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HD-DVD: It's Here, and it's Spectacular

Tuesday, April 18, 2006, was official launch day in the USA for the new high definition DVD format known as HD-DVD, and the first HD-DVD player, the Toshiba HD-A1. I don't know how it went around the country, but here in Las Vegas most retailers weren't quite ready. Nevertheless, with a few phone calls we were able to track one down, along with three initial release discs-The Last Samurai, Serenity, and The Phantom of the Opera. We've been playing with it for the last few days, and I am happy to report our first experiences with it.

The Toshiba HD-A1 is currently retailing for a mere $499. HD-DVDs are selling at discounted prices as low as $18.99 through our Amazon-powered DVD store (click here for current and soon-to-be-released HD-DVD titles). For this modest investment you can literally transform the performance of your home theater. In fact, it is like upgrading to a higher resolution, higher performance projector for a fraction of the cost. (By the way, this article is not intended to be a formal product review of the HD-A1 as we still have some testing to do with it. Rather, this is a commentary on the HD-DVD format along with some first impressions of the HD-A1.)

I must admit to having been a bit skeptical of both HD-DVD and Blu-ray technology since the demos I've seen in stores and at trade shows have left me underwhelmed. Beyond that, there has been the preoccupation with whether HD-DVD or Blu-ray will win the format war. (Once it looked like Blu-ray had it locked up, but now all bets are off.) And then there has been the endless chatter about specs and outputs and whether you need a frightfully expensive 1080p resolution projector to get the real benefits from the new HD discs. All of this has contributed to a sense of confusion on the part of consumers as well as my own skepticism.

However, when the first images from the HD-A1 began to light up the screen Tuesday afternoon, all of my doubts melted away in short order. The image quality was superior to any of the previous demos I'd seen-pure, rock solid, pristine, razor sharp, highly detailed, and virtually artifact-free are just some of the superlatives that come to mind. It actually surpasses broadcast HDTV, for it is in the same class in terms of image resolution, but it is free of the noise and compression artifacts that are part of the broadcast signal. We have used several 720p resolution projectors for our initial look at HD-DVD and the results are beyond any expectation I had. Our associate Bill read my mind when he said "After seeing this it will be hard to look at standard DVD again."

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