Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD Player 
Home Theater Video Players HD DVD Players
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Tuesday, 01 January 2008

Not since VHS vs. Beta has an AV format war been the source of so much turmoil for consumers. More so than SACD vs. DVD-Audio, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray has sparked numerous debates around the water cooler, caused much consumer confusion and even managed to shut down portions of one of the Internet’s largest consumer electronics forum because of – get this – death threats. That’s right, death threats. While consumers flock to stores in droves for HDTVs, it has only been in recent weeks, with radical price drops on players, that consumers are looking toward HD players to actually feed their new HDTVs with beaming, beautiful video content.

Consider this review round three. I recently reviewed the Toshiba HD-A20 and raved about it, proclaiming it to be the best HD DVD player on the market at the time. The review had barely gone live before I was contacted by Toshiba to review the HD-A35 reviewed here. Toshiba informed me that the HD-A35 was their top of the line, third-generation HD DVD player. Third generation – didn’t the second-generation players just ship? At this pace, we’ll be on generation five by the time this review runs. If there’s one thing Toshiba has done, they’ve kept the market flooded with HD DVD players at various price points, some reaching as low as $99 in certain stores, which is more than I can say for Sony and others in the Blu-ray camp. This mass affordability has given them a slight sales edge, for it seems that at around $100 retail, consumers are willing to get into the HD format game. This latest surge towards HD DVD has undoubtedly added to the already heated Internet debate over the two formats.

The HD-A35 arrived at my office shortly after my conversation with Toshiba. Packaged with two free HD DVDs, The Bourne Identity and 300, it looks an awful lot like the HD-A20 just flipped and minus a flimsy plastic trap door. The HD-A35 is all black with silver metallic-looking plastic accents and a display and manual controls that glow a pale blue. While not the most rock-solid-feeling item I have in my rack, it is rather elegant-looking and, when you consider its price of $499, you can somewhat excuse its physical shortcomings. The HD-A35 measures nearly 17 inches wide by two-and-a-half inches tall and almost 13 inches deep, weighing about seven-and-a-quarter pounds. The front of the HD-A35 is rather simple, featuring a small display window and a few manual controls for eject, play, stop, pause and chapter skip, as well as the single disc tray. Turning my attention aft, the HD-A35 has a single HDMI 1.3 with Deep Color capability output, component video output, composite video output, optical audio out, analog audio out (two-channel) and a complete 5.1 set of analog audio outputs. The HD-A35 also has a single Ethernet port, which can be used to upgrade the player via the Internet or wireless router connection. I’d like to point out that, unlike every Blu-ray player I’ve bought, the Toshiba HD DVD players do not require a firmware update straight out of the box and the HD-A35 is no exception.

Behind the scenes, the HD-A35 features full video upconversion to 1080p via its HDMI output. The HD-A35 can also output native 1080p/24p video signals, which is the best resolution HD can do at this point. The HD-A35 uses the latest VRS chipset from Anchor Bay (DVDo) to handle all deinterlacing, scaling up to and including 1080p. It uses the same 10-bit Precision Video Scaling engine found in the HD-A20. For a more detailed explanation of the Anchor Bay chipset, please read the Toshiba HD-A20 review or Kevin Miller’s review of the DVDO VP50 video processor, both of which feature the same chipset found in the HD-A35. Truthfully, the only real difference between the HD-A20 and the A35 in terms of video processing/scaling is the A35’s ability to output 1080p/24p, as well as its support of Deep Color via its HDMI 1.3-capable output.

The HD-A35 is compatible with standard DVDs, as well as DVD VR, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD-RW and CD, CD-r/RW. Besides supporting almost all formats, save Blu-ray, the HD-A35 supports all of the latest Dolby Digital and DTS sound options, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD. The HD-A35 has web-enabled capability, as well as CE-Link HDMI-CEC, which allows the user to control various components, like play an HD DVD, with the touch of a single button.

