If you have your Xbox 360 hooked to a HDTV you know how great the games look and how good DVDs appear.  Unfortunately, DVDs only support 480p - not the 720p found on most HDTV nor the 1080i/1080p found on some new models.  Industry has come out with two different HD solutions.  HD DVDs and Blu-Ray.   I won't go into the specifics of each here (see below), but the cheapest HD solution is the HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 at $199.  If you already own an Xbox 360 and a HDTV, this is a GREAT way to add HD movie capabilities to your HDTV.
The Xbox 360 HD DVD Player is easy to setup.  Steps include: 1) placing an install CD in the Xbox 360 and following the prompts; 2) plug-in the power to the HD DVD Player;  and 3) connect the HD DVD Player to the Xbox 360 using the provided USB 2.0 cable.  If you connect your Xbox 360 to the internet using a wireless adapter you will have to move the wireless adapter to the HD DVD player.  Control of movies is via an Xbox 360 controller or an Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote.  For a limited time the units ship with a remote and a movie (King Kong).

 HD DVD versus Blu-Ray (my take):

Both have their pluses and minuses. 

  • Capacity:  In the end, Blu-Ray has more capacity, but costs substantially more.  The capacity features seems to be a red herring as either format can hold a full length film in HD. 
  • Price: Most stand-alone Blu-Ray players cost $1000, while HD DVD players are available for between $350 and $500 (and prices are falling fast).  The cheapest Blu-Ray player available (at this time) is the PlayStation 3 ($499 for "cheap" version + $100 for a HD connector).  Price should be a consideration for anyone that thinks they will eventually have more then one HDTV in their house.  With the change over to all digital broadcasts by 2009 and the falling prices of HDTVs this isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.  If you have a library of HD movies you are going to want to watch them on all your HDTVs, not just your gaming machine.  The cost of the additional player(s) should be a consideration when picking a standard upon which to base your library.
  • Quality: Both standards provide a better quality picture then a standard DVD.  However, if you can get someone at a Best Buy or Fry's to run movies side-by-side you can see the difference.  HD DVDs are currently providing a better picture.  This appears to be caused by the current Blu-Ray movies using the old MPEG-2 encoding scheme (it is a good thing they have more capacity, cause they need it for this method of encoding movies), while the HD DVDs are using the VC-1 encoding.  I'm not an expert in encoding schemes and have no understanding of why studios are using the MPEG-2 encoding on Blu-Ray.  H.264 and VC-1 are both available under the standard.  All I know is the current HD DVD movies look better then the Blu-Ray.  It is a near thing - they both look great.
  • Added Features:  There are all types of added features available under both standards.  I've not played with them much, but understand them to be comparable.  With the added capacity, the Blu-Ray should be able to hold more "extra" features.
  • Issues:
  1. Blu-Ray hardware prices may eventually come down to HD-DVD prices, but it is going to take a while.  HD-DVD builds on current DVD technology and manufacturing processes.  Blu-Ray is a start-over and requires all new technology and manufacturing facilities.
  2. In it's original release owners of certain Sony HDTVs experienced problems using the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player at 1080p.  Microsoft issued an update in November 2006 to fix the issue.
  3. The PS3 Blu-Ray playback does not scale correctly on HDTVs that only support 720p.  Movies playback at 480p (same as a regular DVD) on 720p HDTVs.  Sony has indicated they may issue a firmware update to address this issue (as of December 2006).  There has been no firm commitment or timeline for Sony to fix this problem.
  4. The PS3 Blu-Ray playback does not correctly support 1080-24 (24 frames per second 1080 HD playback).  Sony has committed to providing a firmware update to fix this issue (as of December 2006).
  5. Studios are not currently enabling High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) on either Blu-Ray or HD DVDs.  If they begin to enable HDCP on movies they will only be playable in 720p unless a DVI or HDMI cable connects the player to the TV.  Currently the Xbox 360 does not support HDMI and the PS3 only supports it if you purchase a $100 add-on cable.  Neither console supports DVI.
  6. Blu-Ray media costs are also higher (as it is a whole new technology).  Thus far studios haven't been passing this cost on to consumers, but this could change.  In addition, if you purchase a HD content recorder based on Blu-Ray, the media is going to be substantially more expensive then if your recorder is HD DVD based.

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