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Microsoft's HD DVD efforts on the XBOX 360 will be limited to an external USB drive

Despite rumors late last week that a future version of the XBOX 360 would include an internal HD DVD, Microsoft has shot down such speculation. The rumors ran rampant after a Toshiba Australia general manager expressed his thoughts that Microsoft would go ahead with plans to launch the internal drive before the year is out. “I would imagine that there are plans in place to put an HD DVD drive internally in future revisions of the product. They’re not speaking about it publicly at the moment but I would expect them to do that and fairly soon,” said Toshiba's Mark Whittard.

Microsoft, however, was quick to shoot down those comments. Microsoft sees the XBOX 360 as a gaming device first, and HD DVD support can be added if a user chooses to do so via an external drive. Also, with all of the confusion surrounding the Blu-ray/HD DVD format wars, Microsoft is playing it safe by limiting the HD DVD drive to just an external add-on for those that are willing to delve into high definition content.  "Since launching XBOX we have retained a games first emphasis, but we also offer consumers the ability to build on our powerful platform, such as in combination with a Windows Media Center Edition PC. We feel that offering the drive externally is the best way to give consumers the ultimate choice to create their own high definition experiences. We have no plans to release the Xbox 360 with an internal HD DVD drive," said a Microsoft representative to GameDaily BIZ.

At least Microsoft is being consistent. The Redmond-based company has been blasting Sony for including a Blu-ray drive as standard equipment on its PlayStation 3 saying that it is forcing consumers to pay hundreds of dollars extra for a feature that they may not end up even using; not to mention that there is no clear cut winner yet for a next generation high-definition DVD standard.

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Bad IDea
By Valtiel on 7/3/2006 5:32:17 PM , Rating: 2
I think it's a bad move on MS' part not to include an HD-DVD drive in the 360.

To sell the external drive as an option for people who actually have HD capable setups so those without can save a few bucks is a nice idea on it's own. But it works under the presumption that higher resolution is the only way a developer could take care of the extra space on the newer formats from DVD; about threefold on HD-DVD and fivefold on BD.

So that in order to accomodate the lowest common denominator of Xbox360 owners, those without the additional drive, Microsoft has set a ~4.7GB ceiling for developers to make next-gen games for. Even with space-saving things like normal mapping and procedural generation, games that will take full advantage of the next-gen hardware will likely occupy more data than the formats of the current gen (ps2/xbox/gc). The DVD format might not be able to hold enough of a game to let your 300 or 400$ investment to run at full throttle. Not only that but it might place a burden on developers who have to spend alot of coding and design resources on tricks and compression to make a game fit on a standard DVD but still look great. I believe Gamespy has an article that compares early 360 titles to their Xbox counterparts and points out little or no improvement in quality. I'm sure the developers will over time develop tricks to work around this but I'm also sure 4.7GB is a constraint on them and there's only so much you can do with programming ingenuity.

With an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray the developers have alot more legroom with the content they already have and the option to add more game to the disc, like bonuses or other replay-value factors. With this two-tiered media platform, Microsoft would need to require developers to release both a DVD and HD-DVD version of each game for the two classes of 360 users it's defined. The HD-DVD versions will likely cost more than the DVD versions and both MS and developers would want to validate this premium, probably with enhanced or extended gameplay elements not found in the DVD version. So again the difference between the high and low capacity mediums extends beyond high-def resolutions and owners of the standard 360 will feel like they're missing out on part of the experience even after shelling out 300-400$. This would encourage them to bite the bullet and get the HD-DVD external drive even if their TV doesn't support HD, which to me makes Microsoft's customizable setup argument vaporous. If they don't want to lose money on the HD-DVD drive when it comes along and have it fail as a perhipheral then they need to give content incentive to sell it, which will alienate those who don't have it and encourage them to buy it regardless of their TV's high-def capability. So if they want their external drive to succeed at all it will phase out the DVD drive already in your 360 leaving it to play the games you already bought unless you choose to buy them again in HD. If not then they will stick with the standard DVD format and that 4.7GB ceiling which we can only hope will be enough to keep your processing beast busy and you entertained to a level worth 300-400$ over the old Xbox and PS2. Though cheaper than blu-ray, HD-DVD drives are still at a massive premium today and I'd expect MS' external drive to cost 100-200$. So eventually you may end up paying the same price for next-gen content on a 360 as a PS3 while taking up possibly 3 times the space. Microsoft's making it look cheaper by splitting it up into two purchases and giving the idea that you might not want the extra unit but as far as I can see that's not a really appealing option. And, AFAIK, considering that Xbox Live is a pay service and Sony's online service may be free you might end up paying more for a 360 in the long run or at least equalize it with the cost of Sony's higher-priced software as well.

