The Active Network

ActiveXbox Active Network | Announced Titles | FAQ | ForumNews 

  *  

 
Xbox 360 HD-DVD Player

Xbox 360 - HD-DVD Player
Company:
Microsoft
Website: Official Site
Estimated Street Price: $199.99/£129.99
Review By:
Byron Hinson

How Does It Play?

The HD-DVD hype has been in full flow over the past few months, largely thanks to Toshiba getting their HD-DVD players out almost on time. The other plus point so far for the format has been the release of Dual Formatted movies, with both HD-DVD and DVD files on one double sided disc.

Well its December now and finally Microsoft has done what they told us all they would never do, release an add-on HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360. Yes this is all to do with competing with blu-ray, but I for one am pleased that I don’t have to pay over the odds for a HD-DVD drive thanks to Microsoft.

You've experienced next-gen gaming on Xbox 360™ … now experience next-gen DVD movies with HD DVD. Available November 2006, the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player is the most affordable way to jump into the next generation of DVD technology, along with the flexibility to enter when you are ready. Just plug Xbox 360 HD DVD Player into Xbox 360 and enjoy the ultimate home theater experience with more clarity and detail than broadcast, cable or satellite HD. Feed your HDTV the high definition content it craves with HD DVD on Xbox 360!

·         Stunning video and immersive surround-sound audio with up to six times higher resolution than standard DVD.

·         Innovative interactive content enables PIP commentary, scene selection, and menu access, all while the movie is playing!

·         Only HD DVD offers a 'combo' disk: DVD on one side allows playback on all your existing DVD players in your home or car.

·         Enjoy hundreds of great HD DVD movies this holiday from major studios such as Universal, Warner, Paramount, Studio Canal, and more.

·         Independent research of gamers and players shows HDTV owners prefer HD DVD two to one over Blu-ray.

The even better news is that the drive was well worth the wait and the general quality is superb, but before we get to the little details let’s talk about the setup. The first think you have to do is connect it up to your Xbox 360. The HD-DVD drive attaches to a USB port on the Xbox 360, It can attach to any of them, though I recommend plugging it into the back one as the Wireless Ethernet controller can then clip onto the back of the HD-DVD drive. It is probably good to know that the HD-DVD drive comes with its own power supply, it isn’t powered via the USB 2.0 port which some people were expecting it would be.

On the back of the HD-DVD drive you have two extra USB ports, one as I have already stated, can be used for the wireless adapter, while the other one can be used for whatever you want it to. Personally I have attached the Xbox Live! Vision Camera to mine as it freed up the front USB ports on the Xbox 360 and generally made it look much tidier. Before you attach the USB cable from the HD-DVD drive to the Xbox 360, you need to install the software off of a DVD that comes in the box, once inserted it runs a small setup and then asks you to attach the HD-DVD drive to the 360, then after a few seconds you are ready to go.

All of the main video decoding is done within the Xbox 360 itself, it even uses up all three CPU cores and the Xenos GPU to full effect so that it can process the MPEG4AVC and VC-1 compressed video. Reading up on the internet we’re told that only Gears of War has come closer to using up the full power of the Xbox 360. The HD-DVD player software itself has 4.5 million lines of code, though expect that to increase a lot more in the future as some software on the HD-DVD disks is found to be incompatible right now (Miami Vice has a feature that doesn’t work on the 360 drive). With all the work going on inside the Xbox 360, despite a lot of people saying it runs quietly, the Xbox 360 itself makes quite a noise through the fans when watching a film.

As you may already know, the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive currently ships with the High Definition version of King Kong (Sadly not the new extended edition), the reason for this is a good one, it’s probably the best looking HD movie on HD-DVD right now(apart from MI 3) so what better movie to show off the drive than that one? Well let’s just say the picture quality is superb, when comparing it against the DVD version you can clearly see the jump in resolution and the lack of compression blocks that show up on the HD-DVD version. Scenes are full of vibrant colour, the likes of which haven’t been seen before.

