One of the many things people complained about when the Xbox 360 was first released was the lack of an HDMI port. Many speculated that they could come out with an HDMI adapter down the road however that speculation has since been quashed. More recently we’ve seen report after report after report confirming that an HDMI capable Xbox 360 does exist and that it will arrive very very soon (update: it’s now official). What does this mean for gamers? What does this mean for people who’ve already bought an Xbox 360? Read on to be enlightened…
Why can’t older consoles can’t be adapted?
Soon after the Xbox 360 launch it was speculated that HDMI might come in the form of an adapter using the existing Audio/Video port. Though it didn’t take long for hackers to probe the data lines and run a few basic test to determine that the port wasn’t designed to carry digital video data. Furthermore, neither was the video encoder chip (named ANA). As many know (and most probably don’t even realize) the Xbox 360 includes a very capable scaler chip that allows gamers to change their output resolution to pretty much anything they want regardless of what the game actually supports. This scaler is completely analog. So despite the capabilities of the GPU the ANA scaler make all outputs analog. Getting HDMI from an analog scaler would require that all the data be translated back to digital, and that hardware just doesn’t exist in the Xbox 360. The only way would be to use an external adapter.
Some speculated that Microsoft would release and external adapter to perform the analog to digital conversion. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. VGA/Component to DVI/HDMI converters run in the range of $200 (for those keeping track at home, that’s half to three quarters of the cost of a new Xbox 360). An Official MS brand adapter would most likely be priced in the same range. If you really wanted one of these adapters theres no reason you can’t just buy one right now and start using it. There are two big problems with using an external adapter for HDMI: 1.There’s no HDCP, meaning that when the ICT starts getting enabled on HD-DVD movies down the road you still can’t play them; and 2. Since the data was being converted to analog before being converted back into a digital format you loose whatever added quality you might have been hoping for with an all digital signal. The absolute best you could hope for is as-good-as the analog signal you were starting with. So all in all you just added another 50-75% to the price of your console and gained a big fat NOTHING. The only people who should be using external adapters are those that simply don’t have analog inputs available and only have HDMI or DVI-D. AFAIK there isn’t anyone in that situation. I’ve never seen an HDTV void of analog inputs.
Why wasn’t the HDMI port included in the first place?
Timing. The Xbox 360 was finished and already in manufacturing before the HDMI spec was finalized. Never mind how much it would cost to implement extra bleeding edge technology at the last minutes. While true that HDMI was first introduced in 2002 the HDMI 1.3 spec and subsequent HDMI 1.3a spec were not finalized until 2006 meaning that until November 2006 (a whole 12 days before the Xbox 360′s launch) the state of HDMI was in flux. As for cost the scaler was essentially an off the shelf part that MS owned originally designed in their WebTV division. A complete redesign from the ground up of the scaler would have added significant cost and pushed out the already aggressive launch time line. Not to mention they would have had to implement, at latest 2005′s version of the spec (HDMI 1.2 and 1.2a) as production was already started by the time version 1.3 was released in 2006.
Considering that HD-DVD was dropped as a standard feature in the console (also due to it not being ready in time for the Xbox 360′s launch) there really wasn’t much benefit to including HDMI; HDCP was no longer required. Beside the fact that only a small portion of the game buying population own HDTVs, and that only a small portion of HDTV owners had HDMI ports, even a smaller amount of people are capable of discerning the differences between an analog signal over component or VGA versus a digital signal over HDMI when administered the Pepsi challenge. Home Theater buffs and videophiles aside most people don’t understand the fundamental differences between component and HDMI nevermind actually noticing the differences they offer in picture fidelity. That’s not even considering that any digital video system implemented in the Xbox 360 would most likely be low budget to keep costs down leading one to question: would HDMI offer any quality boost at all?
What does an HDMI enabled console mean for existing Xbox 360 owners?
Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything at all. This is probably my biggest pet-peeve is listening the WAHmbulance drive by every other forum post. let me be clear about this:
A new version of the console doesn’t mean you’re being screwed. You knew what you bought when you bought it.
To use a car analogy (everybody’s favorite): Honda wont replace your 2005 Civic when the 2006 model arrives with some new features. You knew what you bought when you bought it, if you didn’t think an Xbox 360 sans-HDMI was worth the $300-$400 price tag then you shouldn’t have bought it, plain and simple. Similarly if you’re complaint is that you have the HD-DVD drive and are worried that the big bad ICT will come and murder your non HDCP protected resolution, well then you’re an idiot for buying an HD-DVD drive, or a cheap-skate for buying the gimped Xbox 360 version as opposed to a real player; take your pick.
If your argument is that console’s shouldn’t change, then you’ve been living under a rock; nearly every console in existence has gone through major and frequent redesigns, that added or removed features. Some of the changes were more visible then others. This one is no different. Heck even the PS2 had a major revision change that included a more reliable DVD drive and built in IR receiver for the DVD remote, among other things, and that was before the Slim PS2. If you’re under the misconception that console’s don’t go through these kinds of revisions then you simply haven’t been paying attention, it’s been happening since the invent of Video games in the 70s. Products get new features and lower price tags over time, game consoles are no different…
SHUT UP AND DEAL WITH IT!
If you’re really that broken up about it start taking responsibility for your own actions. No one is stopping you from selling the console you have today sitting on the money and buying an HDMI version when it comes out. Consider difference in price between the sale of the used console with the price of a new one a rental fee for the months of gameplay you got out it. If you can’t deal with being away from your beloved console while you wait, well then HDMI must not really be all that important to you and there’s no real reason for you to complain because you’re not willing to wait for what you want.
Personally, I say bring it on. I’ll happily buy another console when it comes out. I don’t need an HDMI port I don’t even own a display that can accept that signal (I was waiting for it to be finalized before I spent the money on one), I don’t need a bigger hard drive (I haven’t even filled the 13GB of free space I’ve got now), and I don’t need a special black case and controller, nor do I need a less noisy console or one that runs cooler. Those things might be nice to have but they certainly don’t make me regret my purchase decision back in November 2005, nor feel that I was cheated now that a new version is coming out. I knew exactly what I was buying when I bought it, and I got what I paid for I can’t even say that much for some other products.
I like to play around with console innards and I’ve always intended to buy a second Xbox 360 when a new revision or a price drop became available (which ever happened first). Seeing as a new version will be arriving with some nice to have features I’m happy to spend the money on it. I’ll use it as my primary console and I’ll tool around with the one I bought over a year ago. I knew what I was buying when I bought it, and I was happy with my purchase, and I still am. I’m sure we’ll see another revision to the console appear down the road, and price drops, and another revision. That’s the life of consumer electronics… deal with it.