"I was afraid of being disappointed but was pleasantly surprised."4.5 starson by haliotis_lamellosa
Pros: Great PQ and sound, xbox 360 styling, noiseless,small.
Cons: None for me personally, but I'll mention the common thoughts: lack of HDMI, two connecting cables - usb and power, extra box next to the console...
Summary: I have been following the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 war and also the HD DVD/Blu-Ray war for a while, and it has been quite interesting. I’m very happy with the Xbox 360 as a gaming console/multimedia center and I have also been leaning toward HD DVD format over Blu-Ray. I have noticed that Sony has lost their consumer market touch for quite a while now...As an example, when Blu-Ray was introduced it did sound very good as a project…on paper...maybe too good to be true...And now a couple of years later we notice the very shaky position that Sony is in: from the bad movie transfers and somewhat inferior picture quality, to expensive players and the PS3s constant and consistent delays...For now we only have words, words, words...
On the other hand Microsoft has been surgically precise with their marketing strategy. A year head start, great possibility of personalization (with the core system all add-ons are optional – you decide what to buy according to what you need), tons of games (I think there are at least a hundred of them now), amazing Xbox Live experience (well I think they have about 4 years head start to Sony on that), making the Xbox to be not only a gaming system but also a multimedia center, which as far as I know is the best and the easiest to use on the market right now. And a couple of weeks before the PS3's release date, Microsoft released their HD DVD add-on player for the Xbox 360.
This release had provoked a lot of forum battles - the cons, the pros, who's better - Xbox or PS, Microsoft or Sony - the usual stuff, just more fierce...
Now that I've had the player for a couple of days and watched a couple of movies on it I feel it's time for a first look at this product.
I want to first address the HDMI issue, which supposedly seems to be the biggest con for a lot of people.
To me the difference in the picture quality between HDMI and Component inputs is non-existent. There is no way that someone would guess what connection is used just by looking at the picture quality. Especially if you don't have two of the same sources, two of the same TVs, next to each other, one hooked through HDMI and the other through component for A/B comparison. I refuse to believe that without A/B comparison someone would really know the difference. And the same, for that matter, is with the HD resolutions (i.e. which one is sharper, which one has more detail, which one is better). For example watching a 26” TV at 720p from 15 feet will look actually better than any 1080p TV seen from two feet. It’s just funny when you hear someone saying: “I have a 1080p TV at home and, believe me, the difference over 1080i is huge.” Yeah, and how so? They have the same amount of pixels. How did you notice it? You put a second TV like yours next to it, fed it with the same signal and then noticed less flickering on the ‘p’ versus the ‘i’? Or maybe watching an action movie would cause a drastic blur at 1080i compared to the 1080p. It’s all just talk; believe me. Not that it’s not cool to have it, don’t get me wrong, but 1080p is still more of an ego booster with the friends than a huge picture quality leap. It is more like knowing it’s one of your TV features that really matters.
Let’s get back to the review. The thought I had before buying the player was:
‘The player costs $200 ($208 w/tax) of which $50-$70 is going towards the King Kong movie and the remote control which are both included. The lack of HDMI could potentially be a problem if the movie studios decide to restrict (and downgrade) HD content over any non-HDCP compliant connection. But on second thought we know that that will not happen (if ever) at least for the next couple of years (I have read speculations about 2012). So if you do some math $200 - $50 (the movie and the remote would still be usable) / 24 months = $6.25 a month. Even if in two years I have to throw it away, with a cost of $6.25 per month during that time, it is fine w/me. Plus I’d expect more 1080p capable and inexpensive TV sets to appear on the market (and a lot of them would be 1080p compatible through the component inputs) for the next 2 years. And it’s not like the player is $1000. So bottom line is that HDMI is great, but I’m perfectly fine without it.
Now, to be honest, I didn't like the picture quality of the built-in DVD drive in the Xbox 360 and I have used it only once for movies, back when I bought the console, almost a year ago.
