Microsoft put some potential dents in the PlayStation 3's high-def armor during the company's Tokyo Game Show press conference, revealing a Japanese release date and a price point for the HD-DVD drive (November 22, approximately $177) as well as plans to support HD-DVD, video, and games in 1080p after a software update in the fall. No release details were given for the U.S. version, though the other accessories announced at the show fell in line with U.S. release dates.
Microsoft's 1080p plans may be more flash than substance, however. Because the 360 lacks an HDMI output, the only way to get the improved HD resolution will be via the system's default component outputs or (presumably) by adding a VGA cable (sold separately). The problem: almost no HDTVs actually accept 1080p video signals via their component inputs. VGA/RGB inputs tend to fare better in this regard, but they're not as prevalent on HDTVs as the ubiquitous component inputs are. Also, movie studios have the option of adding a so-called Image Constraint Token to their HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies, a copy-protection option that delivers less-than-optimal resolution through all outputs but HDMI. They have yet to do so, but if they reverse course, watching HD-DVDs on the 360 would deliver a movie-watching experience that's little better than that of standard DVDs. Similarly, while the software update may enable the 360 to upscale games and videos to 1080p resolution, most games will still be optimized for a native resolution of 720p. (For more info on HDTV resolutions, check out CNET's HDTV resolutions explained.)
HDMI issues notwithstanding, the Microsoft Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive represents an excellent value--if the price point for the States stays reasonably close, one could pick up a state-of-the-art video game system and a high-def movie player for less than $600.