Souped-up Xbox 360 set for April

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Sixteen months after the release of its Xbox 360, Microsoft Corp. is unveiling a $480 "elite" version of its next-generation console April 29 that will come with a 120GB hard drive and cables for HD hookups.

Microsoft also said that its Xbox Live Marketplace is adding video content from New Line Cinema, A&E Network, the National Geographic Channel and extreme sports site TotalVid. The digital distribution network allows gamers to buy and download TV shows in HD and rent and download movies in HD.

The original Xbox 360 -- which according to Wedbush Morgan Securities has sold 5.1 million units in the U.S. through February -- comes with a 20GB hard drive in the $400 Premium system. Microsoft also will sell the new 120GB hard drive separately for $180. The drive will come with a cable to allow gamers to transfer data from the 20GB drive to the new one.

"This is a new SKU in our lineup," Albert Penello, director of global platform marketing for Xbox, said of the Xbox 360 Elite. "As we introduce the larger hard drive, new people can make a choice. No matter what price point you want to enter gaming, we have something for gamers. It's up to the consumer where they want to enter the HD gaming market."

Microsoft will continue to support the current $300 and $400 hardware, Penello said. The black-boxed Elite will not include a built-in HD-DVD drive. Penello said the new box has nothing to do with the HD-DVD format. Sony's PlayStation 3, two versions of which retail for $500 and $600, has a Blu-Ray DVD drive for high-definition.

"We're completely committed to HD-DVD and have the $200 external HD-DVD drive add-on for Xbox 360," Penello said. "We don't want to segment the user base for games. We don't want confusion that some games might be on HD-DVD. All of our games will be on the current DVD format."

The Xbox Live Marketplace has become the No. 2 overall online video distribution network behind only Apple's iTunes, Penello said. Video Marketplace is the top video download service connected to your TV, and it's the only service delivering both HD movies and TV shows.

New Line films available on Xbox Live include such recent fare as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," "Snakes on a Plane" and "Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny" and such catalog titles as the "Austin Powers" films and "Magnolia." A&E will bring such TV shows as "Dog: The Bounty Hunter," "King of Cars," "Driving Force," "Criss Angel Mindfreak" and "Gene Simmons: Family Jewels" to the service. NGC will have such shows as "Is It Real?" and "Taboo" as well as documentaries including "Air Force One" and "21 Days to Baghdad."

Other Xbox Live content providers include Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate Entertainment, CBS, ABC, Adult Swim, the CW, Spike TV, ABC, NBC, Nicktoons Network, Nickelodeon, VH1, MTV, MTV2, UFC and NASCAR.com.

"When developing Xbox 360, we thought there would be two trends that would be prominent in this generation," Penello said. "The first is high definition and the second was online. The digital distribution and the online method of getting HD content has really blown us away."

There have been more than 135 million downloads on Live Marketplace, including the first game, "Uno," to exceed sales of 1 million downloads, said Penello, who added that 70% of Microsoft customers have downloaded some type of content.
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