It's worth mentioning that despite the fact that Sony made sure that the PlayStation 3 shipped with HDMI connectivity, it wasn't generous enough to bundle a cable in the box. In fact, Sony didn't even bundle a component cable in the PS3 box, meaning that there was actually no way to connect your already expensive PS3 to your high definition TV without incurring extra cost.
Incredibly, Sony's super-powered, high definition gaming console shipped with a composite cable in the box - a connection method that I wouldn't be seen dead using with a PS2 let along a high definition PS3!
Thankfully Microsoft has ensured that it hasn't fallen foul of similar bad feelings when it comes to unboxing the Elite and connecting it up. Not only do you get an HDMI cable in the box for digital high definition connection, you still get the component/AV cable that shipped with the original X360 for analogue high definition hook up. Sony, take note! Oh, and for those mad enough to be using an Elite with a standard definition TV, there's a Scart converter for the composite AV cable.
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Because HDMI carries both digital video and audio, it has the advantage of being a single cable solution, assuming that you want to use your TV speakers of course. If you want to use an external surround sound amplifier or processor, things are a little more tricky.
Recent TVs tend to have a digital audio output, which allows you to pass through the digital audio carried via HDMI to an external decoding device. But don't worry if your TV doesn't have a digital audio pass through, because you'll find that the answer is waiting for you in the Elite box. Bundled with the console is an analogue and digital breakout cable. This plugs into the AV socket and allows you to output stereo analogue or optical digital audio to an external amp or processor, while you're feeding digital images to your TV via HDMI.
Of course the big question is whether an Xbox 360 connected via HDMI actually looks better than one connected via component, and I've got to say that there's not much in it. This isn't a poor reflection on HDMI, but rather an indication that component video is still a very good connection for high definition sources. If you really look hard you'll probably admit that the HDMI connection gives you a marginally sharper image, due to the lack of DAC and ADC processing, but if you're actually enjoying a game rather than evaluating image quality, you'll probably never spot a difference.
I hooked the Elite up to a Toshiba Regza 42X3030D 42" LCD TV, which has a Full HD 1920x1080 panel and will accept a 1080p input. Interestingly, when connecting via HDMI, the Elite seems to default to the best possible resolution, so the output instantly switched to 1080p when the console was turned on.
There's no denying that bright and vivid games like Virtua Tennis 3
and Dead or Alive 4
look amazing on the Elite when connected to the Toshiba over HDMI. Likewise, dark and atmospheric games like the superb BioShock
and Gears of War
looked crisp, clean and just generally awesome. However, when switching to component output and firing up the same games, the effect was no less impressive - the Xbox 360 still looks pretty damn good, no matter which high definition connection method you opt for.