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Toshiba Firmware Updates HD DVD Players For Web-Based Interactivity; 24p To Follow

Expanding its already formidable lead in next-gen interactivity, Toshiba within the last month or so has released firmware updates for its HD DVD players that enable web-based interactivity features that are now starting to appear on HD DVDs. The first two titles on the market with web-enabled features are Warner's Blood Diamond and Bandai Visual's Freedom volume 1. Warner's intimate character drama 300, set for release later this month, will also feature web-based interactivity.

Most impressive is that all of Toshiba's HD DVD players, including the first-gen players, are equipped with Ethernet ports and are capable of being updated to take full advantage of these network features. Microsoft's Kevin Collins recently demonstrated the full gamut of network features for Blood Diamond and 300 for me using a first-gen, RCA-branded player (look for follow-up coverage of this visit to the Microsoft campus as well as my own experiences with Blood Diamond and Freedom in my Blog later this week).

While Blu-ray's Java-based interactivity layer was touted as having superior interactivity capabilities, so far this has not been the case at all. In addition to the networking features described above, all HD DVD players support compelling picture-in-picture interactivity such as Universal's U-Control and Warner's In-Movie Experience. Although Sony's PS3 is a notable and significant exception, most standalone Blu-ray players don't have Ethernet ports and none of the standalones are equipped to handle picture-in-picture interactivity. This includes recent second generation players.

Worse, recent Java-enhanced Blu-ray titles such as the Pirates of the Caribean movies required firmware updates for many standalone players to even play the discs. In our experiences here at UAV, once booted up on a second-gen standalone player, menu and disc access on these discs were sluggish, and attempts to play the Java-enhanced games were met with exasperating results to put it politely.

24p Output Coming In September
Toshiba at long last has confirmed that it will offer firmware updates in early September for the HD-A20 ($399) and HD-XA2 ($799) that will enable 1080p/24 output for both players. Feature films are captured at 24fps and all of the film-based HD DVDs we're aware of are encoded at 1080p/24 on the disc. For displays capable of accepting 24p and displaying at a refresh rate that's a direct multiple of 24, this eliminates the need for 3/2 pulldown and the artifacts associated with that process for smoother, more natural motion.

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