Kris Abel’s Tech Life | Preview Of Microsoft’s HD-DVD Drive For The Xbox 360

Kris Abel’s Tech Life | Preview Of Microsoft’s HD-DVD Drive For The Xbox 360While I still recommend against investing in HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, the two competing formats for the next generation of home video, Microsoft’s upcoming add-on player is so shockingly good and reasonably priced that it should be considered a sane option for the insane HD-DVD market. Not due in stores until mid-November, I had a chance yesterday to visit with Microsoft Canada and get a very brief look at the add-on player and watch parts of a movie with it on a Samsung 47” HD LCD television. It’s an accessory for the Xbox 360, meaning that it requires the video game system in order to work. You place the small, white-and-grey box next to your Xbox 360 and connect the two together using a USB cable. When you turn on your television and access the game system’s menu, you’ll see two drives listed – the regular DVD drive in the game system, and the HD-DVD drive in the add-on player. What immediately makes the player impressive is its loading speed. While every HD-DVD and Blu-Ray player I’ve tested and seen suffers from a long boot-up time followed by an even longer loading time for the movies (4 – 6 min. approx), Microsoft’s player is just as fast as a standard DVD player. You can actually unpack the player from its box, connect it to the video game system, turn it on, pop in a disc, and start watching the movie in less time than it takes to just load a movie on either of the current HD-DVD or Blu-Ray players available. Also missing are the software bugs and sometime playback jitters the current HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players are prone to have. Microsoft’s player worked smoothly and the quality of the video playback from what I saw was equal to what I’ve seen on the standard players. Microsoft’s player is also superior in price. While standard HD-DVD players start at $700 and Blu-Ray players go for $1,300, Microsoft’s add-on player will sell for $200. And it will come packaged with a Media Remote for the 360 plus a free copy of King Kong, so far the most impressive in terms of visual high definition quality I’ve seen of the movies mastered for HD discs. Also included is an upgrade disc that will allow the Xbox 360 and the add-on player to output in native 1080p, considered the highest resolution for High Definition. 1080p is a nitpicking feature that most of us should ignore. For high-end enthusiasts it’s been one of the debating points between Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD. Up until now it was thought that only Blu-Ray players would be capable of it. Guess again. The firmware update will also be available as a free download over Xbox Live this fall, meaning that even if you don’t purchase this player, you can still upgrade your Xbox 360 video game system to support 1080p resolution. So, if you are one of the small few who have a HD television that can both display and most importantly accept 1080p signals, this is no longer a concern. Because the add-on player takes up the only USB slot on the back of the Xbox 360 and blocks the connection needed for the Xbox wireless adaptor, the HD-DVD drive comes with these connections plus a spare USB slot to compensate. With it connected to the Xbox 360, this means that you can also access your Xbox Live profile and friends list while you’re watching HD-DVD movies. The only downside I can see to the whole set-up is the missing HDMI connection. Instead, the drive uses the Xbox 360’s component cable connection to your television. There’s no impact on video quality, it’s just more of a cabling mess. As part of the preview, Microsoft showed off some of the cool special features that HD-DVD discs are capable of, thanks to all the extra data storage space the discs can hold. I’ve seen some of these features before – the picture-in-picture director’s commentary and making of videos, but there were two very cool feature concepts that are completely new. Included for the HD-DVD version of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift is a “Wreck Specs”. While you watch the racing sequences, a little pop-up window appears every time a car strikes a post, rams another racer, or flips out into the sidelines. Each time, the little window gives you the exact real world price for the parts damaged along with a running total as to how much the repairs are going to cost. The disc also includes a GPS tracker. For specific racing scenes in the movie, you can have a little satellite window pop-up in the corner with a red blip for representing one car and a yellow blip representing the other. As the movie continues to follow the tight, suspenseful race n’ chase through the city streets, the GPS pop-up window displays the path of the two cars along a satellite map. Finally, and by far the most impressive, is the option to create your own version of one of the cars from the movie.In a separate menu on the disc, you can load up software that will let you change the paintjob colours of one of the featured cars. Using your remote control, you select tools from a primitive paint program and paint on the car’s body. When your done you can then play the movie, and it will replace the car in the film with your digitally-changed one. The results are almost seamless. In the example I was shown, the car you see in the picture below, the yellow/orange car with black stripes, was changed so that it was a green car with black stripes. The movie was then played and sure enough it looked like the movie was originally shot with a green car. Every scene, every angle, it was very impressive.