|Microsoft Xbox 360 HD DVD Drive|
|Home Theater Video Players HD DVD Players|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Thursday, 01 February 2007|
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Just as I was disappointed in the standard DVD performance of the Sony PS3’s Blu-ray drive, the DVD performance of the Microsoft leaves something to be desired. I just watched the entire first season of the hit series 24 (20th Century Fox Home Video) and, besides the obvious buzz kill of seeing commercials for the sixth season in stunning 720p, then having to go back and watch the first season in 480p, the fact is that the picture on any DVD looks washed out and very one-dimensional on the Microsoft drive. To rule out my TV’s 1080p internal scaler or my Integra’s component to HDMI video transcoder as the culprit of this flat and uninspiring 480p picture, I plugged the Xbox into my 19-inch Dell HDTV in my kitchen and got similar results. The picture on 24 was disappointing, with Kiefer Southerland’s character, Jack Bauer, looking more like a pasty white guy in a pub in rainy Ireland than a counter-terrorist super-crime fighting agent.
In the final battle in marshal artist extraordinaire Jet Li’s Fearless (Universal), between Tanaka from Japan and China’s Huo Yuanjia with swords and three-piece nunchuks, the contrast and picture were markedly improved. However, there was just no comparison to even a $100 stand-alone DVD player or the player in my Apple iMac G5. Kung fu spectaculars like this used to be amazing demos on DVD until House of Flying Daggers came along on Blu-ray and made everything else look lifeless.
Not having HDMI output capabilities is the most obvious omission. Other than the Samsung Blu-ray player, which had some firmware issues when it was first released, almost every player on the market benefits from a sharper, more artifact-free picture when hooked up via HDMI. By having no HDMI connectivity or analog outputs, the newest high-resolution audio formats cannot be enjoyed on the Microsoft drive. Things haven’t been fully sussed out with HDMI's audio capabilities, either, as many people have HDMI 1.1 and don’t have AV preamps or receivers that actually can decode the new HD audio formats. Just know going into buying this drive that you can’t fully realize the highest audio formats yet, but the DVD quality of sound on the discs is still pretty good.
The drive is a little plain-looking and doesn’t have the highest-quality drive tray, but it’s on par with just about any aftermarket DVD drive you will find on the market. The PS3 pulls in discs with very graceful, smooth action and outputs 1080p via HDMI, so it beats the Xbox HD DVD drive in many ways.
The Blu-ray player on the PS3 with HDMI 1.3 is almost good enough to call a reference quality player. The Microsoft HD DVD player isn’t. However, at its price point, it is a pretty good value when you consider the fact that it loads faster than any stand-alone HD DVD player on the market, comes with a nice remote and a $25 HD DVD disc. Add to that the fact that there is a real possibility that Microsoft might find a way to get digital 1080p HD output via HDMI, and I can make a strong argument why you might want to plunk down $199 for this drive. I currently wouldn’t consider the Microsoft Xbox 360 as a primary source component for your reference home theater, but if you have an Xbox 360 but don’t have an HD DVD player yet and want to see what the buzz about HD DVD is, this is an inexpensive and worthwhile way to get your feet wet.