Side note: In addition to higher capacities, if I'm not mistaken, the new formats throughput data at a higher rate than standard DVD, unless the read speed is cranked up to a sufficient speed. This means that Microsoft needs to utilize an adequate external connection for the data transmission from an external HD-DVD drive if/when they implement it. I don't own a 360 so I can't speculate on what transfer paths it has availible to it.

Now that I think of it, high definition resolution is more of a hardware requirement than software. The geometric data of objects and effects in 3D is composed of verticies which are infinitely small points in space with edges and polygons drawn between them so it doesn't really matter to the software what scale the hardware draws them out on, the instructions are just as complex to it. I could be wrong though, are there some pecularities to code that would make a game take up severalfold more media space just to be rendered at higher resolutions?

Wow, that was long. I hope that was worth your read.

RE: Bad IDea
By Rhygar on 7/3/2006 7:54:01 PM , Rating: 1
Wow, very well written and well thought out. And yes it was worth reading. I think you have a valid point. Developers need to develop for the lowest common denominator first and then provide extra content or better content on the higher capacity disks.

I know people are saying developers will never use that much disk capacity that HD-DVD and BD disks hold, but I bet it won't take long for them to start using the extra capacity. Especially as they get better at writing games for the next gen consoles and find out the cool stuff they can do with it.

RE: Bad IDea
By CKDragon on 7/3/2006 8:39:27 PM , Rating: 2
A few points which would nullify certain portions of your otherwise well-stated argument:
-The HD-DVD drive will not be for games AT ALL. MS has come out and said this repeatedly. It's only for HD-DVD movies.
-The original Xbox, and certainly the Xbox 360, utilizes DVDs which hold 9 Gigs of information. Therefore, there is a ceiling of 9GB, not 4.7GB.
-Last, and probably least, is the fact that games are able to take up multiple disks, if they are needed. Therefore, theoretically there is no ceiling whatsoever on data capacity. The original Playstation had a lot of RPGs on multiple disks and more recently Resident Evil 4 for Gamecube employed this method, as well.

RE: Bad Idea
By Valtiel on 7/3/2006 10:14:18 PM , Rating: 2
Ah yes, dual layer DVD's. I'd forgotten about those. That does give it alot more ceiling than I'd thought, hopefully it's still enough for them to do everything they can with the processing power in it. Makes me wonder now,: Was the original Xbox already using that 9GB to the fullest? And what's more difficult to produce: single layer HD-DVD or Dual Layer DVD?

Multiple discs raise the ceiling too but, at the risk of sounding petty, it's preferable to have the immediacy and lower clutter of a single disc. Any more than 4 would get a bit ridiculous though I can't fathom a game taking up that much space.

But if the space is there, like Rhygar said, the developers will probably find a way to use it I guess. Everyone likes cutscenes and those for sure will devour space at 720p.

RE: Bad Idea
By CKDragon on 7/4/2006 12:22:04 AM , Rating: 2
Dual-layer DVDs have been the standard amongst movie DVDs for at least 5-6 years (to maximize bitrate) so I'm certain that production costs for corporations are negligible compared to single-layer.

Most original Xbox games fit within about 4GB. I can't speak for the size of Xbox 360 games, however.

While I'm sure that the space COULD be used, I just don't believe that the extra capacity alone would be that much of a boon for one console over another. I bought a 2x DVD-ROM drive with my good old Gateway 2000 PC back in 1997 because I believed the hype that games were going to start being published just for DVD media. To date, I can't think of a single decent game that has required a DVD-ROM drive (maybe some game based entirely upon FMV, but I did say "decent").

I don't doubt that inevitably games will take up much more than 9GB and then trek towards the limits of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, but will it happen within the 5 year window of life for either console? I doubt it, but who knows?

RE: Bad Idea
By Master Kenobi on 7/5/2006 2:26:46 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure what your smoking CK but I've made copies of just about every DVD released in the past 3 years and I can honestly tell you it goes onto a single layer DVD without problem, and without quality loss since I'm doing a perfect 1 to 1 copy. Even when I image the movie DVD's thye come up slightly below 5GB.