Review Quotes
"Microsoft can’t really go wrong with the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, its priced perfectly, it matches HDMI video output on other HD-DVD players through the VGA cable. The picture quality is superb and it has looked great on three different HD-Ready Televisions we have tried it out on.  The only let down in the whole package is the audio performance; I am really disappointed with that part of the HD-DVD drive.  If Microsoft can get a fix out for the 5.1 performance quickly, then I’ll only be buying HD-DVD titles from now on as the picture quality is the best I have seen. "

I have tried three other films on the HD-DVD drive to see what differences might occur. The next title I tried out was “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” and I have to say that is looks wonderful in high definition, and this is a title that already looks great on DVD. The picture quality was almost perfect, this was probably due to the way in which it was filmed though as their film process was far better than high-definition quality anyway, but either way it’s a fantastic looking title. The interactive menu was different on the Corpse Bride too, it was better laid out than King Kong’s and easier to navigate too, though it was much larger and did intrude on the picture somewhat.

The resolution on HD-DVD titles is 1920x1080, that is around six times the amount of information that a DVD held, the brand new high definition codecs that are being used also work far better, these are one of the main reasons you will see less and less blocks appearing on screen and far better picture quality throughout. To get the full 1920x1080 resolution out of the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive you have to have the VGA cable, you can still get 720p resolutions from component cables, but for the full HD experience a VGA cable is a must. In our tests on a 1080p setup, there isn’t a massive difference between that and 720p, obviously though, the larger the screen, the better it is to have 1080p output. I also find that the VGA cable from Microsoft is the best way to view HD-DVD’s and for gaming on the system too in my mind. In component it tends to overdo the colours, while VGA is almost perfect.

I also want to talk about scaling, the HD-DVD software/drive can upscale normal DVD’s to high definition, while most of the time this “gimmick” is only ever as good as the quality of the picture was in the first place, I have to say that the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive does a very good job of upscaling, I have been watching lost on the drive and comparing it to my DVD upscaling HDMI machine, the Xbox 360 drive showed up better colours and a smoother picture overall.

Good news is that the interactive parts of HD-DVD’s have been changed completely over what we used to get with DVD titles. What we have are experiences called IME (In-Movie Experience) and U-Control.  What this does is let you bring up interactive features while still carrying on watching the film. It is a very good update to the old system and looks very good most of the time too thanks to translucent effects being used.

Now let’s talk about the new audio features. While HD-DVD titles offer Dolby Digital Plus and lossless DolbyTrueHD, with no HDMI output and no discreet audio connections on the unit itself, the best you will get out of the 360 HD-Drive right now is down-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 through the optical cable which is on both the component and VGA video leads. Microsoft have also stated that full-bitrate DTS audio will be coming soon too when HD-DVD titles start to support it. I have to mention HDMI a little bit too as many people get confused on the matter. While having HDMI on the Xbox 360 or the HD-DVD would have been great news, it isn't a vital requirement as HDCP protection on discs won't come into the fold until 2011, by which time I'd expect a work around to be made for users if one is even needed (it could well get delayed again). I do however, fully expect a HDMI updated Xbox 360 out by this time next year.

In the meantime though the only letdown on the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive is the audio, the reason is this. For some reason the HD-DVD audio though the Xbox 360 add-on is a lot quieter than DVD titles,  this is supposed to be because it can give better dynamic range, but the problem here is that the HD-DVD add-on seems to mess up the audio, for example – explosions in 5.1 will be at the same volume level as dialogue, this means that everything just sound flat. Comparing this to a proper HD-DVD player from Toshiba, the sound through the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive is quite poor. The good news is that Microsoft have said they are working to fix it, but right now it has put me off using it to play films until it does get fixed.

Final Comments


Byron's Gamertag
Microsoft can’t really go wrong with the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, its priced perfectly, it matches HDMI video output on other HD-DVD players through the VGA cable. The picture quality is superb and it has looked great on three different HD-Ready Televisions we have tried it out on.  The only let down in the whole package is the audio performance; I am really disappointed with that part of the HD-DVD drive.  If Microsoft can get a fix out for the 5.1 performance quickly, then I’ll only be buying HD-DVD titles from now on as the picture quality is the best I have seen.

 

Specs & Package
Overall Score 91%
Version Reviewed HD-DVD Drive (PAL)
Release Date Out Now
In The Box? 1 HD-DVD Drive Install DVD-ROM
1 Set Of Instructions
1 HD-DVD Drive and Cable
The Good Points Fantastic Picture
Good size
Matches Xbox 360 Design
The Bad Points Poor sound
HD Resolutions 480p
720p
1080i


Return To The Xbox Section

 

  *  
  *   *