Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD Player: Hook Me Up Page 2

By comparison, most 1080p TVs can deinterlace a 1080i signal from an HD DVD player perfectly (or near-perfectly) back to 1080p. For our tests, we took the Toshiba's 1080i signal and fed that via HDMI to a 65-inch HP MD6580n 1080p DLP set, with stunning results.

On the other hand, we saw a significant loss of picture quality when we set the HD-XA1's default output resolution to 720p. The player's internal conversion circuitry caused an obvious loss of detail that made the picture look very soft and also made the edges of objects and on-screen type noticeably more jagged. This was true whether we viewed the 720p picture on the HP - which has does pretty good upconversion of 720p to 1080p - or on a Samsung HP-S5053 50-inch plasma TV, a 1,366 x 768 panel that has to alter a 720p (1,280 x 720) input only slightly for display.

For this reason, I recommend that anyone buying the HD-XA1 or the HD-A1, its $499 sibling, use the Resolution button on the remote to set the player's default signal format to 1080i - even if the native display format of your HDTV is 720p. Given that most HDTV broadcasts today are in 1080i, TV makers pay close attention these days to the quality of their 1080i to 720p conversion. The odds are good that your HDTV's internal scaling circuits will do a better job at preserving the format's inherent image quality than the Toshiba's. On the other hand, in the event that the HD DVD disc you are watching is based on video content recorded originally at 720p - such as some sports events might be - you want to set the player to put out a 720p signal, which will ensure as little processing as possible before it reaches your HDTV.

Audio Connections For getting sound from the HD-XA1, besides HDMI there's a 5.1-channel analog output fed by an internal decoder, as well as traditional SPDIF optical and coaxial digital jacks. What you'll use will depend in part on the capabilities of your surround sound receiver or processor. But before getting into each of these options, it's helpful to review how audio starts out on the HD DVD discs and what happens inside the player.

In addition to the traditional Dolby Digital and DTS multichannel sound formats, movie studios have several new options for putting even better sound on HD DVD and Blu-ray titles. Among these are Dolby Digital Plus, an enhanced version of Dolby Digital that supports up to 7.1 channels on HD DVD and Blu-ray while boasting both greater coding efficiency and the option to run at much higher data, or bit, rates with less digital compression of the original signal, which may sometimes yield improved sound quality. Even better are the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD formats, which used lossless coding to provide bit-accurate reproduction of the original digital audio master soundtrack. These also offer up to 7.1-channel sound.

Although the Toshiba HD-XA1, as the first of its ilk, has some limitations, it usually takes whatever surround sound format is on the disc and decodes it internally, converting it to a standard uncompressed pulse-code modulated (PCM) digital audio signal. This multichannel PCM, which provides the highest sound quality that the soundtrack's audio encoding will allow, is then mixed with other audio as needed - a dubbed dialogue track, director's commentary, button sound effects, whatever. Eventually, the mixed PCM exits the player and makes its way to your surround-sound system.

Though it depends on the quality and capability of your surround processor, in most current systems the way to get the best possible sound from the HD-XA1 is to take the decoded-to-PCM audio right out of the player through its HDMI digital video/audio connector. To do so, however, you need to plug it into an HDMI-equipped A/V receiver or processor that can accept mulitchannel PCM via that connection. Not all do, and even receiver manufacturers aren't always aware today which of their models have this feature. In their defense, no one has ever really had a reason to ask them before now. In our case, we fed the player's HDMI signal to a Yamaha RX-V2600 receiver, which automatically detected the mulitchannel PCM and routed it to the speakers.

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