Hey, Remember The Xbox 360’s HD-DVD Drive? It Was A Thing.

Hey, Remember The Xbox 360’s HD-DVD Drive? It Was A Thing.

Oh Microsoft. What were you thinking? When people point to Microsoft’s biggest folly of the last hardware generation, they’ll normally suggest either the Red Ring Of Death pandemic or an unhealthy obsession with Kinect. Both of those have been problems for Microsoft, sure, and I’m sure we’ll get to covering both of them in our “Last-Gen Zeroes” feature, but I don’t think they’ve been as big a failure as the ill-fated – and now all-but-forgotten – HD-DVD drive.

See, Microsoft shrugged off the RROD problem. It fessed up, paid up and moved on, and having only just been unseated from a dominance of US hardware charts that dates back over two years, it doesn’t seem to have ultimately affect their overall sales or market standing. Much.

And Kinect, well… that’s still a work-in-progress. We’ll see in a few years whether an improved Kinect with the Xbox One was worth the distraction of the Xbox 360’s inept attempt.

But the HD-DVD drive was a disaster. A complete and utter failure in every sense of the word.

Conceived at a time when the world was still unsure which company/format was going to become the standard for next-gen high-definition video content, it was a feeble attempt at matching Sony’s ability to pack a Blu-Ray player in with every PS3 sold.

Remember, this is how these companies used to behave. Tit for tat, eye for eye. Thankfully, they’ve settled down now, but if the consoles of 2013 were launching with 2005’s mindset, you can bet that if one machine supported YouTube, the other would have supported Vimeo.

The HD-DVD drive didn’t ship at launch; in fact it was released over a year after Xbox 360s first hit shelves, in November 2006. And it was doomed from the start.

For one, the PS3’s Blu-Ray capabilities were baked-in. You bought a PS3, you got a Blu-Ray player, and it was the same thing you played your games on.

The HD-DVD drive, on the other hand, was messy. It was an external drive you had to plug into the Xbox 360. It was sold separately. You couldn’t play Xbox 360 games on the thing.

And that’s assuming you’d even want to. Studio support for the HD-DVD format was never as strong as it was for Blu-Ray, and shortly after the HD-DVD drive released, things only got worse.

Whenever the drive is remembered these days, you’ll probably hear someone joke about how they’ve still got their copy of King Kong. That’s because it was about the only movie anyone ever owned for the thing.

By February 2008, it was done for. Sales had been dreadful, and Blu-Ray had emerged the clear winner in the format wars. A few days after HD-DVD’s creator Toshiba had killed off their own support, Microsoft announced the end of production for their own drive. They dropped the price to $US50, mostly so collectors with sense of humour could snatch one up and say in five years’ time “Hey, I’ve still got my HD-DVD drive, and a copy of King Kong”.

It may not have cost Microsoft as much money as the RROD, but in terms of the scale and completeness of its failure, the HD-DVD drive was I think the company’s biggest blunder of the last generation. I mean, it was just so…humiliating.

Microsoft didn’t have to make the thing at all. It didn’t impact the playing of games one bit. But in an effort to compete with Sony in terms of multimedia, it invested time, money and marketing to draw a line in the sand. A line Sony kicked it right back over.

Perhaps the most telling sign of its failure was that it was killed so soon in the hardware generation that it’s been over five years since it was discontinued, a long enough time for people to forget it ever existed. Surely the only fate worse than a failure everyone remembers is one so ignominious and inconsequential that they don’t remember it at all.

Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku’s look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we’ll be celebrating the Heroes — and the Zeroes — of the last eight years of console video gaming.


  • I remember this thing. Also remember someone telling it had a chance of winning due to most porn dvds being released on hd DVD. Duno if it was true, but I knew it was going to fail. It was forseen from the start.

    • Had they used the HDDVD as the drive instead of the normal DVD, then we’d probably see a VERY different result these days. A very different one. As it stands, Bluray was the far superior option at the time, HDDVD had a few perks, but Blurays definitely shown itself in the years since to be the better choice.

      • Weresmurf you have just proven beyond means how uninformed you actually are

        Hddvd was and still as far superior in every means of the word firstly blu ray still for gaming has 2x read speed what a joke! Hddvd was capable of 16x and faster
        As for capacity blu ray only capable of dual layer of 50gb in total by contrast to Hddvd which could do triple layer at 60gb… Most Blu ray films out are on a single layer 25gb disc but initially failed spectacularly in cramming everything onto a disc because companies being primitive and using mpeg2 compression…
        At the end of the day blu ray won because it was a far easier sell than HdDvd much in the way common people have no idea wtf a WiiU is !
        And we will pay the price now with mandatory installs on all next gen games because of this lazy ass format that Sony spewed out like MemoryStick and the MiniDisc

      • The superior product doesn’t always win the war. VHS was awful compared to BetaMax. Just… fucking awful.

        • Indeed. VHS won because porn took it up. Interesting but it’s actually a fact, porn decided to not go with betamax and thus everything on vhs the first few years was just spank movies. I guess people didn’t figure times change, the internet made discs irrelevant etc. Plus, having a bluray player in one of histories most succesful consoles didnt hurt either.

