It may be a gaming accessory, but this is the cheapest and quickest HD DVD player around. Sadly, it is also the noisiest
You need an Xbox
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This was the first 'proper' HD DVD player to go on sale in the UK late last year, and Microsoft's £130 deck is still the entry point into hi-def movies for many gamers.
You will need to own an Xbox 360, but the combined cost of a 360 premium pack and this drive is a piffling £410. That's far cheaper than any Blu-ray player, including the PlayStation 3. This could be something of a steal.
The drive comes supplied with an Xbox 360 universal media remote and all necessary cabling to attach it to the Xbox 360. And it's a cinch to get it up and running. A disc goes into your Xbox 360, updating the firmware, and then you connect the drive to the console's rear USB port. If that port is already taken up with something else (most likely the official Xbox Wi-Fi adapter), the HD DVD drive itself has two extra USB ports that work as if they were on the Xbox 360.
There's no direct connection from the drive to your TV or projector: everything goes through the 360's component video or VGA cable (depending on which you use). Lacking HDMI support, its audio outputs are also limited to digital optical and analogue stereo.
Sadly, there's just Dolby Digital 5.1 and no way to get Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD lossless 7.1-channel surround working - something that is unlikely to impress home cinema buffs. There's no guarantee of these formats ever being supported, but an Xbox 360 Elite should arrive in the UK soon, complete with HDMI, 120GB of memory and gloss black styling.
The real buzz about HD DVD's picture quality proves justified using this drive. King Kong on HD DVD outputting at a resolution of 1080i on a large 1920 x 1080 screen looks spectacular, although no Full HD 1080p pictures are possible with this drive.
The fight between Kong and the trio of T-Rex's is spectacular, with every strand of the huge primate's fur crisp and visible and no sign of digital noise or macro blocking. If you skip to the sequence at the end of the film you also get some eye-poppingly detailed views of 1930's New York: a fine example of what HD DVD can do.
We also watched Batman Begins, Mission: Impossible III, Superman Returns, The Last Samurai and The Bourne Supremacy, and happily, the quality remains high, although not quite up to Kong's standards.
As well as impressing with pictures, the drive is also a breeze to use: it's the quickest next-gen disc player we've yet seen.
Unfortunately, the 360 makes about as much noise as a projector, which won't go unnoticed in a small room. If you already have an Xbox 360 and a 42in or bigger screen, it's a must-buy, but true home cinema aficionados won't appreciate the limited audio, fan noise and the weird look.
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