Last month 360Monster was invited as part of the Microsoft Xbox Community Network (XCN) to submit a selection of questions, which would be answered in a Q&A session with Harvey Lee who is a Platform Marketing Manager for Xbox 360 Europe. We put this to our community via our forum and in return we received some pressing questions from our members. Four of the most interesting and inventive questions were selected and submitted towards the Q&A interview.

What follows an in-depth Q&A exclusive to XCN members, with Harvey recently this month.

Is the HD DVD going to be pre-loaded with 8gb of system data, which most people will find is a bit of a waste of space?
If I understand your question you’re asking if the “disc capacity” is taken up with a lot of system data? Far from it, HD DVD is the most efficient HD disc format.

What about HDMI connectivity, does it support it and if not, why not?
You just don’t need it and it’s a myth that you do. The “perception” is that the main reason for HDMI is to support 1080p resolutions. We support native 1080p via VGA and Component cables on Xbox 360 as recently announced. I’ve spoken to many folks recently at trade shows and X06 and there’s a common mis-conception that you “need” HDMI for native 1080p support from a technical point of view. Not true. Even if you can find a 1080p HDTV (let’s face it, there’s hardly any on the market anyway and they are hardly affordable!) HDMI is just another way to connect your device and furthermore, not all uses my HDMI port!

Do you have plans for bundles with the HD DVD player?
To be candid, most of our bundles feature the latest games; gamers have repeatedly told us that they want the latest and greatest hot games. We recently released a Pro Evolution 6 bundle in Europe and it blew the barn doors off! The main reason gamers are buying Xbox 360 right now is to play some of HDTVs support HDMI and if you have a screen that does, it’s likely your HD Cable TV set top box is using it. Mine does at home so I use VGA for my Xbox 360 on my 32″ HD screen and it’s fabulous, better HD than I get from my HD Cable TV service that the amazing gaming content we have on the platform. Gears of War has the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end!

How many HD-movies will be available this year and in 2007?
Good question. It will be slightly different in each country but as a guide, roughly 30-40 movies day one and that will rise to 100 and beyond very quickly. In the US, they are already touching 150 by this Xmas. If you look at what has been happening in the US, it’s very interesting and HD DVD is doing really well vs. Blu Ray, sorry, it’s doing better than “doing well” it’s winning. HD DVD launched with more titles, higher quality (more on this later) and cheaper players. Folks responded to this and thus officially HD DVD is out selling Blu Ray movies at least 3:1 and the HD DVD Players are outselling the Blu Ray Players 2:1. I am not trying to boast here, these are just the cold facts from the launch in the USA and the facts can’t be denied. You if you are interested in finding our more information on the sales facts, you can easily find them on the Internet.

Is the HD DVD Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s Blu-Ray technology? And what do you personally think about the Blu-Ray technology?
Compared to HD DVD it’s lagging behind and currently offers an inferior experience at a higher price. First let me say that HD DVD is not “Microsoft’s answer to Blu Ray”; we support the format but we don’t own it. Both Blu Ray and HD DVD are authorised to use 3 types of codecs (a compression technology), MPEG2, VC1 and H.264. However what is interesting is the “adoption” of these codecs as it directly affects the quality of the definition of the picture you see. HD DVD uses VC1, this is a codec actually and ironically developed by Microsoft and hugely adopted. Right now, Blu Ray uses MPEG2, a compression technology that’s 10 years old (your MP3’s use it!) and offers less efficient compression vs. VC1. Please don’t take my word for it, look for HD DVD vs. Blu Ray movie comparisons on the Internet and you will find that each “vs.” review of the same movie on the 2 formats, HD DVD clearly wins. Compression has a huge part to play here; the reviews report that on some of the current Blu Ray movies, the image even starts breaking up in the corners of the picture where the HD DVD version is clear as a bell. Now, if I was investing in a new disc format (and thus a new TV that is HD) I’d be really steamed off if the picture broke up! Why don’t you take a look and listen to the HD DVD vs. Blu Ray audio casts over at there’s some fantastic information the major has and his audio cast is a hoot. In all seriousness, I really encourage everyone to research the whole topic for the facts on sales and technical comparisons, it’s easy enough to do on the Internet; the facts should help you make your decision.

Will there be any other special features introduced exclusively for the Microsoft HD DVD player?
Actually the features are really on the discs themselves, not the players and the Xbox 360 HD DVD players fully supports all the features of HD DVD. For example picture-in-picture, hybrid combo discs (1 side DVD, 1 side HD DVD), commentary, etc.

