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HD Disc Players:
Toshiba HD-XA2, Panasonic DMP-BD10,
Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1, Sony Playstation 3

Toshiba HD-XA2

The HD-XA2 is Toshiba's new top of the line HD DVD player. After less than a year, the first-generation HD-A1 and HD-XA1 look positively ancient. The new HD-XA2 is improved in just about all aspects, from size to audible noise to disc load times. This last point is possibly the most important, as the slowness of the older players was quite the sore spot for those who bought them. Controls are now more responsive, and discs now load about 30% faster. And while users of the older HD-A1 will recall how hard the remote control was to operate in the dark, the XA2 remote control also has a backlight, which makes it incredibly easy to use.

The case is slimmer than the first-generation players, which brings the HD-XA2 down to a more standard size. Connections on the back include standard video inputs, from composite and s-video to component and HDMI. Audio inputs include analog stereo and 5.1 channel, TOSlink optical, and coaxial. There is, as always, an ethernet port for updates to the firmware.

In another new development, the HD-XA2 uses HDMI 1.3. HDMI 1.3 offers several improvements over previous versions, such as higher bandwidth and what's called "Deep Color." As discussed above, Deep Color should provide for better color accuracy and fidelity, but in reality we saw very little improvement using the XA2 and our Epson 1080p projectors.

The HD-XA2 will output video from 480i up through 1080p/60, with the notable exception of 1080p/24. 1080p/24 transmission is desirable in theory, since it takes the contents of an HD disc and sends them to the display without any video processing being applied. This should result in a cleaner picture. However, in practice, we saw little evidence that 1080p/24 from the Pioneer Elite Blu-Ray player looked better than 1080p/60 from any of the other devices, including the XA2.

For standard definition, the HD-XA2's upconversion is nearly flawless. Using the Silicon Optix REON processor, the XA2 can scale 480i video or film into clean, clear, sharp 1080p for your projector or flatscreen display. In fact, the upconversion quality is high enough that you may end up disconnecting your regular DVD player.

One of the other advantages of HDMI 1.3 is that the HD-XA2 can output Dolby TrueHD directly to a receiver for decoding. However, at the present time, such receivers don't exist. Until HDMI 1.3 is more prevalent, this will remain a theoretical benefit. In the meantime, though, the HD-XA2 will transcode the TrueHD audio track to multichannel PCM, and output it from any of the other audio output ports.

With a street price of only $799, the HD-XA2 is the most capable HD DVD player released thus far. If you've been thinking about making the jump to high definition on the HD DVD side of the ring, the HD-XA2 is a great piece of kit.

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Panasonic DMP BD10
Review Contents: Introduction Toshiba HD XA2 Panasonic DMP BD10 Pioneer Elite BDP HD1
  Sony Playstation 3