Toshiba HD-A30 HD DVD Player Page 2

The only other menu oddities are that Enhanced Black Level applies only to component video, which was not tested here, and the RGB Output range (should) only matters if the player is connected to a DVI input via HDMI-DVI breakout. The Standard setting conforms to 16-235 "video" levels for full black and full white, while Enhanced operates from 0-255 as required by some devices. However, over HDMI, the HD-A30 doesn't clip below black or above white with HD DVD or DVD.

I used the HD-A30 with a variety of high quality 1080p front projection displays over HDMI, including my reference Maratnz VP-11S1, a Marantz VP-15S1 under review, and for a brief time a JVC DLA-HD100.

The image quality from this player with HD DVD discs was not only as good as what I saw from the HD-XA2, it was smidge better. Similar to a phenomenon TJN noted in his review of the Toshiba HD-A35, the HD-A30's color looked more saturated than the XA2, but still natural, which gave the image a bit more snap and pop without looking cartoony at all. Why would this be?

Looking through the battery of test patterns at my disposal, I saw a noticeable roll-off on the XA2 at the very highest frequencies of the chroma multiburst on the Spears and Munsil test disc. This area of the pattern was fully resolved when viewed on the HD-A30. Performance on the luma burst with both players was identical and ostensibly perfect. The XA2's roll-off on the chroma multiburst was very apparent on this test, but it's not the kind of thing where you'd notice anything overtly wrong with the XA2 at all just watching program material. It has a jaw-dropping picture with all material. But in direct comparison you can see that extra richness in color from the HD-A30 that the XA2 can't quite match (the XA2 is current as I write this with Firmware version 2.7, while the HD-A30 is version 1.3).

It's getting to be a familiar refrain around here, but the performance we see from HD DVD (and Blu-ray) is not just HD, it's utterly superior HD. An excellent point of comparison for the kind of image quality HD DVD is capable of, and why we need HD on a disc, is the Season One set ofHeroes. NBC's high-def broadcasts are sharp and clear, and often strikingly so on the weekly broadcasts which I receive over Comcast digital cable. While Heroes is often highly variable in quality, with darker scenes often plagued with noise, it also features sequences with spectacular clarity and detail. The HD DVD set clearly eclipses the HD broadcasts with more solid detail and dimensionality, especially in backgrounds, and far fewer compression artifacts.

Another example, perhaps more esoteric, is a VC-1 encoded British import of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. I reviewed and rated the AVC-encoded US Blu-ray Disc a perfect 10 for image quality, and yet this import HD DVD is clearly a smidge sharper and more detailed, as a comparison between the two clearly (albeit subtly) revealed on the HD-A30.

Unlike the HD-XA2, which suffered from timing and AV sync issues when updated to 1080/24 output, the HD-A30 worked perfectly at 1080p/24 without a glitch from day one. And speaking of glitches, the HD-A30 is remarkably more solid in this regard than Toshiba's first-gen players. In the months I've used the HD-A30 I've had one or two minor glitches, but nothing that caused me to do a hard reboot, which means unplugging the unit and plugging it back in again.

Boot up and disc loading times are very similar to what I get from my second generation HD-XA2. I saw 35-40 second boot up times, with the Ethernet connected. Some very recent web-enabled titles just came in as this review was wrapping, including The Bourne Ultimatum and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so I did some speed testing. With Bourne, the XA2 could load the disc through the loading menu and to the first Universal logo in 41-43 seconds, while the HD-A30 was just a bit slower at 48-50 seconds. The Potter disc was frustratingly slower on both players. The FBI logo took almost a minute to load, and it was nearly 30 seconds after that until the movie started playing. I like interactivity, but I think load times like this are unacceptable. Since other web-enabled titles load faster this is probably a criticism of Warner's authoring and not the player, not that it makes it any less frustrating to apportion blame. [TJN ran this same test with HP 5 with the Toshiba HD-A35, which averaged 1:03 to the FBI warning in two tries, and a total of 1:51 from drawer close to the PG-13 rating screen. So he saw no loading time advantage from the more expensive player on the same Harry Potter disc.]

On upconverted DVD playback at 1080p/60, our standard series of deinterlacing tests don't impress much. The deinterlacing of video material is poor in general, although it does just fine with film-based material. Resolution holds up very well at 1080p, and overall your movie watching will look crisp and detailed and artifact-free. Concert video and other video-based material will not be as pristine. The HD-XA2, with its Silicon Optix processing costs more but is still the premium solution for DVD playback, if you can find one.

As noted, the HD-A30 will play back DVD movie material at 1080p/24. This works and produces an excellent picture with most material, in fact all of the material I tried, except DVD menus as noted. It did work with a 3:2 encoded film sequence from a Silicon Optix test disc, and my theory is that it reads flags to accomplish this feat and is lost if the flag is not present. SO may not have flagged its test sequence in order to present a stiffer challenge to deinterlacers. Just a hunch. Still, if you're set to 1080p/24 and find something that won't play, just go into the menu and set the player back to 1080p/60.

The only DVD playback glitches encountered with the HD-A30 is that some discs I ran across, including a number of the Star Wars movies I had on hand, would not navigate properly. The cursors that indicate your place in the menu simply weren't there. If you are careful, you can navigate by eyeballing how many steps up or down, left or right, you need to make to engage your selection and carefully making them. Toshiba's latest firmware doesn't solve this, which is frustrating when it happens.

There are some ifs here. If you have HDMI switching with multichannel PCM capability and if you have a display that accepts 1080p/24, this player is an all-time blue light special. But even if you don't, if think you might upgrade at some point, it's not that much more expensive than the 1080i only HD-A3. Just about any way you cut it, it's an outright steal. In my opinion, a better value than the HD-A3, which is saying something.

But focusing on the price misses the point. The real story is the remarkable picture and sound. The Look and Sound of Perfect? Pretty much. Highly recommended.

Best HD DVD image quality I've yet seen
1080p/24 output, even with DVDs
Multichannel TrueHD decoding
Out of this world cost to value ratio

1080p/60 output compromised by poor deinterlacing
Standard DVD deinterlacing poor