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.
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
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
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
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.
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to Part III.
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