Choose carefully before you buy a new Xbox.
The latest ones off the production line have HDMI ports, a feature that makes them easier to connect to HDMI-equipped TVs and home theater setups.
Microsoft started putting HDMI ports onto its more expensive, limited edition consoles this year but left them off the standard “premium” consoles. Now premium consoles — the $350 models — are getting HDMI as well.
Microsoft isn’t announcing the change, other than to confirm the news. Tech blog Ars Technica floated the change Tuesday after receiving an anonymous and unconfirmed tip.
A spokesman at Xbox PR firm Edelman told me that although Microsoft does not generally comment on Xbox components, it is confirming that Xbox premiums with an HDMI port are being slipstreamed into the supply on store shelves.
“That is being phased in to the retail channel to meet demand,” he said.
The company isn’t making a big deal out of this, probably because it wants to sell out the consoles that don’t have the new port. But it is noting the change on Xbox packaging, so look for the HDMI notation if this is something of interest.
It seems coincidental to the Xbox price-drop, which was coming anyway to boost sales ahead of big fall game releases such as “Madden” and “Halo 3.”
Home theater junkies — the sort who pay more attention to the back of receivers than the front — will care the most.
HDMI is a relatively new type of connection system that carries both audio and high-def video signals through a single cable, rather than multiple cables, and it’s used on most new flat-panel televisions and home theater receivers.
The addition of HDMI ports was an inevitable move as the console evolves into a home entertainment hub capable of dowloading high-def video content and serving as a TV set-top box.
The Xbox also needed to match the connectivity of Sony’s HDMI-equipped PlayStation 3, which is going to morph into a TiVo-like digital video recorder and TV tuner next year, according to comments that a Sony executive made in New Zealand last month.
Still unconfirmed is whether the HDMI-equipped Xboxes also have cooler-running internals based on a smaller, 65-nanometer processor that was expected by now.
Overheating is a bigger concern than HDMI for most consumers, so Microsoft ought to be less secretive and let people know if and how the Xbox innards have been upgraded.
On premium consoles, at least, HDMI seems to be the only way you’ll be able to tell if you’re buying a recently built console that presumably has better thermal engineering.