          • it was the price that killed Beta not porn. Plus only 1hr beta tapes compared to 2hrs for vhs.

    • Yeah I remember my mate telling me that porn argument too. I think the closest we got was Megan Fox in his HD-DVD of Transformers, ha ha. So much disappointment in that sentence.

      • The problem with that supposition was that even then most people were watching their porn on the Internet!

    • Funny, I watched a documentary about the different format wars. Beta-max vs. VHS. They hypothesized that one of the reasons VHS won was because Sony wouldn’t allow porn to be made on their ‘superior’ format.
      Fast forward to Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD. Back when there was still some competition. At the start, Sony were holding true to their old ways of not allowing porn to sully their product.
      Eventually they budged and started to allow porn to be made on Blu-ray and the rest is history.

    • The porn thing was what won the war for VHS over BetaMax and DVD over Video Disc. In the past, whoever won the support of the porn industry, won the market. What they failed to take into account was that the medium for porn distribution was won by a third option: All Digital.

      Sure, you can still get DVD and Blu-Ray porn, but the industry was the first to support efforts to go all digital and here we are on the cusp of an all digital media world.

      TL:DR – Porn is a wizard.

  • I snapped one up at the end of its life along with a heap of $10 HD-DVDs. I can’t bring myself to upgrade them to blurays.

  • Mine is set up in the media room and still gets a look in every now and then. I have a fairly big collection of HDDVD’s as I went on a buying spree when retail was dropping the product because of its lack of sales. I managed to pick up most of the titles I have for around $2 each that includes boxsets as well 🙂

    But my HDDVD’s and even Bluray’s are almost dead now having the NBN and Netflix 😉

  • HD-DVD’s were and are superior to Blu Ray, especially for Aussies. But the rise of digital entertainment has been a huge kick to hard entertainment. Soon enough, consoles won’t even come with disc drives…

    • And exactly like the beta/vhs wars, the crappier standard won. Blu-ray wasn’t even a 100% finished spec when players were first released, and it was changing up until late 2011, because the blu-ray player I bought in mid 2012 had problems with the hobbit and toshiba had to replace it with a new model for that reason.

      Blu ray won because sony paid studios to adopt it, which they were inclined to do anyway because HD-DVD had *no region locking*.

        • VHS had a much larger capacity – remember you could record on 4 hour tapes (and then with LP double it) when will people learn, it’s not fidelity that sells technology – it’s content.

          Same thing happened with Digital TV in this country which was pretty quiet until extra channels started springing up

          • but then DVD took off and killed VHS, even though betamax was offering DVD quality from 1988.

          • Again content – why did you get a DVD player? I know for myself the big novelty over VHS was the special features and commentaries

          • The only DVD player I’ve ever owned is the one in my PC, by the time DVDs were mainstream I was downloading divx/xvid and using dvdshrink. I don’t re-watch movies often so I never saw the value in paying $30 for something I could rent for $6 and if a couple of years later I want to watch it again it will be $2-3.

          • Betamax was good but it wasn’t even remotely close to DVD quality. Also VHS was basically just as good if you use the short play (2 hour) setting, which most people didn’t.

    • I bought one for $600 in 1981 and it weighed about 30kg. Even had a corded pause button. Jealous?

  • I still have this drive in storage, 2 HD DVD players and close to 60 HD DVD titles on my shelf amongst my Blu-ray collection.

    HD DVD was the better format but Toshiba really sucked ass at marketing it to the consumer and third parties. All of the discs were region free (unlike Blu-ray) and the spec was actually finalised upon release. Blu-ray took a further 2 years to nail down hardware and software specs after it was first released.

    My HD-X1 still gets a decent workout, it’s my go to device for DVD playback due to the Reon scaler chip within it. RIP HD DVD.

      • I think one of the things that made it better was the codecs that each format used, with the codec used in HD DVDs better than the one used in Blu Rays. At the time I remember articles where the same movie was compared in both formats and HD DVD always being the winner.

        • That was because some BluRays at the time still used the older codecs like MPEG 2. I’m not joking, HD Movies using the same codecs as DVD.

          This is most likely why there were little to no features on some early BluRay disks – all the space was taken up by the movie.

      • Region free discs, Dolby True HD/DTS HD Master Audio bitstream support. The first generations of Blu-ray players didn’t support bitstream of the new HD audio codecs. They decoded them internally and passed them to your receiver as a PCM signal only. The old phatty PS3 was the same, DTS worked with Sony to eventually get it working, but Dolby True HD was still decoded internally.

      • No region locking available for a start, and blu-ray was not a 100% locked down spec until recently and some old players will have problems playing new discs properly, like mine bought in mid 2012 and the hobbit.

        • That’s bull. I have been collecting blu rays since the very beginning, and I have never encountered ANY issues with the numerous blu-ray players I have scattered around my house, each bought at different time periods.

      • HD-DVD at the time had a lot of advantages over BluRay (whose only advantage at the time was bigger space). In point form:
        * The specifications were finished
        * It had Warner Bros behind it (one of the biggest until Sony bought them across).
        * The SDKs for authoring were far more mature
        * It was mandatory to have HD audio and video codecs from day one (I remember some BluRays at the time still used MPEG2!)
        * Above all, HD-DVD was region free by design thus was consumer friendly importation wise.

