HD Ready part two

After numerous problems on I am now officially HD Ready. One thing I have learnt from technology is that installation rarely goes smoothly and if it does you have probably done something wrong. Though my previous blog post was full of excitement and optimism these feelings were soon changed to frustration and pessimism after encountering a number of hurdles.

The Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive arrived safely from Movietyme and did not require a step-down transformer just a regular UK figure-of-eight lead. The build quality of the drive is excellent and once plugged in to my laptop via USB 2.0 it automatically found the necessary drivers and the installation went smoothly. Next step was to try and play HD-DVD using the PowerDVD 6.5 OEM software. I chose THE THING as the test HD-DVD and once inserted it began to load. My excitement was stunted after the Universal logo disappeared after two or three seconds, with the video window becoming blank. The menu system worked and I attempted to play the film but once again, the Universal logo appeared but suddenly disappeared. The annoying thing being that I could hear audio and see subtitles on screen but still no video. I tried the other HD-DVD discs and was greeted with the same problem. As you can imagine, very frustrating.

After reading the very informative posts on the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive at the AVS forums and the AV forums I stumbled upon some useful advice. It seemed that PowerDVD 6.5 would only work for some people and even if it did it was of bugs, after all this was beta software that was not intended to work with this particular drive. As awareness of the add-on working on a PC grew on the net Cyberlink, the makers behind PowerDVD, announced that it would release a full version of the software before Christmas as did PC media playback rivals Intervideo, makers of WinDVD.

Despite the high price I purchased the HD-Ready PowerDVD Ultra hoping that it would solve my problems. Initially, this software stated that it would support both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray but upon installation it only allows you to install a player to support one of these formats. This did not bother me too much as I have the Win-BD software that came with the laptop but was nevertheless misleading. However, if you have both HD-DVD and BD-DVD drives it will automatically install the BD version so if you have a BD-DVD but want to install the HD-DVD version of the software you will need to disable to BD drive in device manager (though I have it on good authority that Cyberlink have solved this problem and you now get to choose which version you install).

Once it was all installed I loaded the King Kong HD-DVD into the drive and expected it to work perfectly. But alas it would still not work, I was greeted with two seconds of the Universal studio logo and the picture went black. After numerous curse words I realised that it had to be a graphics related problem and perhaps I should update my Video Driver. Unfortunately Nvidia do not offer updated drivers for laptops but thankfully there is Laptop Video 2 Go who provide unofficial support for all laptops with Nvidia graphics cards. After several downloads of different versions of drivers, installations, restarts and a loss of image on my laptop screen I found version 93.81. Finally I managed to get King Kong to work in full 1080p HD with this driver installed. I also linked the laptop to my LCD television via its HDMI input and watched the complete film on Christmas Eve in HD.

So was it worth all the effort? Yes it most certainly was, so far HD-DVD is more impressive than Blu-Ray. The King Kong transfer on the HD-DVD disc blows away any Blu-Ray transfer I have seen so far. I now own more HD-DVD titles than BD-DVD and continue to be impressed by the high standard. I am certain that this is down to the use of video codec VC-1 which is commonly used on HD-DVD titles unlike MPEG 2 which is still used on most Blu-Ray titles. VC-1 is a much more efficient codec that not only gives the encoder more options during restoration but has a smoother, more natural look than MPEG 2 which requires a much larger file size and can have compression problems such as artifacting.

I am starting to go off on a tangent here, so to conclude, I am now officially HD-Ready despite numerous setbacks. PowerDVD Ultra is not a good piece of software, it is still full of bugs that have not yet been resolved by Cyberlink. It seems apparent that this release was rushed out in time for Christmas to meet the demand which is not necessarily a bad thing but for high price (??70) I would have expected an update by now. Currently PowerDVD Ultra will not play Studio Canal HD-DVDs and has difficulty with some US titles such as The Hulk. I purchased the UK DVD of La Haine, a Studio Canal release and found it would not work. It also adds subtitles automatically when you first play the title and you have to turn these of manually using the menu system. Hopefully they will solve these problems very soon. So if you are thinking about buying the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive to connect to a high-end laptop or
PC remember the following things:

  • Check if your Laptop/PC has the capabilities to play HD-DVD by downloading the HD/BD Advisor from Cyberlink
  • Make sure you have the latest Video driver installed (if you have an Nvidia card you will need version 93.81)
  • Install PowerDVD Ultra HD
  • Enjoy HD-DVD!
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