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My Review of Toshiba’s HD-DVD player the HD-A1.

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Reverb

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That’s right lady and gentlemen, Toshiba’s HD-DVD players have launched and are now hitting retailers every ware. I wasn’t going to jump onboard with Toshibas format I was waiting for Sony’s Blu-Ray (and I still am) but at only $500.00 for the HD-A1 and there limited availability I just couldn’t resist picking up the last one from my local BestBuy. Unfortunately I was not able to get an HD-DVD movie with my player because the movies are street dated for this coming Tuesday the 18, some people on the AVSforum have reported there local BestBuys selling the movies early but mine would not budge. There are only three HD-DVD movies launching with the player The Last Samurai, The Phantom of the Opera, and Serenity. So for now, I will just talk about how this player does with standard DVD but on Tuesday when I can get a HD-DVD movie I will update this review with my impressions of what the HD-A1 HD-DVD player can really do.

The HD-A1 is a Tank, it comes in at 17” wide almost 14” deep and 4” high. It does have the Dolby Plus decoder built in and 5.1 analog jacks in the back so you can output the new audio formats to your receiver or pre-amp. It does come with a digital coax and fiber optical out ports, but you can’t send the Dolby plus or DTS-HD audio over digital outs, it will be down rezed. You have to use the analog outs for output the audio, or use HDMI to utilize the new loss less audio formats. There is also a networking port on the back of the player so you can down load software updates and bonus material if studios decide to use it. Being this is a first gen player that will come in handy. Some have reported a problem with sending a down rezed Dolby true single over a digital cable to there pre-amp. It seems the receivers and pre-amps are seeing the Dolby true single as DTS and not Dolby digital. Hopefully an update will come out to fix this?

The remote is 9 ½” long 2” wide and ½” thick. The front is steel and the bottom is plastic, the remote has a good weight to it. It is unfortunately not backlit, so those people that have a front projection setup or like to watch movies in the dark will find the remote useless, or will have to turn on a light to use it. The directional pad is OK, but not very responsive, you will find yourself pushing up several times to navigate menus.

Setting up the players menus was striate forward, but to exit out of the menus you have to hit the “setup” button, problem is I could not find a button marked Setup on the remote? There is menu, top menu, V. output, audio but not setup? There is one button on the top that is unmarked but it appears to do nothing? I did finally find it; it was under a hidden sliding panel on the bottom of the remote (very handy, thanks Toshiba).

Playing back standard DVD’s.

The Toshiba HD-A1 can up convert your standard DVD’s to 720P or 1080i if you wish, but you can’t send out 480i over HDMI, if you were thinking about using this player with and external scalier to up convert your movies. Movie quality is very good, colors are bright and crisp, I do see some jittering when the camera pans across the screen that I don’t see with my Pioneer Elite DV-59Avi. I watched Disney’s movie “The Greatest game ever played” on both the DV-59Avi and the HD-A1, all and all the HD-A1 did do a grate job with Standard DVD’s, but the Pioneer was better.

It was the audio side of this player that let me down. There is not much depth to the sound, I found the sound stage to be laid back and veiled, bass was good but not in the same league as the DV-59Avi. The casual listener will be fine with it but Audiophiles should not expect anything mind blowing.

Video wise I rate my Pionner at a 9 and its audio a high 7 to low 8.
I would rate the HD-A1’s Standard DVD Video a high 7 to low 8, and Audio an average 5.

Depending on your current DVD player, you may find the HD-A1 better then your existing player. For me the HD-A1 wont replace my Pioneer Elite DV-59Avi but, I never excepted it to. It’s a first generation player that has been rushed to market to beat out Sony’s Blu-Ray, and at times the HD-A1 can feel a little clunky. Considering it’s $500.00 price of admission I am impressed with it, but we will see what this monster can really do when I get my claws on a HD-DVD movie.

Playing Back HD-DVD's

I started my HD-DVD viewing with Warner Brothers “The Last Samurai” staring Tom Cruise. If you have never watched this movie before, I suggest you do so; it is a wonderful movie that I enjoy watching very much and was thrilled to see it as a launch title for Toshibas HD-DVD format. This movie is filled with beautiful backgrounds and wonderful costumes, especially the extremely detailed samurai armor.

