The next-gen DVD format wars are upon us and Microsoft has chosen to side with HD DVD against Sony's Blu-ray format, and for just $199.99 you can get an HD DVD drive add-on for your Xbox 360. Is it worth the money? Is there a noticeable improvement over regular DVDs? How does it fare against the Blu-ray playback of the PS3? Find out all about it in our full review.
- Title: Xbox 360 HD DVD Drive
- Platform:Xbox 360
- What is It?: External HD DVD drive
- Pros: Cheapest HD DVD player on the market; performs very well
- Cons: HD DVD movies are still on the expensive side compared to DVDs; unproven format could leave early adopters out in the cold if Blu-ray “wins”
When you buy the Xbox 360 HD DVD Drive, it comes with the drive itself, USB cable, power cable, Xbox 360 Media Remote, batteries for the remote, a setup disk, and, as of this writing (it is only going to be included for a limited time), Peter Jackson’s King Kong on HD DVD.
Setting up the drive is very easy. You just put the setup disk into your Xbox 360 and follow the onscreen instructions. Once the software has been installed to your Xbox 360, you just connect the HD DVD drive to power, connect it to your Xbox 360 via the USB cable, and you’re good to go. One thing worth mentioning is that the HD DVD drive isn’t as heat sensitive as the Xbox 360 system, and it doesn’t generate much heat anyway, so you don’t have to be quite as careful about the placement of the unit as you do with the Xbox 360 system. You can stick it in an entertainment center or on a shelf without much worry.
The Xbox 360 HD DVD player does everything a stand-alone player does but for a lot less money. It plays HD DVDs in high definition (720p/1080i/1080p) and they look gorgeous. You have all of the HD DVD features such as picture in picture so you can watch director commentary or special features while the main feature is running, as well as the floating menus that allow you to change settings or switch chapters while the movie continues to play in the background. The HD DVD drive also can upscale your regular DVDs to high def resolutions when you use either the HDMI-equipped Xbox 360 Elite system or the Xbox 360 VGA Cable with your Core or Premium system.
There really is a big difference between watching an HD DVD and a regular DVD. The visuals are much sharper and better looking and there is absolutely an improvement over regular DVDs. Not all HD DVDs are created equally, however, and some movies do look much better than others. Keep that in mind. You can find reviews of HD DVD movies on sites such as High Def Digest and I highly recommend that you do a little research before buying any movies to ensure you are actually getting something worth the extra money that an HD DVD costs over a regular DVD.
The value of the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive is pretty good, but it varies depending on how you interpret it. Cynics and fanboys will say that the $600 pricetag for the Xbox 360 system and HD DVD drive doesn’t offer as good of features as the $600 PS3. The difference is that with the Xbox 360 you have choice. With the PS3, you have to pay $600 whether you want it for a game system or a movie player or whatever. With the Xbox 360, you pay $300 or $400 or $480 depending on what features you want for it as a game system first and foremost. And then if you want HD DVD movies, you can choose to add an external drive for $200 or less.
And with that choice you get a surprisingly good HD DVD drive. To continue the PS3 vs. Xbox 360 comparison, I’d have to say that you get better playback out of the box (meaning you get component or HDMI cables and a remote with your Xbox 360 and HD DVD drive but have to purchase them separately for your PS3) from the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive than you do with the PS3s Blu-ray player. I have both systems, and I have noticed better quality visuals from the HD DVD drive. I also like the menu system better with HD DVD than Blu-ray.
Now, if it was a stand-alone HD DVD player vs. a stand-alone Blu-ray player, I couldn’t say which would be better and I’d rather not open the can of worms that is the greater format war. But I can say with a fair bit of confidence after using both systems extensively over the past few months that, in my opinion, the Xbox 360 HD DVD player is better than the PS3s Blu-ray movie playback.
All in all, the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive is a nice option for people that want to jump into the next gen DVD format wars and want an inexpensive way to do it. For just $200 or less you can experience high definition movies at a fraction of what a stand-alone HD DVD player costs. The only issues I really have with the HD DVD drive is that buying HD DVD movies is still pretty costly. They cost a good bit more than regular DVDs, which makes it a somewhat bitter pill to swallow. Thankfully, Netflix has HD DVDs available for rent, so if you don’t care about owning the movies, Netflix is a great way to really get the most out of your drive. My other issue is that we are currently in the midst of the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war, and eventually one of them is going to be declared a “loser” and it won’t be supported anymore. If this happens, it isn’t the end of the world since the hundreds of already released titles will still work just fine and the back catalogue is, admittedly, pretty good even now, but it is still something to consider before you buy one. Overall, the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive delivers solid performance at a good price and is recommended.