|Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player|
|Home Theater Video Players HD DVD Players|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Saturday, 01 July 2006|
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After laboring through the set-up, dealing with a few hard reboots and some HDMI connection issues, it was time to start evaluating the player. I had previously used the more expensive HD-XA1 player in my system for close to a month, so besides the cosmetic differences, I was eager to see if the picture quality between the two players was any different. The internal specs are roughly the same, so it did not surprise me when the difference in picture was completely indistinguishable during a blind side by side comparison (I enlisted a friend to help swap one player for the other). This is a small victory for budget-minded shoppers who want to know if the extra money spent on the player yields dramatically improved performance benefits, which it doesn’t. Again, the big difference is the lack of RS232 on the cheaper player.
Starting with the gritty cop drama “Training Day” (Warner Home Video), I was a little disappointed to see a noticeable gradient pattern around the rising sun as the film’s opening credits roll by. This is partially a function of my TV with its lack of an auto-iris, as first-generation JVC TVs do not have this feature, which effectively increases the dynamic contrast ratio of scenes. Moving on to the film itself, the power of the HD DVD format began to really show its muscle. The opening scene where Ethan Hawke’s character is waking up and getting ready for his first day on the job, training to be a narcotics officer, is set in a dark room. However, the amount of details that emerge from the shadows is outstanding. Moving into daylight scenes where the weaknesses of modern big-screen HDTV displays are negated, the HD-A1’s picture helped me forget some of the headaches I had been dealing with getting the unit up and running reliably.
As I noted in my review of the film, the little nuances of this drama are what really draw you into the picture. The detail in the puff of smoke as Denzel Washington’s character tricks his young trainee into smoking some PCP-laced weed is just something you aren’t going to notice the way you would even on the best up-scaling DVD player. The droplets of rain on the window of the car as Hawke and Washington’s characters patrol the streets of L.A. and the sparks that flicker from the gun barrel ends as thug gang bangers shoot at an unmarked police car are spectacular.
The sound format on the back of the disc says Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital-Plus. However, the auto-detect setting on my Integra receiver for some reason sees the digital signal on this disc, and almost every other Warner Home Video HD DVD disc, as DTS Neo 6. There has been some major confusion as to what format these Toshiba players are actually outputting, as the intro movie that plays is notated on my receiver as Dolby Pro Logic II, then switches to the DTS format when the feature movie plays. However, in the end, the sound is true discreet 5.1 and sounds as good if not better than the standard DVD player.
Moving to another spectacular-looking film, I put in the relatively new Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai” (Warner Home Video). This film is slow and plods along like a turtle, but the battle scenes are such amazing demos that this disc could find a permanent home in any HD DVD home theater collection. The main battle in the middle of the film as Cruise leads his army of armor-clad Samurai warriors against traditionally-dressed soldiers, with their shiny buckles and navy blue suits, is a monumental clash on a well-lit field that is a recipe for a great-looking HD demo. The details may be too graphic for the weak of heart, as an arrow pierces the eye of one soldier and swords slash hearts and necks of others, but when the huge explosions start rocking the battlefield, it becomes quickly apparent that standard DVDs just aren’t going to cut it anymore.
Turning to a film with an especially entertaining opening segment, I put in the Stanley Kubrick’s classic war film “Full Metal Jacket” (Warner Home Video). Talk about a letdown. The transfer of this HD DVD is very washed-out and soft; all of the skin tones shift to a pinkish hue. Now, I know the soldiers’ newly-shaved domes haven’t gotten much sun, but the colors on this disc look horribly pink on my ISF-calibrated display. Where “Training Day” had spot-on colors, “Full Metal Jacket” was quite off, grainy and very soft-looking. The level of detail that can be seen vs. the standard DVD version was improved and I appreciate the fact that the widescreen transfer was enhanced for my 16x9 TV. However, I would never put this disc in to impress my friends and family with the capabilities of HD DVD.
Right in line for worst HD DVD transfer behind “Full Metal Jacket” is “Goodfellas” (Warner Home Video). The best way to replicate its look is to take a very high-resolution, bright picture, then put a small layer of slightly frosted glass over it that has a pinkish hue. To make sure this was not something my set-up was doing to the player, I put in the Academy Award-winning “Million Dollar Baby” (Warner Home Video). Ah, yes. Someone peeled away the layer of fuzz that was getting in the way of the high-def experience. This film has very muted, almost black and white hues, but the quality of the skin tones, the details in an aging Clint Eastwood’s face, the creases on the heavy bag and the bricks of the gym as young Maggie (Hilary Swank) fights to be come the ultimate female boxing champ are what this format is all about.