The installation of the drive (which is manufactured by Toshiba) is pretty simple. The drive has a USB cord that you can use to connect the drive to any of the available USB ports on the Xbox 360 console, although Microsoft seems to want you to use the USB port in the back of the console. The HD DVD drive has two USB ports in the back to help make up for the loss of the one on the console. If you have the wireless network adapter attached to the back of the console you can place it in the back of the HD DVD driveís USB ports which include the mount for the adapter. The only other connection is the one for the included power cord.
Once you hook up the power and USB cords, you then turn the Xbox 360 console on and insert the included HD DVD install disc in the main Xbox 360 disc drive (not the HD DVD drive). The console installs the software quickly. If you have Xbox Live it will ask you to download another quick update. Once that is done the familiar Xbox 360 dashboard comes up. However the disc icon is changed slightly with the circle on the left side now split horizontally down the middle. When you use either your Xbox 360 controller or the Xbox 360 TV remote controller (included with the purchase of the HD DVD drive) to scroll through the main dashboard you highlight the top portion of the disc icon to select the main Xbox 360 game-DVD movie disc drive. The bottom portion of the disc icon circle is activated for the HD DVD add-on disc.
The biggest advantage for having the HD DVD add-on is realized only if you have an HDTV that can go beyond the typical 480p resolution for a normal TV. HD DVD movie discs have the capability to show movies on TVs that support up to 1080p resolution. However, the add-on has to use the Xbox 360ís connection to display the image. In order to get the full 1080p resolution on your TV (assuming it supports such a display) you have to buy another cable, the recently released VGA cable for the console for $39.99. Component cable set-ups max out at 1080i/720p. Much has been made about the fact that since the Xbox 360 does not have HDMI support HD DVD movies wonít be able to handle the more advanced audio features like Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD. If you are an audiophile please keep this in mind. HDMI connections also tend to offer better picture quality although Microsoft reps have gone on record as saying they donít believe there are significant differences.
For this review, the HD DVD add-on was used on a 42 inch Toshiba plasma TV with 1080i resolution with the component cable. Boot up time for stand alone HD DVD players have sometimes been clocking in at over one minute but thatís not the case with this disc drive. Booting up the drive with the console took less than 30 seconds and starting HD DVD movies was almost instantaneous. We played several HD DVD movies including the included King Kong disc along with Batman Begins and Serenity. In every case the picture quality was much better than the standard DVD images for those movies with crisp colors and deep blacks. While some HD DVD movie discs simply replicate the extra features on their DVD counterparts, there are a few extra features on some of the HD DVD movies like the included King Kong disc which allows for some picture-in-picture commentary on how the film was made. Some HD DVD discs have been released as combo discs that can also be played on an ordinary DVD player; naturally these combo disc tend to be more expensive ($30 or more). A regular HD DVD disc usually costs between $20 and $25, somewhat more pricey than the average DVD disc.
Unfortunately the war between HD DVD and Blu-Ray is a rather bloody one at the moment. Disney, Sony, Lions Gate and Twentieth Century Fox have all pledged their support exclusively to Blu-Ray which means you wonít be seeing movies like the Star Wars series, the Spider Man films or the Pixar CGI films on HD DVD anytime soon, if at all. Universal has pledged its support for HD DVD exclusively while Paramount and Warner Brothers are supporting both formats.