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Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD Player Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 June 2006
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Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD Player
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ImageWith tremendous hype and noted delays, HD DVD players have hit the market, allowing consumers to see HD movies from a commercially available disc for the first time. Two players mark the launch of the format: the Toshiba HD-XA1 ($799.95) and HD-A1 HD DVD ($499.95). The launch is a cautious one, with reportedly only 15,000 units being shipped for the first run of players, leaving stores like Sears and Best Buy to sell off their small number of players relatively quickly.

Initial software offerings are quite pleasing, with Warner Bros. correctly featuring “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Last Samurai” alongside Universal’s “Serenity” (apparently alternating with Warner’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which came out the following week, due to a mastering concern by the producers). Also available in the second week (Tuesday, April 25) were releases that included Universal’s “Apollo 13” and “Doom” for a total of six HD DVD titles at the end of April 2006. Roughly 10,000 copies of each title are being pressed initially, yet many retailers have sold out of both player and discs.

How HD DVD Works
The new HD DVD format, featuring a maximum bandwidth (or continuous flow-through) of 36.55 megabytes per second (Mbps) is able to serve up a far superior picture with much better sound quality than even D-VHS (at about 28 Mbps) or, for that matter, Cable – Satellite – and/or Broadcast HDTV (which top out at about 19 Mbps, or roughly half the information per second on a good day). By comparison, DVD has a maximum bandwidth of 10 Mbps. This high-definition variation on DVD uses new and cutting edge technologies like a Blue Laser operating at 405 nanometers (nM), which increases storage capacity by over three times that of a DVD’s 680 nM red laser, along with two greatly more efficient codecs: MPEG-4 AVC and VC-1 (WMV-9), as well as conventional MPEG-2, that are capable of delivering vastly more transparent image and sound quality while taking up one-third of the space of our old friend MPEG-2, used for DVD, SD and HD cable and satellite programs. Combined together, the increased storage capacity of 15 gigabytes per single-layer or 30 gigabytes per double-layer HD DVD disc (compared to 800 megabytes for a CD or nine gigabytes for a double-layer DVD) can accommodate significantly more information than any previously mass-produced disc format. The limits of this new disc are clearly in the hands of the program producers.

Consumers in this country have come to expect a lot more for their HDTV, DVD and videogame dollars than they ever did when we all were watching standard-definition digital TV, DVD or PlayStation One up to a decade ago. $20 to $30 for a new movie released on disc today or $50 to $60 for a new game has come to mean very good picture and sound quality to most people, solid game play for many and the opportunity to amass a library of favorites to enjoy repeatedly with friends and family.

But, in fact, most discs sold in America are actually between $5 and $15 per disc, particularly after a title has been available for a year or two and has been heavily discounted. It turns out in recent studies that over 76 percent of owners of HDTVs are not even looking at an HD picture but rather the SD portion of the signal, resulting in no better and sometimes worse performance than anyone used to experience with a standard-definition television. I have even seen several threads on the Internet from people who honestly could not tell that HD DVD was even slightly different-looking or better than DVD precisely because they hooked up the S-Video connection (capable of only 480i) or did not set up their component video or HDMI output for a 1080i signal. As frightening as it is for consumers to be expecting HDTV to flow through an S-video cable, it is equally important to teach them that this high-resolution video is best sent via an HDMI video cable to your HDTV. Sets with only DVI inputs can use a simple adaptor to make the needed connection and all-important “digital handshake.”

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