Toshiba HD-A20 1080p HD DVD player Page 2

Performance
I want to cut to the chase here. The 1080p output is primarily what separates this player from the cheaper HD-A2, and that's where I started. Looking at the battery of test patterns I have at my disposal, I immediately saw some alarming signs. Fine horizontal 1080p luma and chroma bursts from the Spears and Munsil test disc and sections of Video and Film Resolution Loss tests on the Silicon Optix HD Benchmark on HD DVD showed artifacts. In particular, the areas with the finest horizontal luma lines were strobing, or blinking. With a video processor, this would suggest that its deinterlacing of 1080i material to 1080p is suspect. But why would this be the case with a player with a 1080p output? Simple, it clearly suggests that the HD-A20 converts the 1080p signal from the disc to 1080i, and then deinterlaces it back to 1080p incorrectly.

Going further to check this with program material, I looked at the Vatican scenes from Mission: Impossible 3, which are loaded with torturous brickwork and other fine details. Sure enough, this scene threw the A20 into veritable fits at 1080p. Obvious moiré, line twitter and other artifacts were plentiful, and some of the images were noticeably softened in detail as a result of the motion artifacts.

I then reset the A20's output to 1080i and let the Gennum video processing in my Marantz VP-11S1 handle the deinterlacing from 1080i to 1080p. Looking at the test sequences I now saw full, correct response in the vertical and horizontal bursts, including the horizontal bursts in the Silicon Optix Video and Film Resolution Loss tests. And moving onto the M:I 3 Vatican scenes, the moiré, artifacts and all other detritus were gone, replaced by a clear, sharp and detailed image.

So, in other words, in my system 1080i looked better with this player, and it appears that the HD-A20 has a conversion to 1080i buried in the video processing woodpile. So, is the 1080p output of the HD-A20 worth the $100 premium offer the HD-A2? The answer will depend largely on two things. The first is whether a future firmware update is implemented that allows a true 1080p/24 or a 1080p/60 output with no interlace conversions. The second is trickier- you would probably only see an improvement with the 1080p output of the A20 if its deinterlacing of 1080i is better than what's in your display. That is certainly possible, but for the most part the 1080i deinterlacing we're seeing in most recent vintage 1080p displays is at least this good, if not better.

As far as HD DVD image quality is concerned, I think many people will see comparable performance from the 1080i output of the less expensive HD-A2, and will certainly see much improved 1080p performance from the more expensive HD-XA2. As of now, the HD-A20 is indeed the player in the middle.

With upconverted DVDs, not only is the deinterlacing of video-based material not up to the par compared to the HD-XA2, it's not quite as good as what's in the HD-XA1. While 3/2 pulldown with movie material was fine, using the standard, video-based tests from the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark and Faroudja test discs revealed that the A20 performs very poorly- a complete fail on all the video-based tests I tried. This isn't entirely uncommon, but it is inferior to the performance of the first-gen Toshiba HD DVD players.

Stranger still, when upconverting standard DVDs I saw artifacts with video-based material from the 1080i output of the A20 that are absent from either the XA1 or XA2 when those players are set to 1080i. The Gennum processing in my Marantz VP-11S1 handles 1080i-1080p deinterlacing superbly, and so upconverting DVD players with a 1080i output work well with it. Using either the XA2 or XA1 to convert the 480i signals from the Silicon Optix test disc to 1080i showed a complete lack of deinterlacing artifacts in conjunction with the Gennum deinterlacing. Using the A20 to convert 480i to 1080i tripped up the Gennum processor in ways the other players didn't, showing very bad jaggies. Beats me what that is, but I checked and double-checked and triple-checked. I saw better performance from the other Toshiba upconverting players I had on hand at 1080i.

Conclusion
What a difference a year makes. A year ago, as a first-gen HD DVD player the HD-A20 probably would have drawn raves. Toshiba has done an outstanding of updating its first-gen HD DVD players and continually refining the performance in general of all its HD DVD players. If this player were to offer a more refined 1080p/60 output, or a true 1080p/24 output the tables would certainly turn. Until then, I'm afraid that for me the HD-A20 merely drove home the superb value and fantastic performance of both the HD-A2 and the HD-XA2.

Highs
Terrific 1080i performance with HD DVD
Vastly improved boot-up times and disc access speed
Glitch-free HD DVD playback
5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD decoding

Lows
1080p output apparently involves 1080i conversion w/out 3/2 pulldown
Poor deinterlacing for video-based standard DVDs
Upconverted 1080i output shows unusual artifacts

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