XBox 360 HD DVD Drive Review (80%)

Xbox360 HD DVD Review (80%)Microsoft have actually made a sensible decision, an external HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360 and it works.

With a recent software update the Xbox 360 was given HD support and suddenly 1080i and 1080p resolutions sprang to life (of course not all games support these new modes). Unfortunately the internal DVD is a bog standard DVD-ROM drive and it doesn’t support the new HD formats at all.

The external drive connects through one of the Xbox 360’s USB ports, it’s a shame there aren’t any rear sockets as the cable dangles out the front of the unit. Just plug it in, connect its power supply unit and install the software that comes with the unit and that’s it. It all just works. MS have been nice and included a DVD remote, though the normal game controllers work too.

Upscaled content
A nice feature is that the Xbox 360 will upscale content to whatever your output is set to (tested using 1080i), so a normal standard def DVD can be output at 1080i or 1080p. It works surprisingly well. There were very occasional artefacts or blocking – but it’s eminently viewable, even on a high action film (shame the film itself wasn’t). There are quite a few DVD players that offer some kind of upscaling feature, but it generally adds to the cost significantly.

Silence is golden
DO NOT EVER watch a film with quiet bits in it. The major downside to this set-up is that the Xbox 360 sounds like a train rumbling through your living room, it’s incredibly loud. As soon the the film quietens, there it is. You cant quite block it out.

Current Xbox 360’s also don’t support HDMI (the newly announced Elite will) so the best resolutions require component video and that means a separate audio output. The cable does have an optical out, but it doesn’t support newer digital modes like Dolby TruSurround.

For around 130 quid, a bargain HD-DVD drive that upscales as well, but it’s bulky and noisy.

Features: 88%
Ease of Use: 90%
Value for Money: 97%

Overall Score: 81% (let down by Xbox 360 noise)

Xbox 360 Elite Announced

There’s been lots of speculation going around the various blog sites about the release of a new version of Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

Xbox 360 Elite ReleasedYesterday Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox 360 Elite is a real product and will begin arriving in US stores on 29 April with an expected retail price of $480.

The confirmed spec of the 360 Elite is a combination of a 120Gb hard drive, new accessories bundled in, and to all of those HD TV fans, an HDMI port built in. Oh, and a return to a black case like the original Xbox. Microsoft tell us that the retail price of all of the bundled bits is over $600 if bought separately.

The HDMI port is an interesting move – yes it will make it simpler to get High Def screens connected (if you have a screen with an HDMI in port), but importantly it will let Elite owners play protected HD-DVD discs on the long-discussed add-on HD-DVD drive. HDMI connection is needed for the HDCP content protection scheme.

Xbox 360 Elite Announced

The new, large hard drive is a big step up from the previous version of 20Gb to 120Gb – all the more space for Microsoft to sell you TV shows, films and software to download – oh … and save you game positions to as well of course.

The hard drive is detachable and will also be sold separately so standard Xbox users will be able to get hold of them too. Expected US price is $180.

Alongside the goodies above are an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller in black and a headset, in … err, black. Do you get the black theme? There’ll be a couple of other new bits available separately too, a Play & Charge kit for the the wireless controller ($20) and a black rechargeable battery ($12)

Xbox 360 Elite AnnouncedPeter Moore, Corporate Vice President – Interactive Entertainment Business, Microsoft, turned the hyperbole meter way up to deliver the following, “Today’s games and entertainment enthusiast has an insatiable appetite for digital high-definition content. Xbox 360 Elite’s larger hard drive and premium accessories will allow our community to enjoy all that the next generation of entertainment has to offer.”

It’s worth noting that the first shots of the Elite, while looking slightly underground, are in fact taken by ‘Major Nelson,’ the pseudonym for Larry Hryb, Xbox Live Director of Programming. So ‘leaked’ photos are now coming from official sources!

Images courtesy of Major Nelson

Who Will Win The Camcorder Format War?

Who Will Win The Camcorder Format War?More than four in every five camcorders sold in Europe in 2005 recorded footage to digital tape. However, according to a new industry report from Understanding & Solutions (U&S), digital tape will only account for 14% of the European camcorder market by 2010.

“Over the course of 2006 we’ve seen a format war develop between Digital Tape, DVD and Hard Disc Drive (HDD) camcorders,” says Simon Bryant, Business Director of Consumer Electronics at U&S. “Right now, digital tape still accounts for nearly 70% of the European camcorder market, but DVD is gaining ground, and as early as Christmas 2008 shipments will outstrip those of digital tape.”

With most of the leading brands producing DVD camcorders in 2006, the format has proved itself popular across the globe. Prices are now beginning to fall and by 2008 the price will be close to that of digital tape.

