Toshiba HD-A2 Review

January 15, 2007

Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD PlayerToshiba’s second generation HD DVD players have arrived. The entry level HD-A2 ($499) has been available for several weeks now and by the time you read this the HD-XA2 (HDMI 1.3 & 1080p) should be should be on store shelves as well. After having spent about four weeks with the HD-A2, I’m ready to give my final review. However as with all the next-generation hi-def disc players, the players themselves are ever evolving by means of firmware updates. So keep in mind just as we saw several firmware updates with the HD-A1 & HD-XA1, we’ll likely see firmware updates for this second generation of players as well.

Before I get started here I want to get a few things out of the way. This review won’t delve into the overall merits of HD DVD versus Blu-ray. I’ve made my preferences known and in all honesty I doubt I could think of another way to rehash the subject, even if I wanted to. For the immediate future at least, both formats are here to stay. Suffice to say if you want my recommendation on which way to go, I’m still of the opinion that HD DVD offers the highest quality, least expensive entry point into hi-def optical disc playback. As always however, your mileage may vary.

First Impressions, Specifications and Set-up:

The Toshiba HD-A2 outputs 480p, 720p, and 1080i over HDMI and component and it up-scales standard definition DVD’s over the players HDMI 1.2a output. Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD (core only), Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital and standard DTS processing are supported. The player also sports a rear-panel Ethernet connection, slim-line design and greatly improved load times over its predecessors. The players build quality is still impressive even if it’s not the tank the HD-A1 was. The case is still made of metal and the brushed/stainless flip-down front tray adds to the players overall curb appeal.

As mentioned above, gone is the bulky, industrial look of the HD-A1; the HD-A2 is nearly half the height of its predecessor and considerably more polished looking. Toshiba appears to have taken much of the criticism of the first generation players to heart not only with regard to performance but with the aesthetics as well. The included remote control is also an improvement over its predecessor. The A2’s remote looks, feels, and operates much like any other DVD remote you’ve ever used. The buttons (non-backlit) are arranged intuitively with all the necessary functions up-front and center.

The players HDMI output (Audio & Video) was my primary connection method for the review, however I did spend a bit of time viewing a handful of discs over the component output. One welcome change over the HD-A1 is the A2’s HDMI performance. The A2 is rock solid in this regard and once a HDMI handshake is negotiated it takes quite a bit of meddling to fault it. I alternated between HDMI audio for TrueHD sound tracks and the player’s optical connection for Dolby Digital Plus, to get a better feel for the audio capabilities of both outputs.

HQV Benchmark Results:

Per usual I’ve included my HQV benchmark results and of course these results are for standard definition playback only.

•Color Bar/Vertical Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Jaggies Pattern 1: Pass – Score 3 of 5
•Jaggies Pattern 2: Pass – Score 3 of 5
•Flag: Pass – Score 5 of 10
•Picture Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•3:2 Detection: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Film Cadence: Pass – Score (Combined) 40 of 40
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Horizontal Text Crawl: Pass – Score 5 of 10
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Vertical Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Total Score:116 out of a possible 130.

Standard Definition DVD Viewing:

The Toshiba HD-A1 and HD-XA2 were widely lauded for their standard definition up-scaling capabilities, so of course I was quite interested to see how well the HD-A2 performed the same task. The first disc up was my well worn and just as enjoyed Superbit edition of ‘The Fifth Element’. I wanted something familiar for this test and I can’t think of a disc I’ve viewed more throughout the years. The colors were vibrant and well saturated and the overall image was on-par with the up-conversion from my XA1.

I skipped forward to chapter eight where Leeloo is crawling through the air-ducts; the shadow detail, sharpness and overall detail were all spot-on. The motion was fluid and lifelike and the flesh tones were very believable. Overall I was quite satisfied with the A2′s standard definition DVD playback and I never had the feeling that I was missing something or felt the desire to pop the disc back over into the XA1. For those of you who’ve heard the rave reviews about the HD-A1 and HD-XA1’s standard definition DVD playback, rest assured that the HD-A2 carries on in the same vein.

