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Microsoft bundles King Kong with the drive and I’ve got to say that this was a very wise decision. Firing this movie up really shows just how good HD DVD is, and when I compared it directly with the DVD version it made me wonder how I could have ever watched such a format! Seriously, this disc looks stunning and far better than anything I’ve seen on Blu-ray so far. In fact the picture is so sharp on the King Kong disc that it actually undermines the CGI in the film! Watching the scene where Naomi Watts is running from the dinosaurs and the consequent battle with Kong highlights this issue, where the green screen work is blatantly obvious – something that is in no way apparent when watching the standard DVD.
I have to say that I wasn’t really expecting this drive to pull off truly impressive image quality, but I’m happy to say that my preconceptions were proved unfounded. Despite the fact that this is an external drive feeding its data to the Xbox 360, which in turn is pumping the video signal out through a component connection rather than HDMI, the image quality is very, very good. This drive is also multi-region for HD DVD discs. I fired up the US version of Apollo 13 and the drive didn’t miss a beat.
This drive is also helped by the fact that the early HD DVD discs are generally better quality than the early Blu-ray movies. This is due to a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that the early Blu-ray discs are single layer, while the HD DVD titles are dual layer. But the extra capacity isn’t the major issue, it’s the choice of codec – whereas the first generation Blu-ray movies are encoded using MPEG2, HD DVD titles utilise the VC1 codec.
The best thing about this drive though, is the price. At £129.99 it represents a very affordable avenue into high definition video. Now, the PlayStation 3 fans will be in uproar right now, screaming that an Xbox 360 with the HD DVD drive is almost as expensive as a PS3, and they’d be right. However, the point is that if you already have an Xbox 360, this is a cheap and easy route into HD movies. If you bought your Xbox 360 a year ago, you can now add more functionality to it for a very modest outlay.