Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player
First-to-market player is a disgrace
By Charlie White
The Toshiba HD-A1 ($500) is the first high definition disk player on the market. At the same time, HD DVD movies in this new format are slowly becoming available -- at this writing, there are approximately 20 titles on sale for the nascent HD DVD format. We took a close look at this first HD DVD player, putting it through its paces with both HD DVDs and standard-definition DVDs, and found it to be a frustrating experience that we hope amounts to the consumer electronics equivalent of opening-night jitters.
Taking the HD-A1 out of its box, its appearance reminded me of the first days of consumer VCRs, where early VHS machines looked almost identical to this HD DVD player. Not only is it boxy and ugly, but it's big -- it really is about the size of early VHS recorders. Its squared-off design shows little imagination; I was hoping for a more impressive appearance from the first iteration of this brand new format.
As I started up the player, I was immediately disappointed to hear fan noise emanating from the back of the unit. It wasn't just subtle whirring of the cooling unit, either -- it was almost as loud as some of the quieter projectors we've tested here at the Midwest Test Facility. Not good. Fan noise of any kind is not welcome, especially in a home theater environment. We were off to a rocky start.
Nevertheless, I was still optimistic as I started up the player. So what if it didn't look beautiful? The most important thing about this unit was its usability and playback quality. My optimism took another hit as I pressed the On button, and unlike any other DVD player or audio device I've used in the past, this HD DVD player acted like a computer, taking a full 35 seconds between the time I turned it on and when it was actually ready to accept the DVD. Does it actually have to boot up? Yes.
|The A1 has HDMI and component outputs, as well as an Ethernet port, optical and coaxial audio outputs, and individual 5.1 audio outputs.|
Picking up the huge remote, I shuddered at its almost-laughable length, nearly a foot long and made of cheap plastic with sharp edges. I struggled to open the battery compartment door, and after putting the four AAA batteries inside, the compartment door balked at my closing it. The piece of plastic that covers the battery compartment has to be one of the cheapest and worst-designed battery door assemblies I've ever encountered.
Once the batteries were installed, I immediately encountered the appalling inferiority of this remote. It is virtually impossible to see the labels for each button on the remote, where the background in gray and the lettering is a slightly lighter shade of gray. There is no illumination on the remote, and virtually impossible to see the labels. This remote's design is absolutely abominable, and I immediately deemed it completely useless. Anyone using this HD DVD player is advised to get a universal remote forthwith.
Then, as I plugged in the included HDMI cable into the back of the player and into our 37-inch LCD TV, the player seemed confused -- it wasn't communicating with the monitor. Diving into the documentation, I noticed that it's necessary to set the resolution in order for the screen to communicate with the player. After doing so, there was still an HDMI error. The documentation instructed me to unplug the HDMI cables and plug them back in again. After doing that, the two devices were finally able to communicate with each other. Why is this shiny new connector type, the much-heralded HDMI, so clunky that it can't even mate with a garden-variety LCD TV set? My out-of-box-experience continued to deteriorate.
Before I go on, allow me to warn you about HDMI cables and electronics purveyor Best Buy. Before receiving our review unit, I wanted to get a feel for the consumer experience with this player, and asked a sales person at Best Buy if the Toshiba HD DVD player package included an HDMI cable. He told me it didn't. Thinking that I would need an HDMI cable to connect the review unit to our LCD monitor, I looked over the choices at Best Buy, where there were none available for less than around $100. Fortunately, I had scanned the Web for HDMI cable prices before I made my shopping trip, noticing that most of the cables sold for between $15 and $20. Refusing to pay the $100 Best Buy HDMI cable "tax," I went back to the office, thinking I would pick one up on the Web. When I received the HD DVD player, I discovered that it did indeed include an HDMI cable. I immediately began to think that this business of selling HDMI cables for $100 when they can be bought on the Web for $20 was nothing short of price gouging on the part of Monster Cable and its accomplice, Best Buy. Buyer beware.