posted by Eugenia Loli on Fri 22nd Jun 2007 07:53 UTC sent us in a next generation DVD player, the Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player. The model is the little brother of the HD-XA2 with fewer features, but it's the only HD player that sells at $230 while using the newer, second generation HD-DVD technology.

The refurbished black-finished device came with a manual, a composite A/V cable, the remote control and a power cord. It is much smaller than its predecessor and it is in fact almost half the height of our own Phillips DVD player which we purchased in 2002. The HD-A2 is region-free as far as the HD disks are concerned (which is possibly its biggest feature compared to Blu-Ray), but it's region 1 for its plain DVD capabilities.

The HD-A2 can output 720p and 1080i, but not 1080p. This is not huge concern, not only because it brings down the price, but also because 95% of the TVs sold today are only 1080i-capable anyway. The device can upconvert DVDs up to 480p through the component output (legal limitation rather than a real one), and up to 1080i with its HDMI output. We recomment users to buy a component or HDMI cable for usage with this device as the composite cable is only included for show and it's not capable of good quality.

Once connected to our 55" Sharp 1080i rear-projection TV we were able to test the device and we measured 24 seconds from boot-up to starting loading a DVD movie. While this sounds very slow (and it can be irritating if all you want to do is remove a disk from the tray), the reality is that this is half the time of the first generation HD-DVDs.

We tested with two HD-DVD disks, "March of the Penguins" (shot and transfered directly from film) and "Children of Men" (shot on film but was mastered/cleaned-up digitally afterwards). We had no problem playing back the disks and quality was top-notch. We found that the 1080i quality was better than 720p -- at least for normal movies that don't require a lot of action. Only pet peeve we had was that after you turn off the player while playing back a movie, it doesn't "remember" where it was before turning it off. Our Phillips DVD player does that trick and we have found it to be convenient.

We liked the DVD menu usability as found on HD-DVDs. When clicking on "menu" the movie does not necessarily stop, but a small menubar appears that let's you jump to chapters or enable/disable features on the fly. Using the remote control was easy too, no major gripes, even if it is not Apple-simple.

There are no multi-channel analog outputs, but there support for Dolby True HD 5.1 ch, Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 ch and Digital DTS surround 5.1 ch. Sound quality was top notch and it worked perfectly with our Phillips 5.1 surround system.

The master setup menu of the HD-A2 was beautiful to look at and easy to modify using the remote control. There were some options regarding language, audio and picture quality, but also a way to configure Ethernet (with DHCP or not) and subsequently upgrading the firmware. We had to upgrade the firmware as the player came with an older version. Once we had the player hooked into our network, it took exactly 29 minutes to download the firmware and install it (we are on Comcast cable).

Reading a bunch of other reviews online they all seem to be concerned with the 1080i vs 1080p limitation and the lack of the high-end audio output, but I think that this device is far from "limited" and that other reviews exaggerate. It does everything a normal household would expect (see: not Engadget/Gizmodo employees) and then some more. It is the most affordable HD playback device on the market today and it works as advertised without any problems. A must-have if you are an early adopter of HD. We have subscribed to Netflix and the HD-DVD disks are coming in droves!

Rating: 9/10

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