Multimedia Features X-posed: And on the 8th day, God created sound.
First off, let me get something out of the way. This article is actually designed to serve two purposes. One, this article will review the Xbox's overall DVD movie playback quality and features, while at the same time I will review the sound capabilities, namely the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound during gameplay. Also, let it be known that I do have a PS2 as well, and have played DVDs on it. From time to time, I will compare the PS2 with the Xbox on certain aspects. This is not an attempt to bash the PS2, it will merely serve as a basis for comparison. That said, let's start with the DVD playback.
One of the biggest gripes about the Xbox DVD player has been that it requires the purchase of a $30 remote package if you wish to watch movies on it and enjoy its many features. Let me help to explain this. It all comes down to licensing costs. With each DVD player out, the manufacturer has to pay licensing fees to the patented technologies within to make the product. So, in an effort to keep the price of the Xbox reduced for those that don't wish to use the Xbox for DVD, the remote issue was drawn up. That way, only the people that wanted the use of the DVD would pay the fees through the remote package purchase. However, that is another story all together. My job here is to review the actual playback. I just had to get that little dispute out of the way.
First, let's go over the overall picture quality of the video. Progressive scan has been axed from the list as licensing the technology brought up some last minute fees that Microsoft felt were not worth the cost. Still though, even without progressive scan in place, the video quality is sharp, and overall one of the best I have seen on the DVD market. Compared to my stand-alone DVD player (which admittedly isn't the best in the world), the Xbox video is actually better than a system designed to just play DVDs. Features run aplenty on this thing too. Slow motion, fast scan, and the ability to zoom into the frame up to 10x are there, you can even move the picture around in the frame while zoomed in. For example, you are watching a part with someone in a distant window on the upper right of the screen. You can zoom it in, and move the frame around to that exact spot. The PS2 can't do that; neither can my regular DVD player.
Also supported are multiple camera angles, different audio tracks, and basically all the bells and whistles of your mid to high end DVD players. That 30 bucks seems like a lot less now, doesn't it? While I am on DVD playback I'd like to point out something else that I noticed. On the PS2, changing tracks and scanning takes the system a few seconds to accept your command. For instance, if you want to fast scan forward you have to hold it a bit before the player actually starts scanning. Also, skipping forward/backward a chapter causes a brief pause while switching. On Xbox though, the controls are very responsive, almost to the point of being instantaneous. This isn't a huge ordeal, but every little bit helps. For the cost of the remote, the DVD package is a very good deal.
Now on to part two, how does this bad boy sound? Read on.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 abilities of the Xbox have always been the topic of naysayers everywhere. Claims of lag and latency in the audio during gameplay ran rampant. To put it bluntly, DD 5.1, in real time, just plainly could not be done except for with movies. Well, movies are pretty much a given. Terminator 2 in DD 5.1 sounds awesome, as it should. Xbox does DTS as well. Granted you have to have the equipment to decode such signals, but if you do, use it! Whoops. Sorry, got off track.
To those people who told me that DD 5.1 was something that developers wouldn't widely support, especially in the launch games -- tell me that now -- as 4 of the 5 games that I own are written for 5.1 DD, and sound amazing. I challenge you to play Halo in 5.1 DD, hear the bullets whizzing by, the crisp beautiful sound effects, and superb 3D environmental audio, and then deny that DD 5.1 in game is possible. The PS2 does DD 5.1, but only during certain cut scenes and DVD movies, while the GC only supports Pro-Logic 2 at best. However, Xbox's 6 channels hit you with a boom and a bang from all sides as you play. I must admit, that when I first thought of DD 5.1 I didn't think that it would make all that much difference. Man, was I wrong. I had no idea at the jump in realism that was achieved over just my Dolby Pro-Logic Surround. There has been one other time I was this pleasantly amazed. That was when I first played Jedi Knight with my new Voodoo 1 card. The advancement in audio we have all been waiting for has arrived people.
Dolby Digital 5.1 during gameplay is possible, very possible. And it's only on Xbox. Games are no longer just played in 5.1, they are experienced. You'll even be catching yourself turning around to see who is coming up from behind you. Those of you holding off on a DD system for your Xbox because you think it won't really make that much of a difference, well, trust me, it does. Also, the DVD remote package is a perfect compliment to the whole. Fairly inexpensive, but yet the features you get are worth a separate DVD player in itself. Truly, a must buy for anyone even considering a DVD player.