When you first place a disk in the HD-A1’s drive it takes about 30 seconds for the disk to boot up, then another 30 or so for it to process the information. Once the HD-DVD disk starts playing it will go into a Warner Brothers welcome to HD-DVD intro, showcasing a number of movie clips for up incoming HD-DVD titles like Batman Begins, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate factory, Harry Potter and the goblet of fire, The Dukes of Hazzard plus more.

The trailer is designed to introduce you to the new menu system. When you start up a disk it no longer go’s to a menu screen, it now boots directly to the movie. Once in the movie you can hit the menu button on the remote and a menu bar will pop up from the bottom of the screen. You can select to pause the movie, go into languages, special features, ETC. Each option on the menu bar will pop up for easy access, and you don’t even have to stop the movie. You can choose to leave the movie running and open up the menu bar, choose a special feature, watch it, and be scent back to the movie when its over. Its fully integrated into the movie.
The video quality in “TLS” was a bit of a roller coaster, one minute its sharp and detailed, the next its soft and dull. The scenes can change in quality, but it doesn’t change the fact the when the video is at its best, it doesn’t look like video but something much closer to real life. The colors are bright and vibrate, and any flaws in the video transfer can be seen here (film grain can easily be seen if you look for it), macro blocking and pixelation was completely absent, the video was very clean and clear.

The backgrounds are what I really enjoyed looking at; the detail that could be seen in the old streets of Japan was amazing. You could see the depth and textures from far distances. The textures on walls and clothes were fantastic; it would make you want to reach out a touch the textures on screen as if it was really there.

I did not have a set of interconnects to try the Dolby True audio (that will come later), but for now I just used the fiber optic port and sent out a down rezed audio single to my pre-amp. It should be noted that there is a bug here; receivers and pre-amps are seeing the down rezed Dolby True single as a DTS single? The audio still works but it is very faint and somewhat difficult to listen to. Warner Brothers has yet to issue a press release but it appears the problem is not with the HD-A1 player, but with the disks themselves. With any luck WB will issue a recall and I can get a new disk to try, we will see.




Conclusion

All and all I am happy with the player, I was expecting more from HD-DVD but at $500.00 MSRP the player does represent a good value, which consumers will find very tempting. The player is not without its flaws, the remote is defiantly clunky to use, and the player can take a wile to boot up a disk, the audio and video performance does fall short of that ultimate AV quality I was looking for. The video was very detailed but lacked that WOW factor I was looking for? There was lots of detail but not that micro fine detail I wanted to see. I was debating if I would keep the player or not, and I think I have decided to keep it, but with the lack of industry support there wont be much of a movie library for a wile.

I like HD-DVD but it wont stop me from getting a Blu-Ray player, I now more then ever believe Blu-Ray will offer the best in video and audio quality, but it will do so at a premium price tag, with any luck the prices will fall quickly once production starts and the release of the PS3, Microsoft is planning a HD-DVD add on drive for the Xbox 360 but is not expected to release till this fall. I personally don’t see either one of these formats failing, I think they will both take off and last for a number of years, the support of the industry is certainly with these formats, the decision of what to do is now up to you.




_________________________________________________________________

UPDATE!

It appears there is a major bug in the player.

HD-DVD disks are encoded at 1080p resolution. If you have a 720p HDTV (and most of us do) you can have the player down scale the video for you to 1280 X 720p. The problem is it appears the player is taking the 1080p video, down scaling it to 540, then scaling it up to 720. Problem is its taking the resolution away, and once its gone, its gone, you can’t put back what is missing, so your getting a 540 resolution image that's rescaled to 720. That’s bad, bad, bad!.

The best thing you can do is output 1080i to your HDTV and let the TV scale the video down to it's native resolution.

Note this is only for HD-DVD disks, Standard DVD’s scaled to 720p are find.
 

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twich54

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Thanks for the update Joe, BTW have you got your Sony front Projector yet ?? If so I'd love to hear your comments, or maybe you have already posted them and as usual I'm behind the curve.
 

