Blu-ray Players Arrive Toshiba: On to Generation 2 Already
While the Blu-ray syndicate is all excited about their new players, Toshiba is already on to their second generation of HD DVD players. This includes this slimmer $500 HD-A2, which does 1080i, and the $1,000 HD-XA2, which does 1080p (review coming soon).
As both the HD-XA1 and the HD-A1 were essentially purpose-built computers, load times (two-plus minutes from off to movie start) and overall usability were sluggish to say the least. They were also big and rather noisy. The new HD-A2 is the same price as its predecessor. It still only does 1080i, but it's significantly smaller and works a lot more like a DVD player in its acceptance of commands and overall usability.
The real question is whether its picture looks as good as its predecessor's. Better ergonomics are great and all, but, if the picture doesn't look as good, who cares? To test that, I plugged the HD-A2 into the same Gefen HDMI splitter, but this time with the HD-XA1, the Pioneer, and the PlayStation 3. (I also swapped in the Samsung and the Philips to be thorough.) First things first. With the same content, there doesn't seem to be any visible difference between Blu-ray and HD DVD (as far as we can tell). So, then it comes down to the different transfers, encoding, and quality of the original film stock. So, on that front, I'd call the formats a wash, with the exception that, at the moment, HD DVD seems to have more better-looking movies, while Blu-ray simply has more movies. That is bound to change.
As far as this player goes, the load-up time from off to playback is just over a minute, which seems to be par for most of these high-rez players. The picture quality also seems to be the same as that of the others, at least over HDMI. With component, there was an odd jagged-line artifact throughout the image—but only when viewed on the Sharp
XV-Z20000 (regardless of the processing mode). With HDMI, or on any other display we tried—or the same discs on the HD-XA1 and the Sharp—this artifact wasn't there. I'm not sure what it was or whether it would occur on any other display. It's an odd anomaly that probably won't affect anyone, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.
One important feature is lost with this model. Unlike the HD-A1 (which is still available as I write this), the HD-A2 doesn't have multichannel analog outputs. So, being able to hear high-rez audio is completely dependent on what your receiver can decode over HDMI. (It converts Dolby TrueHD to PCM.) Because of this, for $500, I'd personally get the HD-A1, despite its annoying ergonomics.