|Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD Player|
|Home Theater Video Players HD DVD Players|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2007|
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HD DVD vs. Blu-ray. It seems, once again, consumers are in the middle of yet another format war. While round one has seemingly come and gone with the introduction of both parties’ initial efforts a little over a year ago, like all good fights, nothing is ever won in the first round and consumers now find themselves entrenched in round two. You could argue that round one had to go to Blu-ray (despite missing the opening bell by months) with their true 1080p support trumping HD DVD’s 1080i-only resolution. However, the victory was a hollow one, for the first batch of 1080p discs were less than stellar and often looked worse then their HD DVD and sometimes even standard DVD counterparts. Now, both sides have full 1080p support and, with the introduction of the new Toshiba HD-A20 reviewed here, it seems HD DVD’s trump card is now price. At $499 retail, the HD-A20 is now the most economic way to score true 1080p content for your home theater set-up, undercutting even the cheapest Blu-ray players by over $300. Will round two go to Toshiba and their latest HD DVD offering, or should consumers expect a 12-round slugfest to be decided by popular opinion once the dust settles?
I suppose I’m not your typical consumer, in that I support both Blu-ray and HD DVD equally, having bought both players in numbers for nearly every room in my house. This being said, I long for the day when I will have a universal solution, not unlike my Denon universal players, which will do every audio and video format and come at a price that will suit my wallet. My previous experience with HD DVD came from the first-generation Toshiba HD-XA1 player. While the image was often exceptional, the functionality and day-to-day livability of the XA1 was atrocious. My Sony BDP-S1 was and has always been more reliable than the XA1 and has remained my favorite HD source until now.
The HD-A20 is less flashy than my old XA1, and thank god. While the XA1 caught the eye of nearly everyone who saw it in my rack, its silly trapdoor and subsequent hidden controls were an absolute nightmare. The HD-A20 is sleek and the epitome of simplicity. It measures in at 17 inches wide by nearly three inches tall and 15 inches deep. The HD-A20 sports a glossy black and charcoal grey façade, with only a blue backlit power button, disc tray and small LCD display screen barely cluttering up its front. You have to open up the grey trapdoor to reveal the HD-A20’s manual controls. Turning my attention aft, I found the traditional array of outputs. The HD-A20 has a single HDCP-compliant HDMI 1.2a output that supports all resolutions, including up-conversion of standard-def DVDs up to 1080p, as well as multi-channel audio in the form of Dolby TrueHD. While HDMI 1.3 is the new benchmark, having hit the streets only a short while ago, the HD-A20’s 1.2a HDMI output is currently the best you can do in the world of HD DVD, unless you opt for the much more expensive HDMI 1.3-equipped Toshiba HD-XA2. The HD-A20 also features a set of component video outs, as well as composite and S-Video. There is a single set of analog audio outs and a single digital optical audio output. Lastly, the HD-A20 has an Ethernet port to facilitate future upgrades, in addition to two USB ports.
Under the bonnet, the HD-A20 supports most of the current disc formats, with the exception of MP3 or WMA-encoded discs and of course Blu-ray. The HD-A20 also supports all of the current Dolby and DTS surround sound processing formats, including the new Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD, which are said to produce surround sound performance equal to the original studio masters. More, or should I say most importantly, the HD-A20 features the new ABT1018 high-performance video-scaling chip from Anchor Bay (the parent company of DVDO). The ABT1018 is Anchor Bay’s second-generation scaling chipset targeted at high-definition applications, mainly HD DVD and Blu-ray players, which prefer high-definition resolutions such as 1080p. The ABT1018 uses a proprietary 10-bit Precision Video Scaling engine that is capable of independently scaling both horizontal and vertical resolution simultaneously for better picture quality. It’s the same chipset found in DVDO’s flagship video scaler/processor, the DVDO iScan VP50, which retails for $2,999 and is featured in the June issue of AVRev.com. Needless to say, to have this level of processing in an inexpensive player such as the HD-A20 is not only a huge benefit to the consumer, but also a tremendous value.
As for the remote… well, shockingly, it doesn’t offend me. It’s not the greatest, but it is leaps and bounds better than my old Toshiba XA-1 remote, which I found absolutely appalling. The HD-A20’s remote is sleek and well laid-out, but sadly doesn’t feature any sort of backlighting. However, I do appreciate its simplicity, trading the XA-1 remote’s awe factor for sheer usability, which is always a good thing in my book. If only it were backlit. It doesn’t feature glow in the dark keys, but unless you store your remote under a lamp all the time to charge up the keys, it doesn’t compare to a backlit remote.
Out of the box and into my rack, I connected the HD-A20 to my Yamaha RX-V861, which was subbing for my reference Meridian G68 processor for this review, due to its HDMI inputs and 1080p support. I connected the HD-A20 to the Yamaha receiver via a single HDMI cable from UltraLink, to take full advantage of the HD-A20’s audio and video capabilities. The rest of my system was comprised of my reference Meridian in-wall speakers and Sony Pearl projector.
I fired up the HD-A20 and set its menu controls for 1080p video up-scaling and output, then set the audio to be output through its single HDMI out.
I ran a series of quick tests for HDCP or “handshake” issues, as well as gauged the HD-A20’s various start-up and load times with a variety of different audio and video formats. In terms of HDCP handshake issues, there were none whatsoever; the HD-A20 performed flawlessly. I was able to achieve a brilliant picture from a cold start, as well as retain said picture when switching between other HD sources before returning to the HD-A20. This lone fact was enough to excite me, so much so that I began to literally jump up and down with joy. My former HD DVD player, the Toshiba HD-XA1, never was able to accomplish this task. Hell, it sometimes wouldn’t even play an HD DVD without me having to restart and/or unplug the machine three or four times. As for start-up and load times, the HD-A20 isn’t immediate, but it is better than the first-generation HD DVD players and is a bit quicker than my Sony Blu-ray player as well. I found the load times to be quicker with music CDs and standard-definition DVDs than with HD DVDs, but overall, it is much improved and easier than ever to use.