Took the HD-DVD plunge
Yeah, I forgot to mention this a few weeks ago when I used a Circuit City gift card (Christmas present from my brother) towards the purchase of an HD-DVD drive for my Xbox 360. I was curious to try out one of the HD optical disc formats, and since the 360 drive is the cheapest way to get started with HD discs, that’s what I went with. I also liked that some HD-DVDs also had standard-def DVD versions of the movies on the same disc, so they are backwards compatible. Unfortunately none of the Disney CG movies like Toy Story or Cars are on the HD-DVD format, but there were enough titles available in HD-DVD that still made it attractive.
For the longest time I resisted buying into either format because I think that HD downloads are going to make these formats kind of obsolete. However, I think both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will be around for a long enough time that I finally gave in to my curiosity. As many people will tell you, the difference between HD-DVD/Blu-Ray and standard-def (SD) DVDs is not as great as the difference between VHS tapes and DVDs. HD discs are definitely sharper than SD DVDs, and it seems that HD-DVDs (depending on how well they were transferred, of course) have better audio channel separation, making the surround sound more enveloping and “surround-y” (a technical term in the business *smirk*).
When we bought the 360 drive, it came with the King Kong HD-DVD, which I’ve read is the best example of HD-DVD right now. Haven’t watched this disc yet because I’m actually not that interested in the movie. We also bought Serenity and V for Vendetta (even though we have V for Vendetta in SD DVD). We watched Serenity the night we bought the HD-DVD drive, and it was pretty impressive, though a lot of the content was CG, not HD close-ups of people and their faces and hair (good things to watch when appreciating HD content, to see the fine detail HD can provide, IMO), so it stands to reason that CG would look good. Last weekend we finally watched the V for Vendetta disc, and it was pretty good, also, with more people details to look at. Granted, neither of these films were originally shot with HD cameras, so it’s not going to look like HD sports broadcasts, where the people look so real that it seems you’re there in person. But both films looked pretty good on the HDTV. It’s that lack of “true HD” content that has a lot of people still lurking, waiting for one format or the other to offer films and other content that was shot with HD cameras. HD discs are a lot less forgiving if the transfer is bad. You’ll be able to see film grain, dirt, and if the source is not very clean, the HD-DVD isn’t going to make it look better. Personally, though, I’m happy with the HD-DVD purchase. HD-DVDs are supposed to have better menus and extras, and while there didn’t seem to be many extras on the V for Vendetta disc, the hubby and I were pretty impressed with the DVD menu that was an overlay, rather than a separate part of the disc. Whenever you pressed the DVD menu button on the remote, the movie would pause and a small menu bar would slide up from the bottom of the screen. As you navigate the menu, it would make various bleeps and bloops and hydraulic sounds when sliding certain menu elements around (all of which could be turned off, if no noises were desired). It wasn’t anything earthshattering, but it was a really nice, less disruptive way of handling the DVD menu. Since I do have the SD version of V for Vendetta, I’m going to do a little unscientific comparison between the HD and SD versions to see how different the picture quality really is, and how different the set of extras are.
I read that Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift has a lot HD-DVD extras, like picture-in-picture viewing of the extra featurettes over the movie, and other interactive features, so I’m looking forward to checking that out. I added the disc to my Netflix queue. 🙂 I’ve actually already seen the movie (and it wasn’t that bad), so I’m checking out the HD version mainly for the extras. Speaking of Netflix, it’s really nice that they offer both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray versions of movies. There’s no extra charge for renting these HD formats. You just enter your preference of HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, and Netflix will add the HD version of movies to your queue if you wish. You can also just as easily change from HD to SD DVD from the queue.
While I’m waiting on HD downloads to have better distribution models, I’ll be happy to buy a few HD-DVDs here and there. Hopefully the catalog will expand at a little faster rate. As it is, there isn’t a huge number of movies offered in HD-DVD format that I’m interested in buying. I think there are less than 10, actually. So, hurry up, movie studios, but don’t be sloppy with the transfers. 😛
I haven’t tried watching many SD DVDs in the HD-DVD drive, but I do want to test it out, to see if it does any upsampling or anything. I believe that when we watch regular DVDs via the Mac mini, it does some upsampling, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ll post more about the drive itself a little later, after I’ve used it more. My first impression is that if you already have an Xbox 360, getting the HD-DVD drive is the cheapest way to get into HD-DVDs. It may not be the best way, especially if you’re like a home theatre fanatic that needs the top quality components, but for curious early-adopters like me, this drive was a good buy.