Things are moving fast in the high definition DVD world although it’s still not clear whether Blu-ray or HD DVD or both will eventually get the nod from consumers. Anyhow, in the HD DVD camp after a very short run for the first generation players, Toshiba announced their second generation players (HD-A2 and HD-XA2) last September and while the HD-XA2 is just beginning to appear in stores, the HD-A2 has been available for a while and is getting uniformly great reviews.
David Katzmaier at CNET (from 2006):
The new player also has an improved remote control with keys arranged in a much more logical fashion than those of the HD-A1′s bulky clicker. Otherwise, the two players are identical: The HD-A2 has 1080i output, not 1080p; the HDMI jack still uses the 1.2 spec; and image quality should be exactly the same.
1080p and HDMI 1.3 are reserved for the new step-up model, the HD-XA2 (December, $999). The benefits of 1080p are hard to pin down–in fact, given a display that de-interlaces 1080i correctly, and most do, we expect the picture quality improvement from 1080i to 1080p output to be minor, if not nonexistent. HDMI 1.3′s chief video-quality benefit, according to its backers, is better color depth that’s less subject to false contouring, among other problems. It’s worth mentioning that you only get the benefit of HDMI 1.3 if you mate your HDMI 1.3 source to a display with HDMI 1.3, and as far as we know, no HDMI 1.3 displays will be available this year…
At first glance, the HD-A2 looks like a better player than the HD-A1, and hopefully the company has indeed addressed some of the first-generation player’s usability quirks. For HDTV owners with $500 to spend on a disc player that delivers phenomenal video quality, it looks like a solid value. The same can’t be said for the twice-as-expensive HD-XA2, which is obviously aimed at buyers who don’t mind paying a lot for cutting-edge features.
Also worth noting is that all 14 of the user reviews are “Perfect” or “Spectacular” except for two users who were expecting to use HDTV’s with only DVI input where there are currently limitations.
The Toshiba HD-A2 outputs 480p, 720p, and 1080i over HDMI and component and it up-scales standard definition DVD’s over the players HDMI 1.2a output. Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD (core only), Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital and standard DTS processing are supported. The player also sports a rear-panel Ethernet connection, slim-line design and greatly improved load times over its predecessors. The players build quality is still impressive even if it’s not the tank the HD-A1 was. The case is still made of metal and the brushed/stainless flip-down front tray adds to the players overall curb appeal.
Standard Definition DVD Viewing:
The Toshiba HD-A1 and HD-XA2 were widely lauded for their standard definition up-scaling capabilities, so of course I was quite interested to see how well the HD-A2 performed the same task. The first disc up was my well worn and just as enjoyed Superbit edition of ‘The Fifth Element’. I wanted something familiar for this test and I can’t think of a disc I’ve viewed more throughout the years. The colors were vibrant and well saturated and the overall image was on-par with the up-conversion from my XA1.
I skipped forward to chapter eight where Leeloo is crawling through the air-ducts; the shadow detail, sharpness and overall detail were all spot-on. The motion was fluid and lifelike and the flesh tones were very believable. Overall I was quite satisfied with the A2′s standard definition DVD playback and I never had the feeling that I was missing something or felt the desire to pop the disc back over into the XA1.
If you happen to go the HD DVD route, I can easily recommend either the HD-A2 or HD-A20 (I’m under the assumption it’s basically a HD-A2 with 1080p output) without reservation.
There’s much more by following the link, but the Toshiba HD-A20 mentioned is yet another second generation player announced earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show that adds 1080p output at a MSRP of $599.
To net it all out, the Toshiba HD-A2 seems to be a great reasonably priced HD DVD player for consumers who don’t need cutting edge features as long as you observe the usual caveats: