Last time Microsoft updated the Xbox 360, it was 2010. The so-called Xbox 360 S added some much-needed upgrades to the 360, including built-in Wi-Fi, a larger hard drive, and a smaller chassis. More importantly, the 360 S was quieter, and incorporated a new hardware design that eliminated the notorious "Red Ring of Death" overheating issue that afflicted the 360 since it was first introduced in 2005.
For 2013, Microsoft has introduced another version of the 360, known as the Xbox 360 E. But with its successor, the Xbox One, hitting stores in November -- along with its arch-rival, the PlayStation 4 -- is there any reason to sink $300 into a new 360? And even if you do set your sights on the 360, is the latest model the biggest bang for your buck? I spent some time with the 360 E, and here's what I found out.
The new 360 vs. the previous 360
A bit smaller than 2010’s Xbox 360 S (I'm talking millimeters here), there's really only a few aesthetic changes to the design of the 360 E. For starters, it's designed to fall in line with stylings of the Xbox 360's incoming successor, Xbox One. The 360 E shares a similar glossy and matte mashup with angled grilles on top and on either side for venting.
On the back panel, the all-important HDMI connection is still there, but there's no longer a multi-AV out port. Instead, what's left is a jack for a 1/8-inch breakout AV cable. A cable for a composite connection (yellow video plus red/white stereo audio) comes in the box, but you'll need to find a component one for HD. The good news is that the cables are no longer proprietary. The bad news? Still, to this day, you cannot play Xbox 360 in HD right out of the box without supplying your own cables.
Microsoft has eliminated some of the versatile connection interfaces that were present on the 360 S -- which is actually kind of a bummer. Gone is the dedicated optical audio-out found on earlier 360 models. That means the only way to get surround sound is through the HDMI connection. If you're like me and have a slightly older AV receiver that can't accept audio over HDMI, you might be in trouble.
If this wasn't enough, the Xbox 360 E actually removes a USB port as well. You're probably not going to feel the impact of only having a total of four ports (two in the front, two in the back) as opposed to five, but when you're paying the same price as a 360 S, one would assume that all the parts would be kept intact.
Another slight difference: the touch power and eject controls from the 360 S have been replaced with more-traditional physical buttons.
There are, however, a few things that survived the trip from S to E. The 360 E maintains the elusive infrared port (so, unlike the IR-less PS3, you can still use standard remote controls) and a replaceable hard drive (you'll still need to use the proprietary Microsoft model, not just a standard laptop HDD).
What else is different? Not a whole lot. The 360 E can stand horizontally or vertically. The power slot is differently shaped, but the inline power brick from the S is still present. Ethernet and Wi-Fi are still onboard for online connectivity, and the dedicated Kinect port remains.
Microsoft debuted the E console saying it would run quieter and cooler. During my few weeks with it I did notice those two things to be true, but nowhere near the dramatic improvement going from a "classic" white 360 (the 2005 version) to the 360 S (2010 version). If temperature and noise are your two biggest reasons for seeking an upgrade, allow me to talk you out of it.
Gaming and entertainment options
The Xbox 360 is the top-selling game console of this generation with good reason. The game library is top-notch, with all of the top third-party games you'll also find on PS3 (Madden, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed, BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and so forth), plus a handful of key Xbox exclusives, such as the Halo, Gears of War, and the Forza series, as well as the upcoming Titanfall. There’s also a great selection of smaller downloadable indie titles on Xbox Live Arcade.