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The HDTV Podcast
This review is featured in the latest podcast from The HT Guys
http://www.htguys.com/archive/2007/June22.html

You can find some great deals on the Toshiba HD-DVD players right now, especially the HD-A2 (Buy Now). They've had the 5 free movie promotion going for a while, and it seems like the price just keeps getting lower. Is the player so bad that they need to practically give it away to get people to buy it? Why would Toshiba go to such lengths to get these into your home theater? The answer, of course, is the format war. In the end, whoever can sell the most movies wins. And for someone to buy or rent a movie, they have to have a player to watch it on. If more people have HD-DVD players, more will buy HD-DVD movies and the rest will be history.

As far as the specs go, the HD-A2 supports:

  • HD Output at 720p and 1080i
  • SD Upconversion to 480p, 720p and 1080i
  • High-performance SHARC® DSP Audio processor
  • Dolby® Digital Plus 5.1ch
  • Dolby® TrueHD 5.1ch
  • DTS® HD (core only)
  • Persistent storage
  • HDMI™
  • Ethernet Port

It probably goes without saying that the pure audio visual experience with the HD-A2 is awesome. We tested it on a JVC HD-61FH97 (Buy now) for video and ran it through a Denon AVR-3806 (Buy now) with Klipsch speakers for audio. The player provides absolutely the best home theater experience we've had to date. It was even better than Discovery HD Theater - which is hard to say, but completely true. The picture quality is stunning and the audio is unbelievable. We tried King Kong, Aeon Flux, Batman Begins, The Phantom of the Opera, The Entire Matrix Trilogy, you get the picture. We just couldn't stop watching the thing.

The HD-A2 is the least capable of the current crop of HD-DVD players available from Toshiba. Both of the other two models, the HD-A20 (Buy now) and the HD-XA2 (Buy now), support 1080p video. In fact the HD-A20 is nearly identical to the HD-A2, it just adds 1080p for an extra $100 more on the MSRP. So the odds that a firmware upgrade will ever be available for the HD-A2 to allow 1080p are pretty slim. How would you explain that to someone who bought an HD-A20? The HD-XA2 also comes with HDMI 1.3, better video processing, and gold plated input jacks. But the HD-A2 is the one that's getting all the hot sale prices, so it appears to be the most popular right now. But if you shop around, you might find a great deal on the HD-A20. For example, right now it's only about $25 more than the HD-A2 at the HT Guys store (as of 6/22).

The audio is nothing short of amazing. Perhaps it was just wishful listening, but we were blown away with how good the multi channel audio from the HDMI connection sounded. Surround sound tracks have never been that immersive or detailed. The player lacks multi channel analog outputs, so if you don't have an HDMI capable receiver you won't get the full listening experience. That's another feature only available on the HD-XA2. But if you love good audio, like we do, and you like to hear it loud, the HD-A2 doesn't disappoint.

So we've established that HD-DVD viewing is spectacular. We aren't making any judgments about it versus Blu-ray or anything else, we're simply evaluating this player. The next thing to check was up-conversion. In that aspect it did very, very well. It didn't get a perfect score on the HQV benchmark, but that should be fine. It seemed to do a very solid job with the movies we watched. In a very unscientific test, the OPPO 981 probably did a little better with the up-conversion, but they were very close. All of the usual HT Guys test movies and test scenes came out very good, and they looked better using the up-conversion on the HD-A2 than not using it. As an upconverting DVD player it scores near the top of the players we've seen.

The player is a little slow to boot up, but not that bad. And while movies look and sound great, the menus seem to be a bit sluggish. In fact that's really our only complaint about the player itself. The setup and configuration menus are easy to use and understand and actually respond very well and firmware updates are very simple (if you have an Ethernet connection handy). The only problem was with the interactive menus on the discs themselves. For example, sometimes scrolling through the chapter selection would get a little behind the remote clicks, so even after you stopped clicking the menus would continue to move, making it very difficult to stop on the chapter you really wanted. It was almost like spinning the big wheel on the Price is Right. But once our patience kicked in, we were able to master the menus like pros.

Overall the HD-A2 is a great way to jump into the next generation DVD game. It's only $100 more than the Xbox 360 add on drive (or even less if you're watching the sale prices) and will always be a very good up-converting DVD player, even if the HD-DVD format eventually goes away or merges somehow into a consolidated format. The audio and video quality are amazing. If you like watching Discovery HD Theater simply because it looks so darn good, you've got to get an HD-DVD player.

Posted by The HT Guys, June 22, 2007 8:00 AM

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About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.