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Microsoft Demos Xbox HD DVD Drive

Microsoft showed off its external HD DVD drive designed for the Xbox 360 game console this week. While the next-gen Xbox console itself has been at retailers for a few months, the HD DVD device will be shipped as an optional add-on in time for the holiday shopping season, the company confirmed -- which is about the same time the much-anticipated PlayStation 3 from Sony is set to debut.

According to published reports from the DVD Forum this week in Los Angeles, the DVD device is the size of a hardback book. Microsoft demonstrated the new drive with the HD DVD movie disc, "The Phantom of the Opera," and featured some of the disc's menu bar, which typically allows some interactive features to be used while the motion picture is playing.

Although Microsoft's HD DVD drive solution is widely assumed to be the most economical venue for the HD DVD format (at least for Xbox 360 owners), the firm did not disclose any suggested retail pricing yet for the optional Xbox unit. One big reason the next-gen drives will be lower priced than standalone HD DVD or Blu-ray players is-- they are essentially drives, not players. The audio and video processing for HD DVD discs reportedly will all be handled inside the Xbox 360 itself.

Microsoft said its own research suggests a majority of Xbox 360 owners already own HD monitors or sets. The competing PS3 units coming in November will include built-in Blu-ray DVD drives, albeit at higher price points.