HD DVD Playback:

With all the precursory futzing around out of the way it was time to get down to brass tax, HD DVD playback. I started off with Universal’s recent release of ‘The Mummy’; fun movie, great characters but of course we’re not here to discuss that, you want to know how the HD-A2 compares to its predecessors with HD DVD playback. I began by exploring how well the A2 navigated the disc’s menu system. Paging through even the two-tiered sub-menus, the response was quick, decisive, and exhibited none of the lag present in some of the first generation players.

I skipped forward to chapter 7’s ‘Chamber of Death’ sequence. The audio was every bit as good as I’d remembered with the HD-XA1, high frequencies were dispersed evenly across the soundstage and the bass was deep and full of impact. Obviously as much of the film takes place in a crypt, the disc is jammed packed full of scenes with fine shadow details. Throughout the disc, subtle shades of gray and dark gradients were all rendered with striking realism.

Moving onto a film that’s become somewhat of a lightning rod in comic fan circles, 2003’s ‘The Hulk’ offers a glimpse into HD DVD nirvana. Say what you want about the film itself (I happen to prefer my comic based movies dark and challenging, versus shiny and safe) but few would argue ‘The Hulk’ doesn’t deserve its rightful place in the reference HD DVD list. From the very first glimpse of the opening montage onward, this disc delivers superb visuals. As a testament to this discs transfer quality even with all the CGI and visual effects that are laden throughout the film, ‘The Hulk’ still manages to look like film when the shot allows.

Scene after scene of ‘The Hulk’ with the HD-A2 exemplified what the format is capable of, crystal clear, highly detailed, high definition with superb audio quality. This consistency from shot to shot, in my opinion at least, plays a huge part in the immersion factor that’s so critical in a pre-recorded films ability to draw you in and just let the story unfold. Another interesting thing I keep re-discovering with HD DVD is text legibility. For example when an actor is holding/reading a newspaper you can often make out the actual text on the page and not just the headlines.

Back to audio performance for a minute, during chapter 16’s ‘Betty and the beast’ sequence; the deep, breathy growls from the mutated attack dogs reverberated throughout my entire room. As the Hulk picked them up and slammed them to the ground one by one, the thud from the PSB SubSeries 9 felt as if it might shake the room apart. Make no mistake the Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks encoded on many HD DVD’s of late deliver exceptional sound quality.

The Dolby TrueHD tracks found on titles such as The Phantom of the Opera, Training Day, Constantine, Troy, The Perfect Storm, The Ant Bully, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Batman Begins, V for Vendetta, Superman Returns, and Lady in the Water on the other hand, offer a whole other level or audio performance. During a recent demonstration of ‘V for Vendetta’ I had a client proclaim, “That’s the best home theater sound I’ve ever heard”. Obviously comments like that one make my job much easier. The odd part is that we weren’t even in the high-end demo room, but that’s a story for another day.

Lastly I wanted to re-visit another title I’ve come to rely on for demonstrations, 2005’s ‘King Kong’. This disc offers jaw dropping visuals and some fantastic action sequences to boot. I’ve bookmarked (“B” on your HD DVD remote) 01:41:55 (chapter 35 for those of you finding it for the first time) as my scene of choice to show off not only the disc, but HD DVD in general.

The T-Rex Battle is a treat for the eyes and ears, the lush jungle backdrop provides layer of detail upon layer of detail to take-in. The audio, as alluded to earlier, is no slouch either. Every ‘chomp’ from the attacking T-Rex’s is placed perfectly in the soundstage and delivers just the right amount of pop to make an otherwise impossible scenario just a tad bit more believable.

