|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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This past holiday season, as people lined up in droves to try to get their hands on a Blu-ray-equipped Sony Playstation 3 video gaming console, little attention was paid to the fact that Microsoft was rolling out their external HD DVD player drive for the already well-established Xbox 360 system. With a base price of $399 for the 20-gig Xbox 360 and $199 for the add-on external HD DVD drive, Microsoft was able to essentially match Sony stride-for-stride in the high-definition format war for just about the same price, as a 20-gig PS3 costs $499 and the 60-gig PS3 is priced at $599. Both systems’ HD disc players can be operated with the game pads, but Microsoft has chosen to include a full-featured infrared remote with their $199 HD DVD player. The Sony PS3 Blu-ray drive controller will set you back another $25. You get a little more hard drive space and a few more technological advancements with the PS3, but many gamers already have Xbox 360s in their systems, so they will only feel a $199 financial sting to make their Xbox 360 able to play high-def movies.
HD DVD has been out longer than Blu-ray, and the first Toshiba players, although buggy and slow to load or reboot, were introduced at a lower price point than the stand-alone Samsung, Panasonic and Sony Blu-ray players. Many first impressions by reviewers and consumers have the Sony Playstation 3 coming through as the best Blu-ray player so far. It loads the fastest, is the most stable, outputs 1080p via HDMI 1.3 and has the best picture of the available Blu-ray players. Other than the fact that it feels kind of silly to start and stop movies using a wireless video game controller, you get a hell of a lot of bang for your buck with the PS3, it is a killer video game system, and it’s literally half the price of some of the other Blu-ray players.
HD DVD was the early sales winner as they got their players and movies to market first, but this holiday season, hundreds of thousands of PS3s were sold, with the added value of blockbuster Blu-ray movie Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (Columbia/TriStar). This was a smart move on Sony’s part, as it told the world, “Oh hey, by the way, not only does this thing play games, but it plays high-def movies in Blu-ray”. Not to be outdone, Microsoft teamed up with Peter Jackson and have bundled the 2006 special effects spectacular King Kong (Universal Studios Home Video) with their new HD DVD drive that attaches to the Xbox 360 for a limited time. This was probably a better choice than a comedy like Talladega Nights, because although you might argue that the remake of King Kong was a cheesy movie, it has some spectacular digital effects and cinematography that really make for a spectacular demo on HD DVD.
If you already own an Xbox 360 and an HDTV, this drive has the potential to be the single best and cheapest home theater add-on of the past decade. But will it be able to hang with the stand-alone HD DVD players and give the PS3’s Blu-ray player a run for its money?
Microsoft saves it hippest packaging for its video game products. The solid green Windows XP box was pretty unsexy and, although they have stepped up their game with the Vista line, that will be out by the time this article publishes. Microsoft Xbox 360 products and packaging are a lot cooler. The drive comes in a shiny compact white cardboard box that wastes no space. The instruction manual, firmware update disc and the bonus King Kong HD DVD disc are housed in a nifty little pocket on the flap of the box, very much like the way an iPod's accessories and instruction manual are bundled.
Pulling the HD DVD drive out of its cool, static-free plastic bag, it had a nice amount of weight for an aftermarket drive. I have owned many videogame systems in the past that promised big things for aftermarket drives (anyone remember the CD-Rom drive for NEC Turbografix?) but this is the first accessory since perhaps the Intellivision speech module that I was genuinely looking forward to.
The drive is a perfect cosmetic match to the Xbox 360. It doesn’t have the space age, futuristic lines of the sleek black PS3, but the muted, off-white/gray Xbox 360’s looks have grown on me over the past several years and the HD DVD drive has the same concave sides and rounded edges that make it look perfect when laid on top of the side of the 360 unit. When standing vertically, there is a tray that holds discs in place, just like the PS2 and PS3 units. The disc drive door has a shiny chrome finish plastic and, although the disc tray is a little flimsy, it is on par with any decent aftermarket DVD-ROM drive that you would buy for a desktop computer.