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Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD Player Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 January 2008
Article Index
Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD Player
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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.

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