Xbox 360 Offers The Last True Analog Hole?
It was almost a year ago when I did my Xbox 360 giveaway. Since that time, Xbox 360 consoles became less scarce and might be the best consumer buy this holiday season - but not because of the games. There's a whole lot of effort in the entertainment industry and in the consumer electronics marketplace to make it harder for people to use their digital media however they see fit. The Xbox 360 consoles of the current generation might be the last consumer set top devices we see that don't encumber our media consumption from a million different angles.
The Toshiba set top HD-DVD player offers HDMI output with HDCP content protection on the signal for delivering digital video to your screen. Using the HDMI output, you get full resolution video of either 1920x1080 or 1280x720, depending on what your television screen supports. It also has component outputs, but those won't display full HD resolution, instead forcing the picture to 480p. If you happen to have an HDTV with no HDMI in, you're stuck with a lower resolution picture. In general, this will become the norm as hardware ships with support for an Image Constraint Token which forces content to a maximum resolution of 960x540. The Xbox 360 currently either lacks this restriction or doesn't have any content with Image Constraint Token support turned on, as demonstrated by my recent tutorial on copying HD-DVD with an Xbox as the source.
The Xbox 360 is the exception in this case. Hampered devices are about to become the norm. Blu-ray players and the new Sony PlayStation 3 also have HDMI with HDCP content protection. Using component connections with either also hampers your experience. The Xbox continues to output the maximum resolution available without hampering the signal.
In general, this is good news if you want to maintain some level of access to your media. Granted, my method for capturing HD from the Xbox is neither affordable nor practical from a time standpoint, but I like knowing I can do it. I specifically wanted to compare some video from the Xbox and would not have been able to do so without this option. Xbox also makes streaming audio and video to your home theater easier with the new software Zune Player (no Zune hardware required) and while the experience isn't perfect, the two combined make it largely unnecessary to have a Media Center PC to enjoy watching movies from your computer in your home theater.
Before you write off the Xbox as just for kids or only for gamers, take a look at what may be the last device in the HD space with what we consider the analog hole in its unhampered format. There's no guarantee that future versions of Xbox 360 consoles will continue to allow this freedom, but in the meantime this seems to be the norm.