The UK’s only HD DVD player! It was mine for just a few hours, but it was mine none the less. My excitement was tangible. The HD-XA1 unit had been flown in from Japan for Toshiba’s UK Spring trade shows, but before shipping back home, it had been diverted to Home Cinema Choice, for an exclusive preview. This is, I guess, the tale behind that preview. The full story will appear in Home Cinema Choice 130, on sale May 11. Make sure you reserve a copy.
My first impressions after extracting the HD-XA1 from all the packaging were certainly positive. It looks beautiful, far more so than its press pictures may suggest. It’s solid and heavy. I also love the remote handset, which is very glitzy, with raised soft-touch buttons which illuminate when you touch them.
Behind a slider is the standard Settup menu button, so once plumbed into my system, I set about snooping around. The first thing I noticed was that the aspect ratio was incorrectly set. I wonder how many dealers Toshiba demonstrated the HD-AX1 to with the picture configured for 4:3 letterbox?
Once sorted, there was of course, the small problem of what to watch. I had no commercial HD media to play, and infuriatingly Toshiba had not arranged to bring over any Japanese releases.
The only platter available was a test disc supplied by Warner, which comprise a variety of movie trailers. The Dukes Of Hazard, Lemony Snicket’s …, The 40 year old virgin, Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride and King Kong being the headliners. It was so raw it didn’t even have a menu structure.
Nonetheless, I must have spun it ten times at least.
720p or 1080i?
The unit’s handset allows you to toggle resolution, from standard def through to progressive and up to 1080i. Even though my screen has a resolution of 1024 x 768, the image was noticeably better when viewed at 1080i. On paper at least, I would have thought 720p the better option, but it was not to be.
The quality of the trailers varied quite a lot. Dukes was poor, but The Corpse Bride and Kong were thrilling in their detail. Once I bored of the test disc, I viewed standard DVDs upscaled to high def. As always this is a curious experience wherein I tried hard to convince myself of the benefits.
That this unit was not actually ready to be properly tested quickly became apparent. It crashed, spat out weird error messages and stuff just didn’t work. But my enthusiasm for the format ramped up several notches regardless. I now think I’m going to have to import an American machine. I just can’t wait for the UK rollout.
Here’s one curious observation from my couple of hours with the HD-AX1. I found myself watching its pictures far closer than I would normally sit. Almost without thinking I abandoned my (not so) comfy couch and squatted on the floor. I just wanted to see more of the detail. With DVD this would have been pointless, because the closer you get, the more the picture falls apart. But the opposite happened here. The closer I got the more I could see.
And then, as quickly as it came, the thing was whisked off. For a more detailed preview, I urge you to look for our report in Home Cinema Choice issue 130. HD DVD is Real…and it’s nearly ready. By Steve May.
The Official Toshiba Fact sheet
Key Features of the New Player
1. Playback of high definition content and support for advanced content. Alongside playback of high-definition quality HD DVD content, the HD-XA1 supports enhanced functionality and diverse features. While those features depend on content, the player’s “pop-up menu” displays menu or movie chapters while the movie plays, enabling a search for desired functions or a jump to a desired scene through the chapter guide. The player also supports PIP with motion video functions.
2. Next generation surround-sound formats.
HD DVD supports Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, next generation surround-sound formats, and also supports L-PCM 5.1ch.
3. Digital high definition picture output with up-converter and HDMI output.
Through the HDMI interface, high-definition pictures stored in a disc can be displayed on digital TVs that incorporate HDCP capable HDMI inputs. Through the HDMI interface, standard definition DVDs can be up-converted to an output resolution of 720p or 1080i.
4. Compatible to playback various discs including current DVD software.
In addition to prerecorded DVD software, HD-XA1 supports playback of DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM discs. It is also compatible with music CDs and playback of CDs in WMA or MP3 file format.
About HD DVD Format
HD DVD is standardized by the DVD Forum, the international association of some 240 companies. Specifications of the HD DVD-ROM physical, file and application formats were approved by the Forum in August 2005. In addition to a versatility that enables support for diverse applications, including players, recorders, PCs and automotive devices, HD DVD’s main features are:
1) The same disc structure as DVD, two 0.6mm-thick polycarbonate discs bonded back-to-back. This structure makes it easy for HD DVD to achieve backward compatibility with DVD hardware devices, and also assures a simple manufacturing process for discs and hardware devices, resulting in reasonable manufacturing costs.
2) Robust playability, with no need for a disc cartridge to protect against surface blemishes and fingerprints.
3) The DVD Forum has approved HD DVD-ROM discs with a data capacity of 15GB with a single-layer disc and 30GB with a dual-layer disc. High data capacities are achieved by adopting a shorter wavelength blue-violet laser and advanced data processing technologies, assuring the ability to store large capacity data sources, including high-definition images.
4) Adoption of advanced navigation and content features to enhance the entertainment of consumers.
5) Adoption of AACS (Advanced Access Content System) to secure robust content protection.
6) Using twin format disc technology (single-sided dual-layer; DVD 4.7GB and HD DVD 15GB), a single disc can store both HD DVD and DVD versions of a film, allowing consumers to immediately enjoy the standard definition movie on today’s DVD players and to playback the same movie in HD on an HD DVD player at a later date. A combination disc (double-sided dual-layer; DVD 8.5GB and HD DVD 30GB) is under development.