Which brings me to the remote. Happily, I don’t have to say much here, as it is basically the same remote that came packaged with my Toshiba HD-A20, which I liked, despite its glow in the dark keypad. So I like the HD-A35 remote as well. Like the HD-A20 remote, the HD-A35 proved to be functional and easy to use but not flashy.

Like the HD-A20, the HD-A35 was an absolute snap to integrate into my system. I decided to install the HD-A35 in my bedroom system, which features the new 55-inch Sony BRAVIA 120Hz rear-projection TV, as well as my Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player with audio coming by way of Denon and Orb Audio’s Mod 4 system. All cabling and power filtration came by way of Monster Cable. I went ahead and plugged the HD-A35 straight into the Sony TV’s second HDMI input, letting a single optical cable provide the audio to my Denon receiver.

A quick review of the HD-A35’s menus to make sure everything was in order and a couple of “handshake” tests later, I was ready to rock and roll in no more than 15 minutes.

Music And Movies
While most consumers will utilize the HD-A35 for video content, be it DVD or HD DVD, some may still want to spin the occasional CD on it. Not wanting to spend too much time on its two-channel performance, I quickly cued up Darren Hayes’ third solo album, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made (Suma Records). Something of a disco-style album, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is chock full of synthesizers, techno beats and deep bass ready to give any player a workout. On the track “Bombs Up in My Face,” the HD-A35’s performance was surprisingly good. The opening bass was appropriately deep and well defined. Darren Hayes’ overly processed vocals sounded full and rich without seeming too smooth. Vocals were firmly planted in the center of the soundstage, allowing the other musical elements to move freely and effortlessly around them. Soundstage definition was quite good for a sub-$500 player. The treble was smooth and rather nimble, lacking that last ounce of air you’d expect from a costlier dedicated player. Honestly, the HD-A35 did a rather good job of riding herd on a track with few elements layered endlessly one on top of the other, while remaining very musical.

Skipping to the track “A Conversation With God,” the HD-A35 was able to show off a bit of its higher-frequency prowess. The synthetic bells that open the song floated effortlessly between the Mod 4 with a slight roundness to them that made them a bit more palatable. Vocal reproduction was very good, carrying with it the appropriate amount of weight, presence and warmth, proving the HD-A35 is no one-trick pony. The bass was tuneful and appropriately deep, not quite as responsive as what you’d get through a dedicated player, but for a video player, the HD-A35 was no slouch. While I didn’t mind the HD-A35’s musical performance, I could detect little to no difference between it and the HD-A20 in terms of two-channel performance.

Next, I cued up Monster Music’s presentation of 3 Doors Down’s Live From Houston Texas (Monster Music). Since this particular disc features video as well as a stellar multi-channel audio track, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and see just how well the HD-A35 handled standard DVD fare. The HD-A35 was even more impressive with audio here. The treble was nimble and airy, without a hint of glare or aggressiveness. It was a touch smooth around the edges, which lent the usual harshness one gets from a live performance a more pleasing tone. However, this smoothness did cost the HD-A35 a hint of extension and ultimate dynamic impact. Still, keep in mind that this is a sub-$500 video player. The midrange was quite nice and sounded natural from the vocals on through to the raging guitars. The bass was taut, deep and exhibited tremendous speed. The balance between all of the elements was topnotch, as the HD-A35 proved track after track that it puts the emphasis on total enjoyment. However, when I compared the HD-A35 directly to the HD-A20’s multi-channel performance, I found the two to be eerily similar. Video-wise, the HD-A35’s internal scaling didn’t disappoint. The colors were rich, vibrant and punchy, but still felt natural in their saturation and depth. Blacks were good, but this particular disc doesn’t have the crispest of black levels. Edge fidelity was a bit sharper through the HD-A35 than through a lesser standard-definition DVD player like my Oppo. The rapid camera pans and constant movement of lead singer Brad Arnold did little to tax the HD-A35’s Anchor Bay chipset, as I encountered little stair-stepping. In fact, the only time I saw it was in the strings and frets of one of the guitarists’ instruments in the background against fairly powerful stage lighting. Outside of those instances, the picture was rendered virtually artifact-free. Noise levels, minus the less than stellar blacks contained on the disc itself, were kept to a minimum, resulting in a smooth, lifelike image, which is always a plus when viewing standard DVD material.

