you're using the Xbox as an extender to a Vista PC. We'd like that interface for playing back media on the Xbox as well. We know they didn't do this because they wanted to keep the whole UI consistent, but right now it falls apart when doing anything beyond the very basic.

That amazing crossbar, which could be the only time in history where Microsoft has trumped Apple's UI (see Front Row), should somehow be integrated more tightly into Xbox's basic media playback. I'm not saying it would be easy, but it would be nice to not have to depend on another machine in the house to access the best media playback UI in the industry, which is already on the box. And it would be great if you kept the access to Internet video services that compete with Marketplace, if for no other reason than no single provider of video is going to have everything. Open up the box just a bit and make it more powerful.

External Hard Drive: The 120GB HDD will hold more HD flicks than the four or so that the 20GB version does. Let's assume that one day soon you'll be able to buy movies and not just rent them on an Xbox. Wouldn't it be nice to plug in an external drive to have even more space? (Even a series 3 TiVo has more than double the space.) I'm sure you can work out a copy protection scheme that works as well as the current drives. (Which is already broken.) This is doubly critical if the Xbox is to gain DVR functions.

Cooler Chips: The still unseen cooler-running 65nm chips would be a luxury for gamers, but are necessary for a machine meant to stay silent while playing back movies. This is critical for home theater gear. Even the PS3 realizes this with its generally whisper-quiet fan system. (Folding@Home activity turns it into a hair dryer, but I'm talking about movie playback.)

Video Processing Voodoo: Couldn't hurt to spend a bit more time and few bucks on better upscaling hardware for the video setup. If you're rejiggering the Xbox to be a DVR, might as well put a dedicated encode chip in there (if there isn't already) that can also do a better job of upscaling DVDs (right now it's oh so bad) and other content, as well as give HD it strong due. I'm not a former editor at Sound and Vision or anything, but I know what can be improved upon. If you have more thoughts on this, leave 'em in the comments or drop me a line.

Built in HD-DVD drive: The external was a great upgrade; a consumer-affordable, hedged bet on an untested tech. Well, both Blu-ray and HD DVD are entrenched. And a special edition Xbox for the home theater should have the format of choice inside. But while I'm wishing and asking, let's make it a dual format player for Blu-ray compatibility, and give it burning capabilities for archiving DVR shows (Like a Vista box.)

A Docked Alternative: It would be great to see all this stuff in a single box, reminiscent of Japan's special edition PS2 with living room media functions, the PSX. But for true marketshare, I'd like to see an upgrade dock with the same setup as the special edition, including additional storage, WiFi 802.11N, card readers, CableCard slot and the proper AV inputs and outputs worthy of a home theater machine, as well as a built-in HD and burning optical drive.

Of course, if this thing ever comes out, all the Elite owners will really have something to bitch about. Regardless, the beloved Xbox has a lot more potential than just as a gaming machine. Write me your thoughts and I'll update this post with more wishes.

Xbox 360 Elite [Gizmodo]