So here I am back in the UK after a whistle stop stay in Barcelona for the impressive yet incredibly short lived (just one day) dedicated Xbox 360 event: X06.
There were a veritable flood of announcements made during the show but perhaps the most significant to the console’s long term lifespan is the elegant way in which it has addressed high definition media.
Although previously announced back in May X06 was Microsoft’s first chance to crow about its HD DVD drive and my word does has it something to crow about. Available globally in November, the add-on will cost a mere £129.99 making it by far the cheapest HD DVD Player on the market. It will be priced at $199.99 in the US too, so for once we Brits and Europeans aren’t being giving a raw deal.
Furthermore, the player will also come bundled with a remote control and an HD DVD version of Peter Jackson’s (of whom more later) epic King Kong – a title which will clearly revel being in high definition – meaning this package is even better value for money. Given that just nine days ago Microsoft revealed the console will receive a software update so it can output games and movie content in full 1080p and that over 150 HD DVD titles are expected to be on the market before Christmas and you can probably see why it is so happy.
Interestingly, the drive itself chooses not to employ HDMI, instead connecting to the console through USB2.0 and to a TV via either component or VGA. Unfortunately Microsoft wasn’t running an HDMI equipped player alongside the drive for comparison but the results still looked pretty incredible and with copy protection on discs being delayed until 2012 the lack of this HDCP compliant connection shouldn’t make much of a difference.
In use the drive is also simplicity itself. I sat through a demo and after plugging it into the console a graphic of the drive appears on the Xbox 360’s main menu. Put an HD DVD disc into the slot and it automatically runs with load times taking between 15 and 20 seconds since the Xbox system – which is obviously far more powerful than any HD DVD or Blu-ray player will ever be – is doing all the work. Compare this to a standard HD DVD or Blu-ray player which can take upwards of one minute.
So Microsoft appears to have taken next gen media in its stride. Many questioned its decision to leave out a drive from the player itself but with games themselves comfortably fitting on existing DVD standards the move has kept cost right down.
“The key is choice,” said a Microsoft spokesperson to me at the briefing, “many people want their games console to just be a games console so we don’t want to charge them for something they may not use. This approach also means our customers can face the format war with confidence. A £129 outlay is small compared to the £900 a Blu-ray player will cost you and if Blu-ray does win the format war we can ultimately release a Blu-ray add-on drive. If the battle goes the other way what does Sony do with its £400 PS3?”