I really can’t stress this point enough but gorgeous visuals are only half the story with HD DVD. The final moments of the T-Rex battle in Kong are pure home theater audio-heaven as every thud, string from the orchestra, and grunt from the ape himself are crystal clear, sonically accurate and fully engaging. If you’re in the market for or just picking up your first HD DVD player, be sure to grab a copy of ‘King Kong’, your eyes and ears will thank you.

Summary:

Talk about timing, as I was writing this review Toshiba announced a new player at their pre-CES press conference in Las Vegas. The HD-A20 adds 1080p output to the HD-A2’s feature-set and carries a suggested retail price of $599.99. I’ll leave the merits of 1080p versus 1080i out of the equation for the time being but suffice to say the capabilities of your display obviously come into play here. i.e. If your display doesn’t accept 1080p, how long will it be before you consider upgrading it? And of course the de-interlacing capabilities in your existing/future display.

Suggested retail aside (the HD-A2 lists for $499.99) the player can be found for as little as $424.99 with a bit of hunting; even at full retail the HD-A1 and now the HD-A2 are no brainer’s in my opinion. In the relative short amount of time since HD DVD’s launch, I’ve done an about-face with my home video purchases. Pre-HD DVD, my DVD purchases had slowed to a trickle, occasionally adding a 3rd or 4th disc to an existing series or the less occasional purchase of a theatrical favorite.

Post-HD DVD however I’ve found myself unable to resist the temptation of not only replacing newer titles already in my collection, but indulging in classics as well. Warner Bros. Mutiny on the Bounty, Casablanca, and Forbidden Planet were absolutely fantastic on HD DVD and I can’t wait to add films like A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, The Godfather, Chinatown, American Graffiti, and The Wizard of Oz to my collection.

The format war is still anyone’s guess in my opinion. One side could crush the other this year or dual-format players could eventually become the norm. All I know is that with an ever increasing amount of discs and players in the market from both camps, home theater enthusiast shouldn’t be overly concerned with waiting for a winner or the longevity of the respective formats. Find a deal on a player and start enjoying some of this terrific HD content. If you happen to go the HD DVD route, I can easily recommend either the HD-A2 or HD-A20 (I’m under the assumption it’s basically a HD-A2 with 1080p output) without reservation. And as always, happy viewing.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under HD-DVD, Reviews


Comments

  • brian

    I need your help. I bought the Toshiba HD A2 player but I am looking for some advice regarding surround sound. As with the previous poster above, my old 5.1 surround does not support HDMI. I am looking into getting a new surround that handles the HDMI from my DVD and also HDMI from my Direct TV receiver.

    Any suggestions on new systems or even a suggestion on receivers? Any help is appreciated.

  • brian

    I need your help. I bought the Toshiba HD A2 player but I am looking for some advice regarding surround sound. As with the previous poster above, my old 5.1 surround does not support HDMI. I am looking into getting a new surround that handles the HDMI from my DVD and also HDMI from my Direct TV receiver.

    Any suggestions on new systems or even a suggestion on receivers? Any help is appreciated.

  • Billy

    I picked up the A2 at Walmart on Friday and had a question. I can’t get dolby digital working from it. I’ve tried it using the HDMI to my tv and then optical out from my tv to my receiver. I’ve also tried going optical out from the A2 to my receiver. I can get Dolby Digital on my Direct TV HD box and my XBOX 360 with optical audio. Is there something I need to change in the setup?

  • Billy

    I picked up the A2 at Walmart on Friday and had a question. I can’t get dolby digital working from it. I’ve tried it using the HDMI to my tv and then optical out from my tv to my receiver. I’ve also tried going optical out from the A2 to my receiver. I can get Dolby Digital on my Direct TV HD box and my XBOX 360 with optical audio. Is there something I need to change in the setup?

  • fred

    just purchased toshiba hd-a2 from wally world for 98$ this is my first hd dvd player havent opened yet been doing some reading (home work) to see if right for me. i have a sony 32in vega hd tv (crt) any feed back will be appreciated.

