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Toshiba HD-A1 High Definition DVD Player

Part II

May, 2006

Kris Deering

 

Capabilities

Currently, the HD-A1 supports 480p, 720p, and 1080i via both component video and HDMI for HD DVD playback. This is great, but HD DVD is being mastered at 1080p, so the HD-A1 does not support the full output resolution of the format. Right now, this isn't a huge deal, as most displays don't support 1080p input, but anyone looking at this player as a long term commitment may want to take that into account.

Due to copy protection issues there is a chance that studios could prevent the component output from supporting the full resolution of HD DVD later down the line on a title-by-title basis. In fact, Toshiba had originally stated that HD output would only be supported via HDMI, but thankfully the studios are supporting HD via the component outputs, so far.

The HDMI and analog multi-channel outputs support the full audio capabilities of this player. The SPDIF is limited though. With regular DVDs, you will still get the full compliment of Dolby Digital and DTS support.

For HD DVD, Dolby has released Dolby Digital Plus (DD+), which is a more efficient codec that supports higher bit rates and the ability to deliver the same performance we heard on DVD at lower bit rates. They also have added Dolby TrueHD, which offers lossless support, using MLP, similar to DVD-A. DTS has added DTS-HD, which offers better compression and the ability to do lossless audio as well.

The HD-A1 currently supports the full compliment of DD+ but TrueHD support is limited to two-channel only. Currently, there are two HD DVD titles (Phantom of the Opera and Training Day) that have Dolby TrueHD audio tracks but they are 5.1, so this player down mixes them to stereo. The HD-A1 doesn't support anything in the DTS-HD suite except the core codec that previous DVD players supported. The SPDIF output does not support any of the advanced codecs. It does support the legacy DTS and Dolby Digital bitstreams of standard DVDs. Dolby Digital + soundtracks on HD DVDs should decode to high bit rate Dolby Digital via SPDIF, but this player decodes to PCM and then re-encodes to DTS; but more on that later.

Set-up

Setting up the player is quite simple. The player has a very simple on-screen set-up menu that can be accessed by hitting the set-up button in the lower compartment of the remote control. The set-up options are about the same as any other DVD player, if not more simplified, and include options for language support, screen type, and audio preferences.

For video you'll find settings for progressive playback of standard DVDs. We recommend the Auto setting, which did extremely well with our de-interlacing tests. There is also an adjustment for black level, but it does not seem to actually affect the level of black coming out of the player. We verified this subjectively with HDMI and objectively with an O-Scope for the component outputs. Black is output at 0 IRE though, which is fine.

For audio, you can select what you want the HDMI output to support: Auto, Bitstream, or PCM. I used the Auto setting, and it worked perfect for both DVD and HD DVD titles.

There are also set-up options for language, background graphics, and more. You'll find the controls for firmware updates through the Ethernet port.

Usability

Once set-up was done, we got things started . . . well sort of. The player is very slow to start up when you power it on. It is also slow to load software once you get a disc in the tray. This was disconcerting since we expected not only the next level of DVD in picture and sound, but also interactivity. Swapping discs out for our testing was extremely tedious, and it seemed like the player didn't want to do anything quickly or out of the norm.

For example, the first time I played an HD DVD and hit Stop during the film, it took a few seconds to actually stop. When I hit play again, it started the disc over completely. I don't even remember the last time I tested a DVD player that didn't just resume right where you hit stop. In further testing I found out this is actually a software issue, rather than a player problem. It seems that the first batch of HD DVDs have been mastered this way. We verified this with some HD DVDs that we made ourselves that didn't have this feature enabled and playback could be resumed from the Stop point like an SD-DVD.

In fact, with standard DVDs, the player seems to support the previous format like older players do, so it just has some issues with HD DVD content. We will inquire about this with the studios that are supporting the format to see if it can be addressed in future titles. I mean, why would there even be an option of having the disc start over if you hit the Stop button? C'mon guys, keep it simple.

Once a DVD or HD DVD was loaded and playing, operability was greatly improved. Chapter skips and menu navigation are on the faster side. I did have some issues with menus on some normal DVDs though. When navigating the AVIA calibration DVD, the player wouldn't highlight menu selections after about the third menu. This was the case every time I tried it, and resulted in me guessing where I was in the menus. Hopefully, it's something that Toshiba can fix with just a firmware update.

I did have some issues with the HDMI output. In my setup, I use either the DVDO VP30 or the Anthem Statement D2 for HDMI switching. In either case, I would occasionally get HDMI errors from the HD-A1 when I switched sources. This was also the case if I turned off the projector with the player still on. These could be cleared easily by just holding down Play or Stop, but if a title was in the player, it would have to be started all over again. This was pretty inconvenient if I just needed to check something on another source and had the A1 paused. While this isn't something that most end users will do during a movie, it is another little quirk that seems like it should have been worked out and we hope that Toshiba will release a fix at some point.

One of the new features of HD DVD is its advanced interactivity. It's called iHD and was developed by Microsoft. But, the first batch of HD DVDs haven't really taken much advantage of this. The only thing I saw featured with the HD DVDs I had on hand were overlaying menus. Typical DVD players go to the main menu when you press the Menu key on the remote. With HD DVD the A1 overlays the menu on top of the feature while it is playing allowing you to adjust settings or jump to another scene without leaving the feature. Some of the Warner titles also had menu key sounds for when you selected something that was in line with the subject of the feature. Based on some screen shots of some future HD DVDs that I have seen, it's obvious that iHD will have a lot more features to come, including overlays of commentary and more. The eagerly awaited Batman Begins HD release looks like it will have some of these features. Universal has also announced a title that will give the user the ability to change things in the movie with creations of their own. While I don't know how much this will interest consumers in the long run, it will be interesting to see what they do with it.

Click Here to Go to Part III.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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