When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Here’s how it works.

A quick look back at Microsoft's HD DVD movie disc add-on for the Xbox 360

hd dvd xbox 360

There's been a lot of chatter lately about Microsoft's commitment to releasing physical media for its Xbox console games. In a recent interview, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer admitted that most Xbox gamers buy digital games, but added, "getting rid of physical, that's not a strategic thing for us."

All of this reminded us of the time Microsoft decided to get involved in the last physical disc format war, which happened in the mid-2000s. It was a battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD and in the end, Microsoft ended up on the losing side.

Of course, this format war was to help try to replace the DVD format with movie and TV discs that were made to support high-definition televisions. Sony developed a new disc that supported blue lasers. The format was branded as Blu-ray in 2002.

However, the DVD Forum, the organization of companies that helped to develop the older DVD disc format, was not convinced that Sony's Blu-ray technology was the way to go. Toshiba and NEC announced a competing technology in 2002 that also used blue lasers, but the physical spec of the discs were the same as DVD, which in theory meant DVD manufacturers would have an easier time converting to the new format. The DVD Forum officially decided to support Toshiba and NEC's tech, which was renamed HD DVD in 2003.

Ahead of the launch of the Xbox 360 console in 2005, Microsoft and Intel announced the companies would support HD DVD. At CES in January 2006, then Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced that the company would release an HD DVD add-on disc player for the Xbox 360.

xbox 360  hd dvd box

Microsoft launched its HD DVD external player in November 2006, a few months after the first stand-alone HD DVD and Blu-ray players started selling in the US. The Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on player cost $199, and came with a HD DVD copy of Peter Jackson's King Kong remake.

In a post on Microsoft's Xbox Engineering blog just before the launch of the add-on device, Microsoft revealed that the process of running HD DVD movies did not involve a special chip inside the disc player itself. Instead, the company created 4.7 million lines of code so that the video and audio codecs for playing a movie actually worked with the Xbox 360's CPU and GPU. It added:

All 6 of Xbox 360's hardware threads are hard at work while playing back an HD DVD. At the moment, the player software pushes Xbox 360 harder than any other (save, perhaps, Gears of War during some particularly busy parts of the game).

Here's a quick aside: Microsoft released an odd commercial for the Xbox 360 HD DVD add on player with breakdancers. Watch it below; we won't say anything more:

While Microsoft might have backed the HD DVD format, Sony's Blu-ray support and technology was built into the company's PlayStation 3 console for its fall 2006 launch as its normal disc drive for both games and movies, which gave it a leg up on Microsoft HD DVD add-on. Sony was helped by the fact that most of the major Hollywood Studios had decided to back Blu-ray. Universal was the only studio that exclusively supported HD DVD, while Paramount supported both for a while.

In 2007, it became clear that Blu-ray was going to win this next-gen disc format war. Sales of Blu-ray discs in the US were far higher than HD DVD discs for the first several months of that year.

On February 19, 2008, Toshiba announced it would no longer make HD DVD players. A few days later, Microsoft confirmed it would no longer make HD DVD add-on drives for the Xbox 360. The company cut the price of the add-on to just $49.99 in order to unload its remaining inventory. It was the end of this format war, and its actually remarkable how long it lasted since it was fairly clear from most observers the Blu-ray movie format would win.

Report a problem with article
ebook offer
Next Article

The Self-Taught Cloud Computing Engineer ($35.99 Value) FREE for your email

Google Gemini AI assistant
Previous Article

Google says two things happened that caused this week's Gemini AI image generator issues

Join the conversation!

Login or Sign Up to read and post a comment.

24 Comments - Add comment