High Fidelity

I recently took the plunge and bought the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player. There was a great deal at Best Buy that allowed me to get all of the following for $179.99 plus tax:

  • The drive itself (which comes with King Kong)
  • Two free movies of my choice (for which I chose Hot Fuzz and Transformers)
  • Heroes – Season 1 (for which I had to take a rain check)
  • Five additional movies (from a pre-set list) via mail-in rebate.

Not a bad deal at all.

My impressions so far are pretty favorable. I haven’t set up the drive in its final position yet, because I have to disentangle a bunch of stuff behind my entertainment center, but it’s quite small — I would say that it’s about the size of a dictionary or so. It connects via a USB 2.0 cable to one of the ports on the 360 itself, and it has its own small power supply. I have to say that I’m surprised that USB 2.0 provides enough bandwidth to transfer the video data, but hey, it works. The playback process itself is software-driven — an application that apparently comprises 4.7 million lines of code and includes technologies from several different groups at Microsoft.

Following installation of the "drivers" (I’m not sure that it’s actually installing things so much as flipping a settings bit on the 360 dashboard, or doing something like copying a decryption key onto the console), the "disc tray" menu item on the dashboard becomes split in two, with one half representing the main 360 DVD drive, and the other half representing the HD-DVD drive. This should make things a little more convenient in that we won’t have to eject a game disc to play a movie anymore.

An interesting wrinkle is that apparently the playback software can be updated through Xbox Live or a burnt CD/DVD, just like a game title update. I was prompted to download an update when I first inserted a movie. Initially, I wondered whether or not this would allow for forward compatibility with the proposed disc format changes — however, another article I read suggests that this may not be the case.

I should also mention that the HD-DVD add-on comes with the remote control for the 360. It’s nice — not quite as nice as a Harmony remote would be, but it’s a nice addition to the package.

We watched King Kong last night, and the difference between the standard DVD format and a high-def format was pretty clear to me, and pretty impressive. Much finer detail is evident, and there did not appear to be as many motion artifacts in scenes with fast-moving action or camera movement. Our TV is only a 720p display, as well — I’m sure the difference would be more pronounced with a 1080p set.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with it. I’m definitely looking forward to watching more movies on it.

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