I also hadn’t read any reviews (professional or consumer) on the new drive and I felt scared that it was going to be the same poor quality, just in HD. Last Friday, however, I spontaneously called Strawberries store in Downtown Boston, MA and they had it in stock. I quickly went to the store and bought it on my lunch break.
Set-up later on the same day went really smooth. USB cable connects the HD DVD player to the back of the console where the wireless is and a separate power cord goes in to your outlet. If you have a wireless on the back of the console, you detach it from there, mount it on to the player, which comes w/ two USB ports in the back, and you plug it in one of them. With the player you gain a USB port. There is an installation disc that you install - very easy and fast procedure. You just put it in the console, connect the player to it and it's all set. It is important to REBOOT THE CONSOLE AFTER THE INSTALLATION, as I've heard that it causes stability issues; it’s also recommended in the manual.
My TV at home is a 34" Sony, Model Number 34XBR960N. It’s a great CRT HDTV with amazing black levels, great contrast, and wonderful picture quality. I would put it up against any plasma or LCD on the market in a heartbeat; I get true cinematic experience from it.
Until the moment I used it with two DVD players: my older player is Cambridge Audio Azur 520D, hooked up w/ component cable to the TV (never ended up selling this dvd player since my girlfriend loves its styling) and set-up to 480p. My newer player is a Denon 1920, hooked up through the only HDMI port I have and set up to up-convert to 720p.
For sound, due to space restrictions, I can't really have a full Home Theater solution set up, so I have a 5.1 set of active speakers-Logitech Z-5500, which can accommodate my 2 DVD players and the Xbox 360 through its analog output. It sounds pretty good for what it is and it was a great value.
After the installation I rebooted the console and popped in the King Kong movie. To compare the picture I have a number of 720p trailers from Xbox Live and my cable.
It's a feast for the eyes! Contrary to my fear, it’s definitely better than the built-in drive and it’s comparable to Toshiba's HD DVD players picture quality. It looks more vibrant than the trailers (I tried MI-III, Narnia, The Wicker Man, The X-Men etc) and had the same depth and crispness as ESPN (without the macro blocking), even though one is a sport channel and the other one is a movie. It definitely looks better than any of the cable movie channels that are at 720p or 1080i.
I have set up the player through the Xbox menu to 1080i, although, as we said above, it doesn't really matter that much, unless you sit really, really close and count the pixels.
The King Kong movie looks great - there are a couple of sunset shots with King Kong and the girl on the top of the mountain that are outstanding. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has great stylistics as a movie and the colors are great. It just comes out of the screen and it's alive!
Overall I don't miss the HDMI at all. The player is hooked up through the Xbox’s component cable. I hear that a number of people used the VGA connection to obtain 1080p and had some stability issues. I also hear that Microsoft is aware of the issues and is preparing a fix. Can’t talk about that since I don’t have VGA and thus haven’t tried it.
I'd recommend sticking with component, even if your set doesn't support 1080p through component. The difference in the PQ is only on paper, unless you have a 65"+ TV and sit pretty close, seriously.
Sound wise I don't feel comfortable to judge, since my speaker set is not that great but it did sound more open and created better soundstage, sounding a little bit more 3D and a little bit clearer.
In conclusion I think this is a great product. Hopefully I won’t have any hardware issues, and I would definitely recommend it to anybody who is an early adopter and is ready to choose one of the HD formats. Plus, since it's not that expensive, even a mistake is forgiven (not so much w/ a $1000 Blu-Ray player.
And if you still can’t decide, wait until Microsoft puts HD and SD movies and TV shows on the Xbox live. If that suits you better, just stick with it, save $200 and take your girl out to a fancy restaurant.
I will try to update over time with any new info - good or bad. And maybe sometime next year when I buy PS3 I will be able to write a review of the built-in Blu-Ray player and even compare it with this one.
I apologize for the long review; I hope it’ll help some people to make a decision.