RE: Bad Idea
By m666guy on 7/4/2006 1:42:20 AM , Rating: 2
I myself would hate to see cut scenes be used extensively with either console. The graphics are at a point where in-game cut scenes like in gta3 would look good enough and not pull you out of the game while it loads the movie. I liked the mid-game cinemas in mgs2 (im sure mgs3 used them but i never played it) because although they were long winded at least they used the in-game models and didn't use pre-rendered models that made the game look like garbage -ala ffx. So i don't think the statement everyone loves cut scenes makes sense would you really like pre-rendered movies in your game that made the game in comparison look bad?

RE: Bad Idea
By ChronoReverse on 7/4/2006 12:37:09 PM , Rating: 2
The BDROM in the PS3 is supposed to be a 2X model putting it at about 72mbits/s. A 16X DVDROM is about 176mbits/s.

In terms of absolute time saved, changing discs might be better. And 9GB versus 25GB doesn't feel that large. I'm not sure I want to wait for the console to load and process multi-GB of textures anyways.

RE: Bad IDea
By sxr7171 on 7/4/2006 12:08:53 AM , Rating: 2
Not really. Have you heard of multiple discs?

There will be no HD-DVD drive precisely the reason you speak of. Nobody wants to support two disc formats. If you need more than 4.7 GB try dual layer DVD or multiple discs. End of story.

By CKDragon on 7/3/2006 12:23:08 PM , Rating: 2
While I absolutely agree with Microsoft's stance on not forcing a next-gen format down our throats a la Sony, I can imagine there is a market for people who would want it all in a neat, little, one-box package that would be willing to pay more.

But perhaps MS thought that particular market wasn't big enough to be profitable.

RE: Optional
By dagamer34 on 7/3/2006 12:33:28 PM , Rating: 2
The market isn't large enough to swallow the manufacturing costs. Everyone is already blaming Microsoft for using the two-tier sales model; I really doubt anyone wants another SKU on the shelves.

If anything, they just make a freakin bundle! Or maybe it's because they don't want the average consumer to realize that they make more (or in this case loose less) on the premium version than they do on the core.

RE: Optional
By sxr7171 on 7/3/2006 11:55:32 PM , Rating: 2
Then get yourself a real HD disc player. A game machine should be focused on gaming first. Not everyone is so cheap as to tolerate a third rate HD player just because it is bundled with a game machine they bought to play games.

RE: Optional
By CKDragon on 7/4/2006 12:25:07 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't call people who refuse to throw down the $500-1000 premium on a standalone next-gen DVD player "cheap", necessarily. Especially considering that we don't even know which format is going to be worth owning in 2-3 years.

RE: Optional
By sxr7171 on 7/4/2006 2:08:34 AM , Rating: 2
Uh, the first DVD players were $1200. By the time the average person can get their hands on a PS3 due to the inevitable shortages a real HD player will be around $300 and it will have all the kinks worked out as well as output a solid 1080p via HDMI and also feature good quality upscaling for regular DVDs. So overall it will be a real HD player and not a kludge solution.

RE: Optional
By CKDragon on 7/4/2006 11:13:04 AM , Rating: 2
We can speculate on the price of standalone units all we want, but the fact of the matter is that IF YOU ALREADY OWN (OR ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR) AN XBOX 360, a standalone will never be cheaper to manufacturer than a simple optical drive which piggybacks it's processing power from the 360.

You could also speculate on the quality of the HD-DVD add-on or the PS3's integrated Blu-Ray, but that would be baseless at this point.

Years ago, I co-oped at the company which designed the original Xbox DVD player firmware. The original PS2 was in truth a lousy DVD player but most were too ignorant to understand the limitations. The original Xbox firmware was not much better but was easily upgradable which made it a much more functional solution. IF Microsoft and Sony follow that method of allowing the user to regularly download firmware updates through Xbox Live or Sony's online service, their solutions will be more than acceptable to an awful lot of the population. Even if that doesn't include you.

RE: Optional
By sxr7171 on 7/4/2006 4:10:13 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I agree that the PS2 was a terrible DVD player and the PS3 will be similar for BD players. Even the tabletop Samsung out now with current technology is piss poor, because it has to convert the 1080p decoded signal internally to 1080i and then deinterlace to get back to 1080p. That is a BS solution. Any BD implementation on the PS3 cannot be expected to be any better. Firmware updates might be part of the solution but the current problem is due to a chipset that won't allow straight 1080p output.

