HP sent us a prototype system to play with, decked out with LG's new hybrid Blu-ray/HD DVD drive. We still don't know what it will cost to add the drive to an HP system (although the standalone drive will cost $1,199, according to PC World), but we can talk about how it works.
First, let's be clear that this is a prototype system. We first reported that HP would offer this drive on May 9 on its online configurator, but right now, none of its desktops has the option available.
The drive itself, LG's GGW-H10NI Super Multi Blue BD Drive/HD DVD Reader, is a standard 5.25-inch, serial ATA model. HP sent it to us in a mock-up Pavilion with Windows Vista Home Premium, a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU, 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, and a 256MB GeForce 8500 GT graphics card. That's a fairly powerful spec, especially the CPU. We didn't try to swap in a slower CPU, but we don't imagine you'd need this much PC to achieve smooth playback.
As for overall image quality, we're impressed. Both Blu-ray and HD DVD movies looked crisp and clear going out over HDMI to our 40-inch Samsung LN-T4061F LCD television. Using the standard and Blu-ray versions of Silicon Optix's HQV benchmarking discs, we found some issues with jaggies, as well as slightly overblown blacks and whites at their very extremes. None of those problems noticeably impair our viewing enjoyment on actual movies, so only you eagle-eyed sticklers out there may notice if these issues persist in the shipping hardware.
We're happy to report that unlike LG's standalone BH100 hybrid player, the hybrid drive comes bearing the official HD DVD logo. That must mean that LG leapt the hurdle preventing the drive itself from supporting the HDi interactive menu standard native to all HD DVD discs. We say "must" because HDi and Windows still haven't found a seamless way to play together. Many HD DVD discs make you use the clunky player software controls to navigate their menus, rather than a mouse to select the on-disc options like with Blu-ray discs.
We also hope that HP and Cyberlink work out some of the issues with the player software. Cyberlink makes HP's branded My DVD software, which plays both HD movie formats. Blu-ray support was totally seamless, but HD DVD movies default to 4:3. We had to set 16:9 manually. HP says it's aware of the problem and is working on it.
Both formats took between 10 and 20 seconds between insertion and the start of playback on HP's test system, although we found a similar delay on the LG player as well. The drive also generated excessive spinning noise when we played an HD DVD. Blu-ray discs, on the other hand, were totally silent. Again, this isn't a finished system, even the faceplates on the optical drives weren't done. Hopefully HP has enough time to improve its sound dampening between now and release.