Will it ever be possible to play games on the HD DVD Player? Or in other words… Will there be games released on HD DVD discs?
The HD DVD Player for Xbox 360 is all about choice, your choice. That choice also includes the games you want to play at a price that’s competitive and attractive. Our compression is leading edge and thus it makes genuine next-generation games like Gears of War possible without the need for games on an HD DVD. At the end of the day, gamers have to pay a higher price for games on HD discs and as we have proved that leading edge HD games are not dependant on having an HD Disc format, we don’t pass that cost on to gamers unlike some. I would suggest to you that you look into how many of the PS3 titles will be on Blu Ray 50GB discs…I think you will find it’s none. Why? Because it’s just not necessary and further more folks have to pay a serious premium (read “penalty”!) for Blu Ray, a format that is not necessary for HD gaming. We’ve proved that with titles like Oblivion and Gears of War. When you hear “you need Blu Ray for the best HD games” what you are really hearing is “Our compression is not as good so we need you to buy our larger capacity discs please” Gears of War is out November 17th by the way 🙂

HD-DVD won’t be able to match the Blu-ray launch in Europe, due to the fact that just a few countries will receive a relative small shipping of readers and discs, while launch in other countries has been delayed to an unknown date in 2007. How do you think this disadvantage will affect the spreading of the HD-DVD media through Europe?
There is no disadvantage, even though the launch of HD DVD is staggered across Europe. At least we have a launch, where is the “DelayStation”? I can tell you also that the recent launch of the standalone Blu Ray player in Europe at over €1200 has been met with complete indifference and it’s hardly a surprise. There’s no content and it’s EXTEREMELY expensive…the HD DVD Player for Xbox 360 is €199 and will have great title support…I think that’s worth waiting for, plus it will be available in the whole of Europe BEFORE PS3.

Microsoft was quick to follow the HD-DVD track but still doesn’t provide direct support (e.g. not by the way of a Media Center Server) for its own WMV-HD discs in its new console, even if that was the very first reliable Home Video HD Solution on the market. Why?
Well, that’s not entirely true; you can stream video content, in HD (WMV-HD) from your PC through your Xbox 360. You can also stream your TV and DVR (digital video recorder) features from your Media Centre via your Xbox 360 so to answer your question directly, it is supported.

Being an external unit, has the HD-DVD drive been an easy product to design alongside the Xbox 360?
That’s a good question. The simple fact is that no new technology is easy to develop for, by its very nature because it’s new! You should ask Sony how easy it has been to develop Blu Ray 🙂 The truth of the matter is that the Xbox 360 console itself has the processing power which keeps the costs and “some” of the complexities down to a point. When you actually see the HD DVD Player for Xbox 360 you may be quite surprised how small it is for a new format.

Should Blue-Ray become more popular with the consumer, would MS rule out adding Blue-Ray drives in the future?
“If” Blu Ray becomes popular and it’s a very big “if”, we’re talking years down the line and I will be thinking about trousers with elasticated waistbands and liquidising my food. Do you want to spend €1200 now on a Blu Ray Player on the “chance” it may become popular? It may join the “where are they now” gallery in the Sony museum along with Betamax, MiniDisc and UMD. Our position has always been around “choice”, we want to offer choice, what we have and are proving is that you do not “need” an HD format to enjoy the latest next-generation HD games, PS3 are penalising gamers for Blu Ray for their own motives. Financial Analysts have been stating recently that they think Sony are more interested in the movie business which makes PS3 a very expensive DVD player. Not much of a choice is it?

Why should we buy the HD-DVD when many critics believe we are but a couple of years from all our movies being stored on a hard drive and DVD’s will simply become irrelevant?
Did you know that you are COMPLETELY correct? We announced our Xbox 360 Video Marketplace Download Service this week and fans of digital media have spoke loudly over the past couple of years and the result has been that downloaded content is hear to stay. Even Phil Harrison at Sony recently said at his own press conference that in 5 years all content will be downloaded; ironic as he was there to promote Blu Ray Disc 🙂 Here at Microsoft, we don’t think it will be 5 years…it’s the here and now. Only a year ago in the UK the music charts saw its first number 1 hit single that was a download-only single and the market moves quickly. I buy music online too via MSN and I am a big fan of having this choice. Our HD DVD Player is optional for this reason, we want people to have a choice, you can download or buy discs but we will not penalise gamers for formats that they do not needed to enjoy HD content. It’s all about choice.

Thank you for your time Harvey!


Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

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