        BluRay took some time even after HD-DVD was deemed dead to finally catch up.

        • It also had the ability to have the menus and certain special features run at the same time as the movies.

  • I still have my HD-DVD drive connected to my XBox actually. It cost me $250 I think from memory at launch and I think was designed the way it was to be similar to the first gen Xbox 360s.

    I own about 20 movies, including Blade Runner, Transformers 1 and the Bourne series, which all get a run every now and then. I loved that it was region free which meant that all of the movies I bought were from the US and far cheaper than in Aus.

    I agree with CyclonLogicBomb when he says that it was the better format etc etc.

    Sad to see it die so quickly as it did.

  • Got 2 of these babies and a small but awesome HDDVD collection. I was about to spend $100 on a HDDVD drive for the Xbox and decided against it. The next day they dropped to $25 at EB. I bought 4 and sold 2 on ebay, made all my money back and a small profit. Then the movies dropped to $2.50. Got Transformers, Blade Runner (4 versions or is it 5), Chronicles of Riddick, Blood Diamond, The Departed, Matrix Boxset, Hulk and a few more) I love it and still use it.

    • I bought the HD-DVD drive because I only had a 360 at the time and it was a relatively cheap way to add HD playback to my setup. I was bummed at the time that BD won but ended up with a collection of 150 HD-DVDs at fire sale prices. $2 a pop, and even remember getting new release films at the the for $6, because they were replicated after the trigger was pulled on the format. I have a dedicated HD player that does a better job of playback that the xbox drive does, but the add on still proved it’s worth, as I have now ripped all of my discs with it to an external drive, and have all of them on tap at 1:1 quality for my media player. In the end I considered it a solid investment!

  • And that’s assuming you’d even want to. Studio support for the HD-DVD format was never as strong as it was for Blu-Ray, and shortly after the HD-DVD drive released, things only got worse.

    Actually no. Warner Bros went exclusive to HD-DVD early on. So even with the few that went exclusive to HD-DVD, the fact HD-DVD had WB made it stronger than BluRay. The format nearly one when Columbia and Paramount decided to shift but Sony put an end to it by finally winning WB over.

  • So much ignorance.

    The HD DVD drive performed exactly as it was intended. It delayed the establishment of Blu-ray long enough to cause the format to never truly gain any traction. To this day Blu-ray still hasn’t entrenched itself as the format to take over from DVD and most likely never will thanks to downloads.

  • I used to follow the Blu Ray vs HDDVD war quite closely when it was going on, and I vaguely remember an article/editorial written about the Microsoft decision to side with HDDVD, it was along the lines of Microsoft knew that Blu Ray was going to be the better format in the long run, but decided to join the other Camp because this would keep the industry fighting on longer than it should and push people away from a physical movie format, Microsoft were banking on the fact that Movie and TV downloads would go on to dominate over and physical Disc format, plus the other side of the decision was software, Java was chosen to run on Blu Ray, Microsofts own software was dismissed (HDi). So Microsoft who were being courted from both sides went with HDDVD. I remember thinking at the time it was a dumb move.
    Might I suggest reading this Wikipedia Article about the Format war. excellent reading.

  • I still have my HD-DVD drive and a copy of King Kong. But also I have a copy of The Last Starfighter, which you still can’t get in any format in Australia, so I am loathe to let the drive go.

  • I know this may sound trivial and a bit stupid to a lot of people but the old saying “what’s in a name?” actually plays a factor in marketing.

    “Blu-Ray” was cutting edge. It was fun to say. “HD-DVD” sounded like DVD 2.0… When it comes to product branding, who knows, maybe if Toshiba had called it something different it might have succeeded better? In recent memory, the Wii-U branding failure also comes to mind. Same thing, if Nintendo had called it something new then maybe it would have been adopted better.

    Not that im saying this was the sole reason it failed but… I think it did have a lot to do with it.

  • i’ve got 2 of these… both still work fine… bought up heaps of HD-DVD’s when they were going down the toilet… cheap HD movies… who cares if the format is dead? lol

  • I pretty sure you meant Universal (HD DVD had Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers and a hand ful of big indie studios)

  • I pretty sure you meant Universal (HD DVD had Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers and a hand ful of big indie studios)

    Bluray had Fox, Sony Pictures and Warner – with Disney coming later

  • Something tragically wrong with my browser, I cant delete the above posts which were a reply to @WiseHacker

  • I’ve got one these but never used it as I never had the power cord for it.I was at a pawn shop and bought some HD-DVD’s cheap and the guy that worked there asked if I wanted to buy it for $5, I said yeah but couldn’t find a power cord to fit.

    I used the pin trick to open the disc tray and found a bonus HD-DVD version of V for vendetta in it.At the time I was using an LG Blu-Ray/HD-DVD combo drive in my pc as I wanted to hedge my bets as I thought one would definatly fail, I didn’t place good odds on Sony winning a format war after failed ones like Beta,mini-disc,memory stick,UMD etc.

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