Joey_V

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Thanks for the update, Joe! Looking forward to the additional info! :)

Here here... to Joe - our Early Adopter!
 

Reverb

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Joey_V said:
Thanks for the update, Joe! Looking forward to the additional info! :)

Here here... to Joe - our Early Adopter!
AKA "The guinea pig" :p

Well now you guys know what I am doing with my tax return. :D
 

Joey_V

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Zip3kx07 said:
AKA "The guinea pig" :p

Well now you guys know what I am doing with my tax return. :D
Dang Joe....

I just found out from my other forum buddies that the ebay Toshiba HD thing is starting. I think some sold for $730+!

Time for you to start a business if you can find some more!
 

Reverb

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twich54 said:
Thanks for the update Joe, BTW have you got your Sony front Projector yet ?? If so I'd love to hear your comments, or maybe you have already posted them and as usual I'm behind the curve.
Yes sir, I most defiantly have it.

It is the Sony HS-51A, and let me tell you I am in love with this sweet machine. I was able to track down the codes to hack into the service and factory menus so I have been busy tweaking in the No, No menus.

I am amazed just how clear, clean, and crisp the picture is. I like the automatic iris feature, but it can be distracting some times. You may or may not have seen the movie “DOOM” with Dwain “THE ROCK” Johnson, not the greasiest of movies but I find it entertaining. This movie drives the automatic iris nuts, you can see it open and close a lot! But on other movies like say… point brake; I don’t see it at all. So it’s very dependent on your source material. Considering with the iris doing it job I get a contrast ratio of around 10,000:1! It’s a small price to pay.
 

Reverb

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Joey_V said:
Dang Joe....

I just found out from my other forum buddies that the ebay Toshiba HD thing is starting. I think some sold for $730+!

Time for you to start a business if you can find some more!
Toshiba only released 20,000 units to start with, but there will be more shipping real soon.
 

twich54

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Zip3kx07 said:
Yes sir, I most defiantly have it.

It is the Sony HS-51A, and let me tell you I am in love with this sweet machine.

Joe, did you purchase yours in kit form with their 80" screen, and does the projector offer componet video in as well as HDMI ???

Sounds like one sweet machine, what are the current costs for lamp replacements ??
 

Reverb

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twich54 said:
Zip3kx07 said:
Joe, did you purchase yours in kit form with their 80" screen, and does the projector offer componet video in as well as HDMI ???

Sounds like one sweet machine, what are the current costs for lamp replacements ??
I purchased just the Projector, No screen. I am using my bare white wall for now, screen coming soon.

The HS-51A has One Composite, S-video, VGA, Component, and HDMI in ports. It also has a USB port so you can link it to your computer for updates and tweaking the projector, it comes with a color facts CD-ROM in the box. It also has a 12volt trigger.

Lamps last from 2 to 3,000 hours and coast around $300.00, they can be found for around $250.00.
 

stesom

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I picked one up today with Phantom Of The Opera

I am very impressed with the picture. There is a notable difference between my Denon 5910 upconverting DVD to 1080i compared to HD-DVD on my 65 inch calibrated RPT CRT. The detail, color saturation and freedom from artifacting except for occasional interlace issues. Once these things are putting out 1080P24 film or 1080P60 video to native 1080p displays we will enter a whole new world of HD. A lot to look forward to......Steve
 

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Excellent Review...

Joe,

Great review of Toshiba's HD-A1, Red-Ray HD player... :) Too bad Toshiba couldn't solve the 1080i down scaling to 540 then scaling it up to 740. A major flaw in the HD-DVD disc design. Why didn't Toshiba produce HD-DVD's offering 1080i and 780p or 780i resolutions on the HD-DVD disc's? Well, hopefully Toshiba will correct this problem in future feature films in HD-DVD production. As you said in you very through review, Toshiba rushed to be beat-out Blue-Ray (Sony). It seems like their were some flaws / corners-cut.

