Fully Tested: The Xbox 360 Elite's HDMI Video is the Best

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When the Elite showed up earlier today, I decided to cut to the chase and test the only thing that matters on it: the HDMI output. It's not a new console. Almost everything about the Xbox 360 in white stands true for the Elite: It theoretically doesn't run cooler, or quieter, or faster, and you've already seen the beauty shots, videos, guttings, and more weeks ago.

Don't let the black paint job distract you; the only thing you need to ask is if it improves the video quality. After seven hours of testing, with standard definition DVDs, HD DVDs, benchmark discs, WMV movies from Marketplace, games, and even photos, I have my verdict:

The XBox Elite's HDMI output is the best around for all the formats I mentioned above.

Should you buy it?

Gamers who have an Xbox 360? No!

Videophiles looking for an HD DVD player? No!

Videophiles looking to get into the Xbox Live video marketplace? Yes, but know that this bitch is still loud.

Guys like me who are gamers and video geeks? Ya, this is for you. The fact that all that video and audio is being piped through a single HDMI cable is a bonus. And this is confirmed by only one other Xbox Elite owner, but I swear it's a touch cooler and quieter, but those differences could come from the old unit's worn fan bearings, and dust on heatsinks causing undue heat retention. It's a wash.

It's kind of technical, but if you really want to know why the HDMI is better, read on.

Let's start with video. Playing back the Xbox 360 Marketplace trailer of 300 (720p), I paused and photographed the WMV file at similar timestamps, and compared component and HDMI output of both using a Canon 30D DSLR: Shadow detail was better with the HDMI.

Then I ran through the HD DVD player, using Tokyo Drift and the newly minted HQV Silicon Optics test disc—the rigorous test disc benchmarks showed the same flaws on both the HDMI and Component outputs. Jaggies That means the video processor between the older and newer Xbox is likely identical, or of identical quality. That's the processor, though. This isn't a high-end HD DVD player. As for the outputs and what I saw with my own eyes and confirmed with my camera. The HDMI's slightly better shadow detail showed itself. That detail might be lost on a lesser TV or the untrained eye. But remember that the component cables are limited to 1080i. So HDMI wins at full 1080p with no compromises, but with VGA cables you have a draw.

Then I moved to the standard def HQV tests, which is a moot test: The component cables can't upscale standard-def DVDs. They run at 480p, no matter what. The upscaling you'd see is being handled by the TV. We're really testing the TV, not the component output. HDMI wins, with another tie for VGA.

Playing games, Command and Conquer and Virtua Tennis yielded no differences between the 1080p signals of all three cables—except the strange washed out colors that the VGA cables sometimes show (GRAW and Gears of War, for starters). The HDMI again has that shadow detail boost that comes up over and over again. HDMI wins for a better picture, even though all cables do the 1080p dance with games.

Photos. I loaded up some 1920 x 1080 images onto a thumbdrive and did back-to-back testing of both color bars and vacation photos. This is where the HDMI's shadow details were most apparent. It's worth nothing that most LCDs and only some plasmas are going to have the great shadow detail that this Aquos does. So a lesser TV will either benefit from the low-end picture boost, or it'll miss it completely. Depends.

But between that little boost, the inability for the analog component cables to a) upscale DVDs b) do full 1080p output on HD DVDs, HDMI beats it. And while the VGA cables are capable of 1080p for HD DVD and are capable of upscaling DVDs, the reported color issues should give you pause. HDMI wins with no compromises.

*Caveats: For all tests, the TV, a Sharp Aquos 52-inch 92 series, had fixed settings on standard, dot-by-dot mapping, noise reduction off. The camera's exposure was the same for both side-by-side shots.

It's possible the TV had a different calibration for its component inputs versus its HDMI ones, but then that has to be the case on the plasma I tested it with for a bit.



Fully Tested: The Xbox 360 Elite's HDMI Video is the Best

Fully Tested: The Xbox 360 Elite's HDMI Video is the Best

Fully Tested: The Xbox 360 Elite's HDMI Video is the Best

Fully Tested: The Xbox 360 Elite's HDMI Video is the Best

Xbox 360 Elite [Gizmodo]