The battle of the next generation formats steps up a gear with the launch of Microsoft's bolt-on HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360. With Christmas fast approaching can Microsoft convince movie fans that its option is the better solution?

With Blu-ray seemingly getting all the coverage at the moment following the launch of Sony's PlayStation 3 in America and Samsung's launch of the BD-P1000 standalone player in the UK, HD DVD has a lot of ground to catch up.

Can it match the performance of the Blu-ray drive found in the PlayStation 3, are there connection issues getting the best performance from your television and is it worth the price? Pocket-lint takes a closer look.

Surprisingly large, it's about half the size of the Xbox 360, the HD DVD drive from Microsoft comes in the same pale colours as the console and connects via a USB cable from one to the other.

Powered independently, yes you'll need to find yet another power socket behind the TV, the drive sits alongside the games console and via a quick software update is fully operational in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

Readers worried that the addition of the drive would mean having to take apart their 360 shouldn't be, and you should think of it as an external DVD drive that would sit next to your computer rather than one that sits inside.

Connection to the television is via the Xbox, so installation is incredibly easy, and this currently is via component cables (four cables labelled red, yellow, green and blue) rather than the completely digital connection and fast becoming industry standard HDMI.

Causing confusion and a stir in the Home Cinema arena, having spoken and tested the device we can confirm that the cables will support playback up to 1080p. The only caveat is that not all 1080p televisions will support 1080p via component connection, so if you are one of the minority of readers who has got a 1080p television it's probably best to double check. That said if your television sports a screen size 40-inches or smaller then you're not really going to see the difference between 1080i and 1080p anyway.

Once you've connected the drive updated your Xbox 360 (you'll most likely have already done earlier in the year) and installed the new software you are ready to go.

It's time to watch some movies.

To get you started Microsoft has included King Kong in the box. HD DVD boasts better quality, more features and plenty of storage space for extras over regular DVD, so it's a shame then that the HD DVD version of King Kong doesn't feature any extras whatsoever.

The new technology does allow you to watch the film while scanning the menu so you can select a new option, change the language or select a new scene, but how often have you found that you really needed that feature?

Not to be put off by this we also tested the HD DVD drive with both Unforgiven and The Last Samurai staring Tom Cruise from Warner Bros.

Both discs did have extra features, but no more than you would expect for a regular DVD. As for the quality, Unforgiven's landscapes worked well with the additional crispness of the picture, as did the detail on the Samurai suits in Last of the Samurai.

The ability to search the extras while watching the movie works but isn't going to change your experience and none of the discs we tested used the online capabilities of the Xbox 360 as headlined as one of the benefits of the format when Toshiba launched HD DVD.

Additionally all the extra features were only in 480i or 480p rather than 720p or even 1080i or 1080p.

Verdict

Overall the picture quality is very good and equal to that of Blu-ray in the two players we have so far tested, with our only complaint being that the Xbox 360's fan makes such a loud noise.

At £129 this is a considerably cheaper way of getting next generation format content without breaking the bank. Even if you consider the price of the cost of buying an Xbox 360 into the equation you are still looking at a bill some £700 cheaper than the current alternative from Samsung. Without it, it's almost only a tenth of the price.

Of course, the verdict is still out when it comes to which format is going to win and that is the big question here.

When in comes down to performance on our set-up (We tested this on a 40-inch Samsung LCD television at 1080i) with our eyes, we can tell no difference between HD DVD or Blu-ray.

If you must have high definition movies this is the cheapest option to do it, although if you are worried about the format war, then you might be better off looking at an affordable upscaling DVD player instead.