My son bought a copy of "The Last Samurai" on HD-DVD, yesterday at Best Buy (I guess our local BB was one of the BB's selling them early). What is funny is he doesn't even have a HD-DVD player. When I asked him why? He explained that he plans to purchase an Xbox 360 componate attachment Red-Ray / HD-DVD player, when they come out sometime in the next month or so... ;) What can I say, he's always thinking ahead. Also, He just wanted to see want the HD-DVD's looked like. He showed me and the HD-DVD disc's look like, a regular 'old' DVD, alittle heavier maybe, and saddly only shown in 1080i (flaw / error / over-site in HD-DVD Disc production) though.

Thanks again, Joe for the excellent review... :D
 

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We received our HD-DVD demo disk from Toshiba at work today. We had previously watched some regular DVD material and the HD-DVD of Last Samurai for a few minutes. Unfortunately since I work at Best Buy, they put it on a POS Westinghouse LCD instead of the Pioneer plasma that would have looked a lot nicer. From first impressions despite the TVs suckiness, the upconversion of regular DVDs is definitely nothing to write home about. My Sony 9000ES has a better picture and better audio. When we watched a few minutes of Last Samurai on Saturday I really wasn't impressed either. Scenes still showed pixelation with the major gains being background detailing on a movie that should have potential to look incredible.

The new demo disk today revealed something interesting. There are probably about 20 or so movie clips on the disk and all vary in picture quality. The King Kong clip looked incredible compared to anything I had seen on the player before. Vibrant colors, shading, and great detail the whole way through. Other nice clips included The Corpse Bride, a Batman Begins scene, Doom, and Serenity just to name a few. Oddly enough, there were 2 clips for Batman, one looking really nice and one looking about like an upconvert player would. It might really be up to the studios to produce a well mastered copy to achieve what people want out of HD-DVD. The good clips on the disk left me hopeful, but paying $25 or $30 for a movie and not having look that good would be a big waste. That's my 2 cents but at least the player shows some promise.
 

Reverb

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KCWolfPck said:
HD-DVDs are encoded at 1080p, not 1080i.
Your right (it was a typo), but it really doesn’t matter considering the player can't do 1080P anyway. And even if it did there aren’t any HDTV’s that can except a 1080P single anyway.
 

KCWolfPck

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Zip3kx07 said:
Your right (it was a typo), but it really doesn’t matter considering the player can't do 1080P anyway. And even if it did there aren’t any HDTV’s that can except a 1080P single anyway.
The fact that the Toshiba player can't output 1080p is the main reason that I wouldn't consider purchasing it.

And there are TVs that can accept 1080p. HP came out with a series that accepts 1080p via HDMI last September. Westinghouse came out with a series of LCDs that can accept 1080p via HDMI early this year. Samsung's new line of DLPs due out in a week or two all have 1080p inputs. Most manufacturers are pumping out 1080p input capable TVs in the next few months.
 

KCWolfPck

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mapmustang said:
The new demo disk today revealed something interesting. There are probably about 20 or so movie clips on the disk and all vary in picture quality. The King Kong clip looked incredible compared to anything I had seen on the player before. Vibrant colors, shading, and great detail the whole way through. Other nice clips included The Corpse Bride, a Batman Begins scene, Doom, and Serenity just to name a few. Oddly enough, there were 2 clips for Batman, one looking really nice and one looking about like an upconvert player would. It might really be up to the studios to produce a well mastered copy to achieve what people want out of HD-DVD. The good clips on the disk left me hopeful, but paying $25 or $30 for a movie and not having look that good would be a big waste. That's my 2 cents but at least the player shows some promise.
Part of the reason for the differences in quality is because studios are using different codecs. MPEG2, H.264, and VC1 are the different codecs being used. The primary issues around encode quality are: quality of the source, encode method used, and bit rate. Modern codecs, like VC1, are capable of delivering a better quality encode at a more moderate bitrate than MPEG2. The primary limitation you will see with 1st generation movies in either format is the use of MPEG2 to encode, even at high bit rates. On a quality 1920x1080p display, MPEG2 will not look as good as VC1 (or H.264). You may want to investigate the actual encoding method of a given movie to really get a handle on its likely quality.
 

Robin

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Thanks for the up-dated Review

Joe,

Thanks for the up-dating your wonderful review, now it's even better... :D
 
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