Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD Player

1080p HD DVD for $500—sort of.

The new models of HD DVD and Blu-ray players are coming faster and faster. Even better, they're getting cheaper and offering more features. The big draw for the HD-A20 is its 1080p output. That, and a price tag of $499.


Aesthetically, the HD-A20 is roughly the same as the other recent Toshiba HD DVD players. It's thin and angular. Kind of like I.M. Pei meets Kate Moss. Or, if you prefer, a charred DeLorean. The remote generally has the same layout as the brick that comes with the more expensive players, but it's smaller and not backlit. The menus are the same as those from the other HD DVD players. They're colorful and easy to navigate.

Like the cheaper HD-A2, the HD-A20 doesn't have analog audio outputs. This is a big deal if your receiver or pre/pro doesn't have HDMI audio. If it doesn't, you won't be able to hear the new high-resolution audio formats. Trust me, these are important. It's frustrating that you have to upgrade to the HD-XA2 ($800) to get analog audio.

807Toshiba.2.jpgThe HD-A20 does not do a bad job of upconverting regular DVDs. It's not quite as good as the HD-XA2 but better than many Blu-ray players. With the deinterlacing test from the Silicon Optix HQV HD DVD, the HD-A20 does not correctly deinterlace 1080i. Worse, it doesn't detect the 3:2 sequence from film-based 1080i material. At first glance, this shouldn't matter. All HD DVDs are natively 1080p/24 on the disc. But nearly all (some accounts say all), next-generation players convert the 1080p/24 on the disc to 1080i first, then back to progressive if desired. In other words, the information is going from 1080p to 1080i to 1080p. Done right, this isn't a big deal; but, done wrong, it is. If that is what the HD-A20 is doing, then it seems that it's not performing the last stage correctly. Unfortunately, there is no specific test available to verify this either way.

I tried checking the hardware. The Broadcom chips from previous-generation HD DVD (and some Blu-ray) players only output 1080i. Toshiba would not tell me what chip they were using, only revealing that it wasn't a Broadcom. So, I cracked the HD-A20 open to be all clever and see for myself, but all the important parts are hidden under shiny metal heat sinks.

So, all we can do is check movies for artifacts. I compared some scenes on the HD-A20 with the same scenes on the Sharp XV-Z20000 projector (when sent a 1080i signal) and the HD-XA2. On a few scenes, the HD-A20 seemed to have a little harder time with fine lines and diagonals than the same scenes on the HD-XA2 or the Sharp. It wasn't night and day, but there was a difference.

What does this mean? Well, it means that, if your TV picks up the 3:2 sequence with 1080i, then you'll get a better picture if you leave the HD-A20 output at 1080i. If your TV doesn't, then it's more of a crapshoot which will give you a better picture. In that case, neither would be ideal. So the whole reason to spend the extra $100 on this model over the HD-A2 is not clear-cut. It will really just depend on your TV. If you want real 1080p, you'll have to save up for the excellent HD-XA2, which has some of the best processing and scaling of any disc player on the market. Of course, it's 63 percent more expensive.

So, where does that leave us? Unless your TV does something really bad to 1080i signals, you're probably better off saving the $100 and getting the HD-A2. If your receiver can accept HDMI audio, then save the money and get the HD-A2. If it can't, you don't want to upgrade, and you want pristine 1080p, get the excellent HD-XA2.

• 1080p HD DVD for cheap. . .
• ...sort of

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