Thanks to SimSonic for the original Finnish text
Livegamers had an opportunity to test the HD DVD player for Xbox 360 and compare it to the regular DVD. This article isn’t meant for hardware fanatics, but for the average Joe who has only one question in mind: is the difference significant?
720p mode was tested with Samsung LE32R51B and 1080p mode with Amoi Elite LC42T1E. Both component and VGA cables were tested. 1080p mode also worked with HDMI through PC. Test movies were King Kong, The Goodfellas, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Doom, Serenity, Training Day and Assault on Precinct 13.
Definition of a Man
In September 2005 Microsoft announced that it will bring an HD DVD player for Xbox 360. The decision was a significant victory for a format developed and marketed by Toshiba, which is competing with Sony’s Blu-Ray. Sony’s PlayStation 3 has a built-in Blu-Ray player. According to Microsoft, they didn’t want to force the consumers into a new format, and in the background there was probably also a desire to hit the console markets before Sony. HD DVD’s advantages to Blu-Ray is considered to be lower price and manufacturing costs as well as compatibility with DVD technology. DVD movies can always be viewed with HD DVD players, but Blu-Ray players don’t have this requirement.
An advantage for manufacturers is that the old DVD manufacturing lines can easily be converted into producing HD DVD discs. Four big Hollywood studios support the HD DVD format: Universal (doesn’t support Blu-Ray format), New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers. Naturally, Sony Pictures isn’t on the list. MGM, Disney and 20th Century Fox support only Blu-Ray.
In September 2006 a British company New Media Enterprises announced that it had invented a way to produce multilayer DVD discs at a fair price. Both HD DVD and Blu-Ray formats could be recorded on these discs and the discs would work with both players. The price of the multilayer disc produced with the new technology is nine cents () when the regular DVD disc is six cents. The prototype manufacturing lines using the new technology were launched at the beginning of the year. Warner Brothers has also patented a technology that allows recording of different formats onto the same disc. But for instance Universal isn’t planning on supporting combo discs.
A Second Christmas Day
I open the package nervously, after all I’ve been waiting for this very anxiously, just the way a real movie freak is supposed to. Inside the package is a drive with a familiarly stylized theme. The chromed front of the disc tray and the white outfit makes it aesthetically compatible with Xbox 360. The drive is distinctively smaller than the mothership.
Universal remote which comes with the drive, fits well in the hand and can be easily made to work with the television. Necessary wires and instructions are also included. The drive is connected to the USB port behind the console and it has its own power source, which fortunately isn’t as big as the big brother’s famous lump. The drive has two extra USB ports, so lack of ports won’t be a problem. For a limited time, Universal’s King Kong is included and because of its picture quality, it is a fine demo movie indeed.
The required updates will be installed from a DVD that is included in the package, and after that the drive is ready for use. Hard drive isn’t necessary for the files. The console’s dashboard looks familiar, except that now you can open both DVD tray and HD DVD tray. The drive has approximately 192 MB of memory, which is marked in the console’s memory files. However, you cannot use the memory freely but only erase files, such as saved scenes of a movie. It’s a bit silly that the remote only opens the DVD tray.
Back to the Future
HD DVD format is region free, which means that movies from all around the world will work, no matter where you buy it from. For DVD movies this doesn’t apply and the drive uses the console’s regional code. All movies use the new features available. A movie starts right away without launching the menu screen which, if needed, can be viewed at the bottom of the screen without stopping the movie. Picture in picture function allows to watch a scene at the same time while watching how the scene was done. Favourite scenes can also be saved for quick viewing. Only the makers’ imagination is the limit for features.
All the movies tested in 720p and 1080p mode proved, that HD has come to stay. Attention was focused on quick loading of the beginning of the movies; with normal players it takes a lot longer. King Kong is the unquestionable king of the HD movies with its focused, sharp and lively picture that no other movie offers at the present. The King Kong itself and the other great CGI effects really come to their own. In one scene I stopped to revel in the fact that I could actually see single hairs of a massive gorilla sway in a gentle breeze. Absurd and insignificant, but yet so remarkable.
The Last Samurai proves the HD’s advantage in the quality of black and naturality of colours. There are lots of night scenes in the movie and surprisingly, you can see that the HD improves the quality of black, which has been a bottleneck of LCD technology. The advantages also stand out in scenes that happen in daylight. The Last Samurai represents the colour-rich Japan at the end of 19th century, so the colours are almost dazzling. Don’t let the scientologist-Jesus Tom Cruise confuse you: this movie is worth getting.
The Goodfellas by Martin Scorcese was made in 1990 and is the oldest movie of the test. The picture quality of this gangster epic isn’t as good as in the newer movies, but there is a distinct difference between the HD version and the two-disc special edition on regular DVD. Throughout the movie the picture is sharper, people look more natural, and the blurry scenes that bothered earlier (like conversations in a shady bar), are more clear. Among all the other nice stuff, the HD version has all the documentaries that were published earlier with the two-disc special edition on regular DVD. Batman Begins only strengthened what had already been experienced.
Watching a DVD movie after experiencing HD is like poking a donkey’s eye out, putting on an eye patch and then asking if you feel any different. Quality DVD movies like War of the Worlds (away bad scientologist, away), Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars: Episode III look lame, colourless, grainy and even a bit foggy. And no, I didn’t watch the Hound of Baskerville. The difference isn’t as big as going from VHS to DVD, but when watching regular DVDs, the spectator would like to go back to the future.
Not Just a Walk in the Park
Xbox 360 doesn’t have an HDMI connection. Then how do you get a quality picture out of the HD DVD drive? It isn’t actually that big of a problem, the component does the trick. VGA cable is obligatory for those who want the 1080p mode, because the component doesn’t fill certain certificate conditions. A small drawback with the sound is that Dolby TrueHD’s and DTS-HD Master Audio’s audiotracks convert into Dolby Digital thus reducing the quality of sound.
Unfortunately the biggest stumbling block is the noise pollution. The device is quieter than when playing a game, but together with the console the new drive can be a disturbance when watching a more quiet part of a movie. Also the ongoing format war might scare people from investing in new technology. However, HD DVD has proven to be a noteworthy option.
On a price and quality scale Xbox 360’s HD DVD drive is on the top of the list. A little under 200 gives you the possibility to enjoy good HD movies. Now of course people are crying, c’mon that means that the whole set costs as much as PlayStation 3, which has an built-in Blu-Ray drive! It’s true, but if you already have an Xbox 360 there is no cheaper, better in quality and easier way to jump into the high defined world.
Marvelous picture quality
Easy to use
The raging format war
No HDMI connection