If you’ve been hunting for the cheapest way to enjoy either HD DVD or Blu-ray, the answer in both cases is likely to lie in a games console. The Playstation 3, as has been widely reported, holds a Blu-ray drive within its case and by wide consensus is as good a Blu-ray movie playback device as you’ll currently find.
Yet Microsoft has employed a little cunning here, by offering an HD DVD drive as an optional add-on to its main console. And with a retail price of £129, coupled with a bill of £200 for the core console, Microsoft has trumped Sony’s expected £425 price tag by offering UK enthusiasts the cheapest entry point into high definition movies.
The unit itself is a sleek-looking thing that houses a Toshiba drive, and it hooks up to the main console via USB. It also holds a couple of USB ports itself, so you don’t lose any connections by having a drive hooked up, and it comes with its own separate power supply too (which, fortunately, is a good deal more modest than the 360′s!). Also, for a very limited time, which may even have lapsed by the time you read this, the drive was being sold with a copy of King Kong included.
And as far as we could tell – which admittedly isn’t a hugely convincing statement, but we’ll come to that shortly – the end results are superb. The quality of HD movie playback is startlingly strong, and given the ease with which the unit gets up and running we were genuinely impressed.
The problem, though, and the reason for our slight reservation above, is the lack of HDMI support at the moment by the console itself. This means that few – including us, for the purposes of this review – will be able to utilise the 1080p and full audio output potential that this drive has. It’s not impossible to do so, but other connection alternatives that support 1080p are far less widespread.
It’s a marked problem for the unit, and one Microsoft really needs to address sooner rather than later. A slightly lesser problem, which you’ll probably adjust to in time, is the combined noise of the Xbox 360 and the add-on, which hardly add to the ambience of a good movie-watching session.
Yet this is still an efficient, high quality complement to the Xbox 360 game console that quickly integrates itself into the machine’s dashboard. It also has a nice side benefit in that, should you peruse the Web in the right places, drivers are available to get it to work with a PC. It’s a fairly clumsy process, and PC software support for HD DVD is too limited to make proper use of it at this stage, but for an external next generation drive, you can’t help but conclude that this add-on is bit of a bargain. Your move, Sony.
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