The Cutting Edge Page 4

Tech Notes

by David Ranada

As a player of CDs and DVDs, the Xbox was very good. CD playback, in fact, was quite respectable, with noise levels only about 3 to 4 dB higher than theoretical perfection. This is audibly noisier than many recent standalone DVD players, but only under extremely critical conditions that the typical Xbox user is unlikely ever to encounter. Besides, fine as it is, if you don't like the analog audio performance you can feed your system with the box's optical digital output (assuming you have the optional Advanced or High Definition AV Pack), which is the only way to get multichannel Dolby Digital signals out of it anyway.

Playback of movie DVDs was also very good. In fact, the luminance response at the DVD resolution limit of 6.75 MHz was better than with many standalone DVD players, down only 0.26 dB referred to its 1-MHz output. Even difficult-to-get-right in-player letterboxing was fair instead of the far more common poor. As for the component-video output, the numbers were below average, but we've seen worse. While there's the potential for some color bleeding, we didn't see any.

Microsoft makes no claims that the Xbox will play any discs other than videogames, prerecorded CDs, and DVDs. For audio that's exactly what I found: the console resolutely refused to play audio-format CD-R and CD-RW discs, not to mention CD-R/RW discs containing MP3 files. It was genuinely startling to find, however, that the Xbox played DVD-R and DVD-RW discs recorded in standard DVD-Video format as well as DVD+RW discs made on the recent Philips recorder. The CD-R/RW limitations, in this light, seem to be deliberate, as the disc drive itself can probably read them.

Beyond Gaming

by Michael Antonoff

So how is the Xbox as a DVD player? First off, if you want to use the system to play DVDs, you'll need Microsoft's $30 DVD Movie Playback Kit, which includes a 7-inch-long arched remote control, which matches the black and lime color scheme of the Xbox console, plus an infrared eye to plug into one of the console's four game-controller ports.

The DVD remote, which is a lot more comfortable to hold than the game controller, accesses the most common DVD functions directly. But for less common functions, like A/B repeat and 2x or 4x picture zoom, you have to press the display button to superimpose a tool bar on the TV image. You move the cursor right or left to highlight a function, then press the select button. Forward and reverse scanning (at 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, or 32x) is done directly from the remote, as is slow motion at 1/2x, 1/4x, or 1/8x - though for slo-mo you have to first press pause, then forward or reverse. You can do frame advance or reverse in a similar way.