Thoughts on the XBox 360 HD DVD drive

Microsoft has announced an HD DVD drive for the XBox 360. I’ve got mixed feelings about this.

Being an external drive, and therefore not a core peripheral, games can’t depend on it being there. In fact, I believe Microsoft has stated that games will *not* use the HD DVD drive. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is no ability to boot HD DVD discs, making HD DVD games impossible, but there’s no evidence they’ve gone that far (and since, down the road, the HD DVD drive might well be built-in as standard equipment, being able to boot from it would make sense).

A DVD-9 disc, which is what XBox 360 games come on, holds 9 gig of data. The only reasons I can think of for any game to use more than 9 gig of data are if it includes some huge real-world data set (like satellite imagery of the whole planet, for example), or if it includes a lot of high definition video.

HD Video is great when you’re watching a movie, but in my opinion (and I know not everyone agrees with me here), when I’m playing a game, I’m playing a game, not watching a movie. If my game disc can’t have 2 hours of 1080p video on it, well, then so be it. If I wanted to watch a movie, I’d watch a movie.

For the next few years (probably throughout the XBox 360’s lifespan), PC games will continue to come on DVDs, because PC’s with high definition drives are going to be rare, and Blu-Ray vs HD DVD is going to slow adoption. The only platform that will have the capability to play a significant amount of HD video in a game title is the PS3, and I just don’t see game developers going to the trouble to create this video for one platform, except for a few showcase titles I’m sure Sony is working on.

In other words, HD DVD vs Blu-Ray vs DVD isn’t going to make one game better than another.

The XBox 360 HD DVD drive is an add-on, which means the core system is cheaper. I’m okay with that – it means you can shell out $400 for the system today, and then shell out another $200 a year later to upgrade to the HD DVD player.

For an XBox 360 owner, there are a number of advantages to having the HD DVD drive as an XBox 360 add-on, rather than simply buying a standalone HD DVD player:

  • When you want to watch a movie, you don’t have to take out the game you’re playing. I know it’s no big deal, but it means when the movie’s over, you can switch back to the game without having to get up off the couch. And if you’ve got kids it means you can leave the Baby Einstein DVD in the drive and switch between your game and the video whenever you need to.
  • You also don’t have to reconfigure your TV / stereo to switch between a game and a movie. This is a big plus.
  • While you’re watching a movie, you can still be on XBox Live. If you ever put a movie on while you’re working or doing something else, this means your friends can send you messages or invite you to games while the movie’s on. Not for every situation, but sometimes this is great.

So I’ve talked myself into buying one.. I wonder how soon "Holiday 2006" will come?