As for the Xbox 360, you should know by now that it has no HDMI output. It cannot output 1080p via component either. So if you want real HD playback functionality you not only must add a disc drive but additional output circuitry that might allow it to reach real HD player capability but at what cost?

If you just add a drive to the Xbox 360, you will get a Fisher Price HD-DVD player. If you actually add the output boards the upgrades alone will cost nearly as much as buying a real HD player by the time it comes out. The hardware on these gaming machines is not optimized for video playback as evidenced by a basic lack of HDMI for starters.

Read this:

They didn't bother including HDMI because they said it wasn't needed for gaming. Very true. But it is important for HD video and that makes it clear they did not design their machine with HD video in mind.

As for PS3, only heaven knows what the hell they designed that thing to do. Serve as a trojan horse for Blu-Ray, be a living room "supercomputer," maybe play a couple rehashed games here and there? Who knows? It will be hardware limited in one way or another in how it handles HD video and firmware updates won't save it. Of course the average PS3 zealot won't know and/or won't care.

By m666guy on 7/3/2006 2:37:41 PM , Rating: 2
the 360 costs ms like 450 manufacture the core i believe and they don't charge the consumer that much. you have to sell a console at loss or people wouldn't buy it because either a it would be too expensive or b it would be not that big of an upgrade and therefore not seem worth it to get. The idea that bluray isn't the reason that Sony is gouging the consumers is just laughable to me. I highly doubt the announcement of an hd-dvd player integrated would effect sales because the cost would have to be raised when they added that sku. Ms isn't going to eat the cost that much because they have little reason to. It isn't going to make them more money if one format wins over the other. The only advantage would be ps3 is stuck with an expensive player with no movies and little reason on the games front to justify the advantage in storage.

Re: lol
By MercenaryForHire on 7/3/2006 2:43:26 PM , Rating: 1
you have to sell a console at loss or people wouldn't buy it because either a it would be too expensive or b it would be not that big of an upgrade and therefore not seem worth it to get.



/punches chess clock, sits back and waits

- M4H

RE: Re: lol
By Fenixgoon on 7/3/2006 3:11:51 PM , Rating: 3
proof that nintend does/doesn't sell at a loss? i would image of the 3, nintendo comes closest to profit/breaken even, since the revolution is focused on gameplay, not graphics.

MS and Sony will give the market a high price console with quality graphics, but that leaves nintendo to fill the gap w/ high quality games (and at a lower price point to boot)

RE: Re: lol
By MercenaryForHire on 7/3/2006 3:31:11 PM , Rating: 1
I remember there being an interview where it was stated that the Cube was the first console they took a loss on at launch ... that was the reason the digital output got scrubbed off the newer models.

It might just be urban legend that's evolved so far as to be a de facto truth, even if it's not. Let's say, comparatively then, that even if Nintendo is losing $50 a console - that's a lot less than the soaking the other two, mostly Sony, are taking on their hardware.

I still maintain that saying "you have to take a loss just to have a chance" is ridiculous.

- M4H

RE: Re: lol
By rushfan2006 on 7/3/2006 3:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
As ridiculous as it may seem to some, Sony and MS never -- not even at the onset of their console ideas have it in the plans to make money on the consoles. Its even budgeted during their planning stages to include the "hit" they take per unit in production costs. The money model is all based on selling the games and nowadays the services like Xboxlive and the addon's and stuff you can purchase through xboxlive.

So when anyone starts talking about how much they lost on a console I just tune right out -- because it really is meaningless since they were never meant to be direct money makers anyway.

Just like do you think Movie Theatres making money selling tickets to movies? Nope. They make their bulk of profits at the concession stands. The amount of profit on their consessions is incredible, like 3-400% from bulk wholesale costs.

RE: Re: lol
By CKDragon on 7/3/2006 5:31:15 PM , Rating: 2
So when anyone starts talking about how much they lost on a console I just tune right out -- because it really is meaningless since they were never meant to be direct money makers anyway.

