Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD Player Page 2

Since most HD DVDs are mastered at 1080p, this 1080i-to-1080p issue will be irrelevant for most viewing. Exceptions include some demo discs and some concert discs, which are 1080i. If you're playing such a disc try changing the player's output resolution to 1080i. (The same advice applies to Toshiba's HD-A20, which also shares these processing shortcomings, even after its recent update to 1080p/24 output.)

The HD-A35's upconversion from 480i to 1080p was also compromised. Although it failed on most of our specialized tests, the HD-A35 easily passed the standard definition DVD tests of real world film material with both Gladiator (chapter 12, the Coliseum "flyover") and Star Trek Insurrection (the haystacks and the pan across the village behind the opening credits). Both of these difficult DVDs looked superb, with no obvious artifacts.

As with the updated HD-A20 I reviewed recently, the HD-A35 will not only play back HD DVDs at 1080p/24, but will do the same for standard DVDs as well. But Toshiba does not recommend 1080p/24 for standard DVDs, nor does it promote this capability. The player was apparently not specifically designed for this feature, so its 1080p/24 standard DVD performance is not seamless. But note that setting up the player to output 1080p/24 for HD DVDs also engages 1080p/24 output for DVDs, whether we or Toshiba want it to or not!

When set to 1080p/24 DVD menus will not work correctly, making it difficult to set up for playback or navigate to specific scenes. Watching scenes from the DVD of Gladiator at 1080p/24 the player froze up and refused to accept a command to skip to chapter 14. But after gently wiping the disc (which was already pretty clean), the skipping stopped and the chapter skip control worked normally.

Despite these inconsistencies, you might find that watching a DVD at 1080p/24 can result in noticeably smoother motion by eliminating 3/2 pulldown. The improvement won't be visible all the time, but it can be significant, particularly if you're one of those viewers sensitive to 3/2 pulldown judder.

Bitstreaming
I set the HD-A35 up to send Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital+ directly to the Onkyo TX-SR875 AV receiver via bitstream. By using the decoding in the receiver, you lose the audio on secondary audio streams, such as Picture-In-Picture interactivity, and also silence those enthralling clicks, peeps, squeaks and burps that accompany your menu selections.

But do you gain anything? My first reaction was that the sound was cleaner and more full-bodied when decoded by the receiver. I have no definitive answer why, and in fact consider this only a first impression that may not even be repeatable with other AVRs or pre-pros.

But there are possible reasons. Take jitter, for example. Is a bitstream connection more or less likely than PCM to develop high levels of jitter, or is the difference non-existent and/or irrelevant?

But for now I can say for certain that the HD-A35 produces superb mutichannel audio from its HDMI output whether you choose to convert it first to PCM in the player or decide to go the bitstream route. If your current receiver lacks onboard decoding for the new higher rez formats, and can handle only multichannel PCM over HDMI, there's no need to feel deprived with the HD-A35. And believe us; the new lossless audio formats do offer significant advantages over plain old Dolby Digital, however you access them.

I did experience HDMI handshaking issues on the last day of the testing. The player broke lock with the InFocus IN82 projector connected through the switcher in the Onkyo receiver and resisted several attempts to reset it. Then suddenly it re-established a lock and remained that way for the rest of the tests.

As with all such HDMI issues, the problem could lie with the player itself but just as easily with some combination of the three components. If you thought that such issues were behind us with HDMI 1.3, don't be so sure.

Conclusions
Apart from its somewhat quirky video processing—which appeared to have few adverse affects on the player's performance with real-world discs—and a few HDMI issues that cannot be definitively traced to the Toshiba player, I had no complaints about the HD-A35's performance.

In fact, it provided some of the best HD video I've yet seen in my system. Highly recommended.

Highlights
Although the video deinterlacing and scaling could be better, this player offers stunning image quality, allows bitstream audio for next-gen audio and lowers the admission price for the top of the line HD DVD performance.

COMPANY INFO
Toshiba America Consumer Products, L.L.C.
(973) 628-8000
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