In an effort to boost sales of its next-gen high-definition movie format, Microsoft announced today that starting August 1 it would slash $20 off its HD DVD player add-on for the Xbox 360 bringing it down to $179. In addition, the Redmond giant will pack in five free HD DVD movies for anyone purchasing an Xbox 360 HD DVD Player between August 1 and September 30.

Sony, which is championing Blu-ray Disc technology against HD DVD, recently introduced a $100 price reduction to the 60GB PlayStation 3 console, which already contains a Blu-ray Disc player, putting it in the $499 price point. The Xbox 360, on the other hand, sells for $399 with a 20GB hard drive and no HD playback capabilities unless consumers shell out $179 for the HD DVD Player add-on.

Microsoft also announced it will offer the movie "300" on its online service Xbox Live on demand starting August 14, as well a free hi-def download of the pilot episode of Heroes, in advance of the street date for the "Heroes: Season 1" HD DVD boxed set.

In other news, there has been a lot of speculation about a $50 price drop for the Xbox 360 by Microsoft that could arrive as early as next month, in a move to regain momentum in the video game console market. Surely that must be taken with a grain of salt, as price cut rumors are a dime a dozen these days.