I agree to an extent. But imagine this scenario:
-Console X retails for $400 and is losing $100 per unit sold
-Console Y retails for $400 and is losing $200 per unit sold

Console X is much more likely to see a price drop sooner, which will benefit consumers. So yes, while there are aspects about money lost per console unit sold that are pointless, it's not an entirely useless stat.


Forced on consumers?
By lwright84 on 7/3/06, Rating: 0
RE: Forced on consumers?
By CKDragon on 7/3/2006 1:43:48 PM , Rating: 2
So let me get this straight, you DON'T think that blu-ray adds production costs to the PS3?

RE: Forced on consumers?
By Lonyo on 7/3/2006 2:13:42 PM , Rating: 2
He's saying that the PS3 would cost Sony $600 without the BluRay drive.

But if that were so, they would cut the cost the consumer pays to like $450~$550 or something.

People will pay for the inclusion of BluRay in the PS3, there is no question.

RE: Forced on consumers?
By sxr7171 on 7/3/2006 11:57:06 PM , Rating: 2
Like they have a choice if they want a PS3.

RE: Forced on consumers?
By Teletran1 on 7/3/2006 7:57:32 PM , Rating: 2
It doesnt add that much. The Drive Mechanism is the only thing that is really different from the overall spec of the PS3 if it had Blu-Ray or not. Everyone assumes that because standalone players are $1K that it adds a significant amount to the price. First off this is an early adopter price and secondly each standalone Blu-Ray player has a CPU and Memory and other computer like components which will already exist in the PS3. DVDR drives where 500 when they first came out. Now they are like $35. Dont believe the hype.

No internal HD-DVD BUT.....
By peternelson on 7/3/2006 7:07:16 PM , Rating: 2

Notice that since EVERY PS3 will have a bluray drive, games developers can rely on that much capacity being available, eg for cutscenes, video, flythrough backgrounds and or other gaming content.

MSXbox360 developers have to assume that only DVD is present therefore can't easily develop content for it even if some users have added such a drive.

Anyway: "We have no plans to release the Xbox 360 with an internal HD DVD drive," said a Microsoft representative.

AHHHHH *BUT* he did NOT say "We DO have plans to release the Xbox 360 with an internal Bluray drive" LOL

Maybe MS already realising or think bluray will be the winner, in which case they might make it available as an external box, or at some stage integrate it in the system.

Nice to have a good clear denial on internal HD-DVD though. Saves speculation.

RE: No internal HD-DVD BUT.....
By sxr7171 on 7/4/2006 12:12:21 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah just what we need: an Xbox 360 with a Blu-Ray drive and no HDMI and component out capped at 1080i. Why do people care about gaming machines carrying crippled versions of real movie players? Just get a real HD player.

isnt this old news
By m666guy on 7/3/2006 12:51:22 PM , Rating: 2
they have said this like 50 times going back to before the launch where they said if they made a hd player it wouldn't ever be integrated. I personally could care less about the format wars so it doesn't matter to me what they do as long as they dont force it down peoples throats ala another company xD.

Integrated system
By villageidiot111 on 7/3/2006 1:19:14 PM , Rating: 2
Even if they were going to make a console with integrated HD-DVD, they would not announce it to the public this early for fear of a sales drop. If people thought a better version was coming out later, why spend money now on the inferior version? So of course they would shoot down rumors like this.

By Doormat on 7/3/2006 3:14:24 PM , Rating: 2
I'm waiting for the HD DVD addon before I buy my 360 so I can see if MS goes and try to put the HD DVD drive in the unit. Why should I pay for two optical drives? I'm sure MS would like charging me $500+ for a model with the HD drive inside. Especially if price becomes an issue (vs the PS3 after the HD DVD addon), they can save the $20 or whatever for the DVD drive.

I figure next spring we'll see a 360 price cut anyways, it might be better to integrate the HD DVD drive into the "premium" bundle and make the current premium bundle the basic unit.

By m666guy on 7/3/2006 3:43:48 PM , Rating: 2
i think the rev will take a slight loss. I think Nintendo will price aggressively to try to grab market share. They have been pricing aggressively with the gamecube for quite sometime granted unsuccessfully but still doing it. I didn't mean to refer to the Wii though because i think the big draw with that will be the remote and not the hardware. whereas Microsoft and Sony cant do that because they aren't really innovating anywhere except graphics. If Sony or Microsoft tried that approach without the innovation of the remote i don't see them selling a lot if any xD. Also is it true that rsx is using a 128 bit memory interface?

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