It looks as if the Xbox 360 will be getting an HDMI-powered overhaul before it even hits its second birthday. AOL's Engadget sports what looks to be an authentic, leaked, back-panel shot of the next generation of the Xbox 360, which includes an HDMI jack directly below the proprietary A/V port found on existing 360s. According to the story, the new unit--codename "Zephyr"--will also offer a 65nm CPU (said to be less prone to overheating) and a much more spacious 120GB hard drive (perfect for downloading the growing list of HD movies and TV shows available on Xbox Live). Pricing isn't specified, but Engadget says the revamped Xbox will be available "soon."
Why does HDMI matter? A recent firmware upgrade added 1080p output to the Xbox 360, but actually getting that resolution is a challenge considering few HDTVs accept 1080p input from component and VGA inputs, which are the only two options on the current 360. Microsoft was always vague as to when and how it would add HDMI capability to its console, and the need for a dedicated HDMI port seems to confirm suspicions that the A/V port on the current 360 just can't support digital video output (thus the absence of a DVI or an HDMI adapter to date). The HDMI-equipped Xbox 360 removes those compatibility problems, adding plug-and-play 1080p support to a larger (and growing) list of TVs, and it obviates another distinction from the HDMI-equipped PlayStation 3.
In fact, all three of these upgrades--the HDMI output, the 65nm CPU, and the larger hard drive--have been rumored for months. I'm hoping Microsoft will take the opportunity to correct some of the 360's other annoyances, particularly the loud fan and optical disc drive noise and the gargantuan external power supply. And while I'm in wish-list mode--why not just make the HD DVD drive internal, so we don't need that kludgy add-on?
Prospective Xbox 360 buyers should definitely hold off until we find out exactly when the new model will hit stores and how much it will cost. Existing 360 owners can take solace in the fact that the hard-drive upgrade will certainly be available separately and that 1080p resolution isn't necessarily the dramatic improvement over 1080i that the TV manufacturers claim it to be.