As some of you know I am planning to setup a gaming center in my coffee shop next spring. This will be a console gaming area and will start with Xbox 360. I'm also going to have movie nights where people can come watch movies in serious HD (1080p, 62" screen, 5.1 audio, and HD-DVD). With 360 that means the HD-DVD addon. I'm sure we'll do american football parties, etc here as well but that is neither here nor there for this post, heh. Anyway, I decided I could pick up the HD-DVD addon ahead of time and get a movie library started, test it out and see how it really is. I went to Best Buy and picked it up along with Fearless and Batman Begins. All right, on to my impressions/review... First I have to say this is an excellent bargain in my opinion. You not only get the HD-DVD drive, which will eventually work on both PC/Mac (maybe even PS3? ), but you also get the Xbox 360 Universal Remote (MSRP $39.99), and King Kong HD-DVD (also MSRP $29.99) That makes the drive end up only costing $140.01, for something this new that is excellent value. Not even PS3 with its built-in Blu-ray includes a remote, does it? Opening it up I was happy to see King Kong was not just in a paper sleeve, but the full retail product, shrink wrapped and all. Down with cheap pack-ins! The Universal Remote is also very nice, much nicer then I expected. If you have a 360 and no remote for it, this thing will make your life a heck of a lot easier. Not having to "turn on" a controller to pause your movie or play some music is great. Add to that it lets you program it for your TV, and my ViewSonic N2750w hasn't had luck with universal remotes... but this remote worked fine. Finally, I can turn on the TV and the 360 with one remote. I still want to get the Logitech 360 Harmony, but this was still a great addition to the package. On to system setup... you toss in an install disc into the 360 before connecting the HD-DVD drive. Then you conenct the power to the drive, then the USB. The HD-DVD drive includes two extra USB connections on the back, so you trade in one and get 2, not a bad deal. The system then detects it automatically and finishes the setup process in a very short time (<1m). That splits the left "tray" that is at the bottom of the Xbox Guide into two sections so you can choose to play a game/dvd in the main 360 drive, or a hd-dvd/dvd in the HD-DVD drive. A simple solution that works. I then opened King Kong and put it in, which caused the 360 to launch it immediately. Immediately I got a message saying there was an update available, so I allowed it to download and install. That evidently posed a temporary problem. I jumped into the movie by selecting a scene, and it was VERY laggy, unwatchably laggy. I nearly paniced, and was very dissappointed. I thought it might be the movie or the drive itself. Every scene I selected had the same problem. It would play okay for a few seconds, then jerk and pause. Knowing I was dealing with a Microsoft device, my wife suggested I "reboot", and that is exactly what I did. I was glad to see it also worked and I never had another performance problem. Strange, but I'm happy it was an easy solution. The quality was fabulous. Everything was extremely clear and vivid. I had watched a Blu-ray demo which included several clips and trailers for several blu-ray movies and I must say only one of them impressed me, a computer animated "barnyard" trailer. So it has potential, obviously, but the rest of them looks somewhere between "bad" and "good", dissappointing. But the HD-DVD on the other hand looked perfect, this drive was definitely capable and I was only running in 720p but it still looked excellent. Unified Menus. Wow, that is nice. All HD-DVDs (or at least everyone I have it seems) shares a common menu rather then having the studios/publishers craft a custom menu for each movie. This, to me, is great. Much easier for the average consumer, harder to confuse them or force them to figure out how to use it. Plus, I'm sure i'm not the only person who has had their DVD player have issues with some dvd movie menus, where you can't see what is selected, etc. So that is a great move. You can also access these menus anytime while the movie is playing. That means real-time changing of the audio options for things like Languages and Subtitles, and it also means it's faster to access. It gives great feedback to the user that once they get out of the menu they'll still be right where they were before. The other features I noticed were nice, but more of a gimmick to me. These were My Scenes and U-Control. My Scenes lets you bookmark scenes so you can access them quickly without scrolling through every scene. Probably handy if you are one of those people that likes to re-watch speficic scenes over and over. U-Control so far hasn't offered much. It puts "U" logo in the bottom right and if there is a special feature for the scene you are watching, it will expand and you can select a feature real time. In use this always ended up a PIP with commentary, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if it also let you change camera angles, etc, if a movie actually supported that. DVDs had a similar feature and I never saw it used. All in all the value was great, the quality is excellent, and the features are refined. I have to say HD-DVD is impressive and I intend to fully support it. Hopefully my vote counts in the end. But if Blu-ray wins, I'll still not have invest enough to make me upset about it.... what would upset me is the cost of buying into Blu-ray, something I could afford to do right now frankly. I still doubt this is quite mass-market yet as people will be content with DVD for several more years. I think HD-DVD will interest most people 6-12 months after they've owned their HDTV, and even HDTV is still in a minority. But if you are interested in HD movies and have an HDTV, I can say that HD-DVD did not disappoint, and getting an HD-DVD drive for $140 is a price you just won't be able to beat. I can only imagine how fast these are going to sell when they are fully working in Windows and Mac OS!