  • fred

    just purchased toshiba hd-a2 from wally world for 98$ this is my first hd dvd player havent opened yet been doing some reading (home work) to see if right for me. i have a sony 32in vega hd tv (crt) any feed back will be appreciated.

  • fred

    just purchased toshiba hd-a2 from wally world for 98$ this is my first hd dvd player havent opened yet been doing some reading (home work) to see if right for me. i have a sony 32in vega hd tv (crt) any feed back will be appreciated.

  • fred

    just purchased toshiba hd-a2 from wally world for 98$ this is my first hd dvd player havent opened yet been doing some reading (home work) to see if right for me. i have a sony 32in vega hd tv (crt) any feed back will be appreciated.

  • fred

    just purchased toshiba hd-a2 from wally world for 98$ this is my first hd dvd player havent opened yet been doing some reading (home work) to see if right for me. i have a sony 32in vega hd tv (crt) any feed back will be appreciated.

  • fred

    just purchased toshiba hd-a2 from wally world for 98$ this is my first hd dvd player havent opened yet been doing some reading (home work) to see if right for me. i have a sony 32in vega hd tv (crt) any feed back will be appreciated.

  • B.Greenway

    It can do 1080i over component for HD DVD but only 480p for protected DVD’s.

  • B.Greenway

    It can do 1080i over component for HD DVD but only 480p for protected DVD’s.

  • Alchemist

    Can the A2 display 1080i HD DVD content via component? or is it limited to 480p over component like it is for standard DVDs.

  • Alchemist

    Can the A2 display 1080i HD DVD content via component? or is it limited to 480p over component like it is for standard DVDs.

  • DAKOTA

    Walmart selling it (HD A2) for $99 tomorrow and Sunday? (November 2nd and 3rd) Wow. Gotta get one for sure.

  • DAKOTA

    Walmart selling it (HD A2) for $99 tomorrow and Sunday? (November 2nd and 3rd) Wow. Gotta get one for sure.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Robert, rest assured if I’d noticed anything problematic with the HD-A2′s component video outputs I would have mentioned it in the review. To be quite honest I’m hard pressed to see any noticeable difference between the HDMI output and component with my current display.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Robert, rest assured if I’d noticed anything problematic with the HD-A2′s component video outputs I would have mentioned it in the review. To be quite honest I’m hard pressed to see any noticeable difference between the HDMI output and component with my current display.

  • Robert Lafaille

    You mention that “however I did spend a bit of time viewing a handful of discs over the component output” but you fail to mention the results?

    My Plasma Hitachi 50 inch does not have HDMI. I am interested on your views using componemts.

    Thank you

  • Robert Lafaille

    You mention that “however I did spend a bit of time viewing a handful of discs over the component output” but you fail to mention the results?

    My Plasma Hitachi 50 inch does not have HDMI. I am interested on your views using componemts.

    Thank you

  • Richard Rife

    I ahve both the A2 adn Xa2, and while both work fine for DVDs, both skip while playing CDs. If you look at the counter, the timing skipps too! It’ll go from 1:45 to 1:48, then 1:49, then 1:51. Has anyone else seen this?

  • Richard Rife

    I ahve both the A2 adn Xa2, and while both work fine for DVDs, both skip while playing CDs. If you look at the counter, the timing skipps too! It’ll go from 1:45 to 1:48, then 1:49, then 1:51. Has anyone else seen this?

  • JAMES KARR

    I just bought the Samsung 63″ plasma. I have a
    set top box with HDMI (tv has hdmi also) and a DVD
    player with an HDMI out connection.

    Can anyone help me with – I assume it’s set top box to tv and component connections from the dvd
    to the tv.

    Thanks for the help.
    JK

  • JAMES KARR

    I just bought the Samsung 63″ plasma. I have a
    set top box with HDMI (tv has hdmi also) and a DVD
    player with an HDMI out connection.