Who Will Win The Camcorder Format War?“By 2010, DVD will have clearly established itself as the format of choice for mass market consumers, and will account for nearly half of all camcorders shipped,” says Bryant. “This format’s appeal is its ease of use. You can record direct to a DVD and then drop the disc straight into your home player: it makes for a hassle-free workflow system. Couple this with the wide availability of low cost DVD players and you can see its appeal.”

The third competing format – the HDD camcorder – is still a niche product, but has outperformed the expectations of many, performing particularly well in the Japanese market. Though it has a more complex workflow and archiving process when compared with DVD, consumers are becoming familiar with the variety of HDD-based devices within their homes. As the migration of HDD from PCs to MP3 players, set top boxes and games consoles continues, its many benefits will become more widely recognised, making it an attractive alternative to DVD. By 2009, U&S predicts HDD will have overtaken digital tape to become the second most popular choice amongst camcorder purchasers, accounting for 31% of all camcorder shipments in Europe.

In addition, the rise of High Definition Television, with more than 115 million ‘HD-Ready’ homes in Western Europe by 2010, will create further opportunities for the camcorder market. Fuelled by consumer demand for flat panel LCD and plasma TVs, most of which now come HD-Ready, the hunger for HD content won’t be far behind. High Definition DVD players are already available, in either HD-DVD or Blu-ray format, and the next 12 months will see a proliferation of High Definition consumer electronics products. As a result, the camcorder market is forecast to experience a similar revolution, with High Definition devices becoming ever more prevalent. However, initial demand will be low and will ramp up slowly, due to the large price premiums. Longer term, HDD camcorders, with far greater storage capacity than DVD camcorders, will be the preferred choice for memory-hungry High Definition image capture.

Who Will Win The Camcorder Format War?In addition to traditional motivations for video capture, there is an upsurge of consumers who capture video to inform, meet and entertain, primarily via the Internet. The growing global interest in social networking sites such as YouTube and MySpace will squeeze the camcorder market, applying pressure through hybrid ‘still-cams’, digital cameras and mobile phones. In particular, the ever-increasing capacity of flash memory will make these devices a serious future competitor to the camcorder.

Due to issues surrounding quality, features and functionality, the short-term impact of convergence on the camcorder market will be minimal; however, moving forward, high-end digital cameras, hybrid ‘still-cams’ and mobile phones will increasingly steal share of the video capture market.

NEC’s Chip To Play Blu-Ray And HD-DVD

NEC's Chip To Play Blu-ray and HD-DVDThe almighty ruck between Blu-ray and HD-DVD could have found a bridge for the consumer.

The clever sticks at NEC have come up with a chip that will play both HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks.

A smart move for NEC, this could save the consumer having to make a choice between the two formats they have little or no knowledge of, but are being told that they simply must have.

The difference between the two standards is pretty considerable, not just in the capacity of the disks that Blu-ray has tried to make much of – as they saw it as a competitive advantage. One of the major differences is the interactivity, with Blu-ray going the route of Java, giving them both a considerable processing overhead in the machines that need to play it and huge flexibility in the depth of interactivity that can be achieved.

It’s not the first time that bringing together the two formats has been suggested. Over a year ago Samsung said that they’d produce a dual format player. Mysteriously they’ve dropped this idea, and gave a serious amount of umm-ing and ahh-ing when asked about it at IFA this year.

NEC is telling all those who will listen that the chips should be shipping from April 2007 onwards.

Toshiba HD DVD: European Dates Announced (Photos):IFA

Toshiba HD DVD: European Dates Announced (Photos):IFAThe first HD-DVD players for Europe have just been announced by Toshiba at their press conference at IFA in Berlin.

There will be two models available initially, both before the end of the year. This follows the US release earlier this year. Toshiba were at pains to point out that the European machines are a second generation of player.

The first to be introduced will be the Toshiba HD-E1, coming out in November this year. Capable of playing both at 1080i and 720p. An HDMI 1.2a port will be included. Audio playback will be Dobly 2.1. Expected price €599-€699.

Toshiba HD DVD: European Dates Announced (Photos):IFA
HD-XE1 (pictured below)
The following month (December) will see the release of the higher quality player, the HD-EX1.

It will add playback at 1080p to the 1080i and 720p of the HD-E1. HDMI support will be the latest release HDMI 1.3. Dolby 5.1 will also be supported.

Toshiba HD DVD: European Dates Announced (Photos):IFA
The price will be €899-€999, depending on the country bought in.

Both machines will feature Ethernet ports, enabling Internet connections for interactivity and to access additional content.

Current DVD’s will also playback, but will be up-scalled to the highest resolution available to each machine.

The units will be released in three regional batches, with the UK, France and Germany (amoung others) leading the pack; the rest of Europe will follow; brought up by the previous Eastern Europe and Iceland.