The DVD Playback Kit from Microsoft is necessary to play DVD movies on your Xbox, but is it worth the extra $30? I would have to say yes. It shouldnt replace a stand-alone DVD player if you are serious about getting the best overall experience out of your movies, but as a second DVD player in a game room or an office it is perfect.
What You Get
The DVD Playback Kit consists of an IR receiver and a remote control. You just plug the receiver into any of the control ports on the Xbox and the system will magically start recognizing and playing DVD movies. You can leave the receiver plugged in 24/7/365 with no ill effects which is pretty handy. The remote is pretty much a standard DVD player remote with a 0-9 keypad, Display, Reverse, Play, Forward, Previous Chapter, Stop, Pause, Next Chapter, Title, Info, Up, Down, Left, Right, Select, Menu, and Back buttons. The buttons are laid out fairly intuitively and the unit itself is pretty comfortable to hold in your hand for long periods if you are one of those people that have to hold onto remotes constantly. It is constructed fairly solidly and should hold up pretty well over the long term.
The Xbox DVD player is surprisingly full featured and has everything youd expect plus a few extras. The Display button on the remote opens up an onscreen menu that allows you to adjust subtitles, audio, angle, auto shut off, A-B playback, and zoom. Of particular note is that the zoom is 2,4,8, and 10x which is pretty impressive. Also impressive is the A-B playback feature which allows you to choose an A point and a B point and that section of movie will loop indefinitely. All of the other standard DVD features start, stop, pause, next chapter, etc. are present and work just like youd expect. One thing I do want to say about the Xbox DVD player is that it has better features than youll find on most of the cheap stand alone players you can find now. If you have to choose between those $30-50 cheapo DVD players youll find at most department stores or the $30 Xbox DVD Playback Kit, Id take the Xbox DVD player every day of the week. More features, better value, and you already have an Xbox sitting in your living room/bedroom/office so why not get some additional use out of it.
Audio and Visual Quality
The one area where the Xbox DVD player falters a little bit is in overall image and sound quality. The Xbox is no slouch and it provides a nice picture and sound that is just as good as those cheapo stand alone players, but it is in no way comparable to the better DVD players that are on the market. One major drawback of the Xbox DVD player is that it doesnt play DVDs in progressive scan. Like I said, though, the quality is more than good enough to make the Xbox a solid second DVD player and is a pretty good value when you take total cost/features/ease of use/quality into consideration.
All in all, the Xbox DVD Playback Kit is a reasonably cheap way to get yourself a second or third DVD player and that is always a good thing. The features, quality, and construction of the kit are pretty good for just $30. Since you already have an Xbox sitting on the shelf to play games on you might as well squeeze a bit more functionality out of it.