    Can anyone help me with – I assume it’s set top box to tv and component connections from the dvd
    to the tv.

    Thanks for the help.
    JK

  • Drmillerse

    I have purchased the Toshiba HD-XA2 and after about 3 weeks of getting this new player I am becoming ever more impressed. I have a Sony 60″ SXRD HDTV with 1080p. The XA2 1080p HD-DVD playback is outstanding. I thought it would be! But much to my surprise was the outstanding playback of standard DVD’s…not quite HD quality…but still the best SD playback I have seen. I believe the Silicon Optix Reon Processor is worth the extra money that the XA2 costs. The price is already dropping. I paid $899 in early January and received 2 free HD-DVD’s in addition to the rebate of 3 HD-DVD’s from Toshiba. I have nothing against Blu-Ray…but it really doesn’t matter much in light of all this player does..the sound is WOW!

  • Drmillerse

    I have purchased the Toshiba HD-XA2 and after about 3 weeks of getting this new player I am becoming ever more impressed. I have a Sony 60″ SXRD HDTV with 1080p. The XA2 1080p HD-DVD playback is outstanding. I thought it would be! But much to my surprise was the outstanding playback of standard DVD’s…not quite HD quality…but still the best SD playback I have seen. I believe the Silicon Optix Reon Processor is worth the extra money that the XA2 costs. The price is already dropping. I paid $899 in early January and received 2 free HD-DVD’s in addition to the rebate of 3 HD-DVD’s from Toshiba. I have nothing against Blu-Ray…but it really doesn’t matter much in light of all this player does..the sound is WOW!

  • westcott

    I really hope you can get your hands on the HD-XA2. The Silicon Optix Reon Processor should make SD and HD material the cats meow.

    It may even make the Denon 2930ci or 3930ci a real question mark!!!!

    Hope you can get your hands on one! I trust your take on the product.

  • westcott

    I really hope you can get your hands on the HD-XA2. The Silicon Optix Reon Processor should make SD and HD material the cats meow.

    It may even make the Denon 2930ci or 3930ci a real question mark!!!!

    Hope you can get your hands on one! I trust your take on the product.

  • Chani Leonard

    I went the HD-DVD way as well and I own a HD-A2 since launch here in Canada. So far I have seen V for Vendetta, Troy, Batman Begins, Million Dollar Baby, The Last Samurai and Swordfish. I must say I’m really satisfied with my new acquisition. I think its great that they are releasing a 1080p version at a price similar to PS3 and with Toshiba announcing their new 50G discs HD-DVD hasnt much to envy from blu-ray.

    I’m still glad that I bought a HD-A2 since my HDTV is one year old and doesnt support 1080p and HDMI 1.3 also I have read that the difference between 1080i and 1080p is only noticeable with display larger then 60 inches. Only downside is that now I’m looking for a new HDMI receiver since the HD-A2 doesnt have analog 5.1 outputs and my old receiver doesnt decode Dolby Digital. I knew before I bought and told myself its just an excuse to get a new receiver. ;)

  • Chani Leonard

    I went the HD-DVD way as well and I own a HD-A2 since launch here in Canada. So far I have seen V for Vendetta, Troy, Batman Begins, Million Dollar Baby, The Last Samurai and Swordfish. I must say I’m really satisfied with my new acquisition. I think its great that they are releasing a 1080p version at a price similar to PS3 and with Toshiba announcing their new 50G discs HD-DVD hasnt much to envy from blu-ray.

    I’m still glad that I bought a HD-A2 since my HDTV is one year old and doesnt support 1080p and HDMI 1.3 also I have read that the difference between 1080i and 1080p is only noticeable with display larger then 60 inches. Only downside is that now I’m looking for a new HDMI receiver since the HD-A2 doesnt have analog 5.1 outputs and my old receiver doesnt decode Dolby Digital. I knew before I bought and told myself its just an excuse to get a new receiver. ;)