Next, I cued up the recently released HD DVD of 300 (Warner Home Video) that came free with the unit. In terms of sound quality, the HD-A35 was again stellar, performing above and beyond its price. All but the minutest nuances were brought to life from the HD disc spinner. Honestly, to do better in terms of surround sound performance, you’re going to have to spend more than double what the HD-A35 goes for retail, and even then, the differences are going to be subtle at best. The clanging steel of the Spartan soldiers rang true with exceptional decay and air. Dialogue was crisp and intelligible in the face of the epic battles and often heavy-handed deliveries. The HD-A35 did a great job rendering and maintaining all of the vocal inflections, faithfully ensuring each character stood out from the next. The bass performance was exceptional, showing zero signs of bloat even under the thundering feet of some of the film’s more fanciful animal sequences. In terms of surround sound performance, the HD-A35 demonstrated what’s great about uncompressed Dolby Digital soundtracks like Dolby True HD. All of the sonic elements existed in complete harmony with one another, creating a total experience that draws you in rather than distracting you with one element over another.

Picture-wise, 300 proved to be a tour de force; the color pallet, which is largely sepia in tone, looked as good as, if not better than, I remember from the theatrical release. Primary colors, such as the Spartan’s red capes, were vibrant and punchy and had tremendous depth to them. The yellowish and gold tone of some of the villain’s jewelry was brilliant in its detail and saturation. Small details like gold flecking and sequins were rendered free of any sort of pixilation and shimmered like the real thing on screen. There was an overall three-dimensionality to the image that bordered on the surreal, aided by the HD-A35’s stellar edge fidelity. Motion was crisp, showing no signs of any sort of digital nastiness and, when fed into a 120Hz display like the Sony, took on a smoothness I had not been expecting nor experienced in all my years in home theater. Like the HD-A20 before it, the HD-A35 showcased what’s great about the new HD DVD format.

The Downside
Once again, Toshiba has engineered another fabulous player in the HD-A35. I found it to be a bit more robust in terms of build quality over the HD-A20, but when comparing the performance of the two units, things got a bit tricky. While price is never considered a downside, and at $499 retail one can hardly call the HD-A35 expensive, when comparing it to the cheaper HD-A20, I’m not sure the subtle changes are worth it. The two are nearly identical in terms of internal technology and features, save the multi-channel analog outs you’ll find on the HD-A35. Audio performance, whether two-channel or multi, proved to be pretty much equal between the two players, as did overall video quality, at least on the displays I had available to me at the time of this review. While the HD-A35 has 1080p/24p capabilities, as well as Deep Color via its HDMI output, I’m not certain the performance leap is large enough to warrant users spending more or replacing second-generation HD DVD players. If you’re new to the marketplace, and the HD-A35 is to be your first HD DVD player, then by all means pick it up, but if you bought into the XA2 or HD-A20, then you’re probably already set.

What we have here with the HD-A35 is another terrific example of why HD disc formats are a great idea and a smart investment from Toshiba, the company that brought them to you first. At $499 retail, the HD-A35 is the most expensive third-generation player on the market, but it’s also the most current, featuring all of the latest bells and whistles, like HDMI 1.3, 1080p/24p output and Deep Color. However, with generation two players still available and at lower prices, if you were contemplating getting into the HD DVD game, there are just as effective ways to do so for less. But if you’re one of those who must be first on the block with the latest toys and consider yourself an aficionado, then there is no better HD DVD player on the market than Toshiba’s new HD-A35.
Manufacturer Toshiba
Model HD-A35 HD DVD Player
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
Output Resolutions 1080p
HDMI Version 1.3

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