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Home Improvements With HD-DVD: Toshiba's HD-A1

Sep 14, 2008
Toshiba's HD-DVD player first hit the market selling around $500. Although some people who reviewed it listed mixed comments, the picture quality overall was rated excellent, plus some of the features rated so-so.

On the one hand, the player sells for half to one-third the expected price for Blu-ray machines. Yes, that initial amount is still a lot for a DVD player, but at more than four times the displayed number of pixels, resolution on an appropriate HDTV will wow even the most blase viewers.

Also, to Toshiba's credit they hit their expected delivery date so that early adopters can judge for themselves whether the premium over a standard DVD player is justified.

Beyond price and delivery, a full line of ports is available on the machine, including not just the expected component and HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) ports but also an Ethernet connection.

The HDMI port is essential for getting the highest quality out of HD discs and standard DVDs. Also, if the studios follow through on copy-protection, it will be required in order to play the discs in high definition.

Other features and behavior may or may not be acceptable, depending on the consumer's level of patience with first generation technology. And or course there are the home improvement designs for the system and set up that need to be noted.

Since HD-DVD machines are as much a PC as a video player, they are slower and have many of the possible glitches that computers are prey to. The machines have an in-built operating system running on a Pentium 4, 2GHz chip. (It's rumored to be running a version of Linux, but with Microsoft strongly supporting HD-DVD over Blu-ray that may change, if it's even true.)

That's both a pro and a con. Any operating system, even running off a chip, is going to be slower to perform some functions than dedicated electronics. But it does open the door to increased functionality with a simple download (through the Ethernet port).

That may explain why the unit takes more than half a minute to display an inserted disc and why menu movement is sometimes a little slow.

Some reviewers had trouble with HDMI errors. They would hook up the cables and receive no picture, even after re-booting the unit, requiring the cables to be reconnected. That could be loose or defective cables, a semi-defective unit or a firmware error correctable via an update. Or, it may be a design flaw. There's no way to tell at this early stage.

In any case, it's something consumers should be wary of. You don't want to have to hassle with your DVD player the way you've (unfortunately) become used to with your PC.

Reviewers also gave poor marks to the remote, citing it as large and illogically arranged. Those things are often a matter of taste. What isn't a matter of taste are the semi-functional buttons that have to be repeatedly pressed. That could be a weak signal from poor batteries, but that's unlikely for a new unit. Buyer beware.

Back on the upside again, there's that undeniably excellent picture. Even standard DVDs look better, but that may be as much due to the HDTV used. In any case, the HD-DVD player is at least performing the minimum required by displaying standard DVDs in better than standard quality.

Again, look to what the needs of your family, budget and home improvement plans are. Those along with time and advancements in the industry will tell.
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