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Update: Microsoft to offer HD DVD drive for Xbox 360 in Q4

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Update: Microsoft to offer HD DVD drive for Xbox 360 in Q4

Los Angeles (CA) – Microsoft confirmed at E3 that it will be offering an external HD DVD drive for its Xbox 360 gaming console in the fourth quarter of this year. Compared to Sony’s Blu-ray, HD DVD will offer similar functionality, but will be available for substantially less money, Microsoft promised.

The drive apparently will be making its way onto store shelves just in time to be available when Sony launches its Playstation 3 with integrated Blu-ray drive. The “new accessory” – about the size of a typical book – will be an external solution and connect to the Xbox 360 via USB cable, providing an “aftermarket” capability for HD video outputs and digital surround sound.

Microsoft did not release details on the technical specifications of the drive, so we will have to wait at least one more day to find out whether the drive will be able to put out video in 1080p (“progressive”) or if it will be limited to 1080i (“interlaced”) – like the HD DVD players that have hit the market (and sold out immediately) a few weeks ago. During the presentation at E3, the company avoided any question on technical specifications, which led some to believe that the drive may be even limited to 720p. Performance, however, seems not to be the focus of Microsoft’s HD strategy. In an article published on xbox.com, the company explains in great detail how much more “value” HD DVD offers over Blu-ray.

“With HD DVD, it is now becoming evident that the entire ecosystem – from players, drives, the discs, and manufacturing – is more economical than Blu-ray,” the firm states. “Consumers and retailers can now see the immediate price gulf between HD DVD players and their upcoming competition. If you can find one of the new Toshiba HD DVD players they sell for as little as $499, whereas the expected starting price of Blu-ray players starts at $1000 and rises rapidly after that.” Beyond player pricing, “HD DVD is cheaper for manufacturers to upgrade their facilities to produce HD DVD discs and there are lower licensing fees associated with HD DVD interactivity,” Microsoft claims. “Ultimately, all of these advantages will lead to lower prices for consumers who choose HD DVD.”

So, how much will the HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360 cost? “Stay tuned. We decided to save that good news for another day, but we’re clearly out to make this an affordable option for Xbox 360 owners,” the article on xbox.com says. However, it’s no secret that Microsoft will have to stay competitive with Sony and that an Xbox 360 with HD DVD drive will have to cost exactly as much or less than a regular 20 GB Playstation 3 with Blu-ray drive ($499). And even Sony’s brave pricing of $500 and $600 for its consoles does not leave much wiggle room for Microsoft and the HD DVD drive. Given the fact that the 20 GB Xbox 360 already rings in at $399, would indicate that Microsoft can only charge about $100 for the drive. And even then, a 1080i or 720p drive would not quite sound like a bargain, if compared to the PS3.

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