First of all, thanks to everyone who has posted - this has been vital help.
Since HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray shows no strong sign of ending, I used Toshiba's new HD-A20 player and April price cuts as my excuse to leap. (Voting with my dollars I also wanted to tell Blu-Ray's Sony "screw you" for polluting their latest conventional DVD releases with non-industry-standard DRM gunk
.) Neither format will prevail soon, and the masses will only be tempted when dual format players reach commodity prices.
Why did I pick HD-A20 model?
- Consumers rated its upconversion as excellent. I have an arsenal of old DVDs but was unhappy with my old Sony player's upconversion and was already planning to replace it with a non-Faroudja Oppo model (my display is prone to serious macroblocking so I must choose a player carefully).
- 1080P support will future-proof my purchase for eventual resale. (I intend to keep my Bravia 40" 720P display, which I love, so 1080P support isn't even for my own use - it's for resale value.)
- I felt a generation 2.5 player would benefit from Toshiba's design experience to date.
- I insisted on staying in the entry-level price range.
A nice compromise.
Since my beloved old Denon receiver does not support HDMI, I'm using optical 5.1 audio.
So how did HD-A20 perform? In a word, DAZZLING. (And mind you, my display is not even 1080P.) "WOW" was my response when I put in a new HD-DVD of "Swordfish. " The other HD-DVD I bought, "12 Monkeys," is softer looking, deliberately viral-video style, but still shines in shots where HD matters.
How's the upconversion? Outstanding improvement over my cheap Sony DVP-NS70H. Even non-anamorphics came to life - like Milos Foreman's "Hair," still not up to current DVD video quality standards, but now suddenly good enough on this player that I'd feel comfortable to screen it for friends. And even the legendarily awful
transfer of "The Last Emperor" was surprisingly viewable, which amazed me. Non-anamorphic "Vertigo" still looks wretched, though, and since HD-A20 has no zoom feature (unless zoom support is built into individual HD-DVD titles), I used the Bravia's "wide" feature to magnify non-anamorphics - great for some titles, poor for others.
Next; anamorphic. The previously artifacted titles on "The Day After Tomorrow" popped and looked three-dimensional. "The Talented Mr. Ripley" always looked horrible on the Sony player, but the HD-A20 made it comparatively sparkle, within limits. "Jesus Chris Superstar" looked outstanding. My "Munich" rental looked pretty sharp, while parts of "Casino Royale" (2006) were still kinda fuzzy with mosquito noise, etc.
Optical 5.1 support sounded astounding to me. I left HD-A20's audio support at default settings. Subjectively, my Image release of "Dances With Wolves" sounded fuller and cleaner than I recalled hearing on the old Sony DVP-NS70H player, so I ran a comparison of a couple scenes (DVP-NS70H versus HD-A20). Result: I was surprised to discover some dialogue that was unintelligible on Sony's DVP-NS70H was distinct when played on HD-A20! (And here I had been satisfied with DVP-NS70H's audio - till this comparison.)
For video support I selected 720P and turned on the black enhancement. I also upgraded the firmware via the ethernet, which possibly
improved the video performance (not sure).
Next: every silver lining must have its cloud. My first
HD-A20 player wouldn't load HD-DVDs reliably: "Swordfish" wouldn't play so I upgraded the firmware - it played - then refused. "12 Monkeys" played fine at first - then stopped playing reliably. (Conventional DVDs played just fine. Only HD-DVDs had load problems.) Once "Swordfish" loaded it was astounding, better than my Comcast HD which still dazzles me. Here's the error: instead of loading, the TV screen said ("This disc is not DVD format. Cannot play the disc."),
and the front panel displayed "M55G." I examined both disks and even carefully washed "Swordfish" using tips found elsewhere in AVS. No change.
In returning this new model to Amazon:
1. Do I ask them to ship me a replacement of the same model?
2. Is this model too new and untested and I should buy something else.
3. Do I return it for refund and wait for more reviews of stable operation before buying HD-DVD?Update - I chose option #1: exchange the unit through Amazon.
But I also phoned Toshiba tech support (and was impressed by zero wait time for a tech rep after selecting HD-DVD in their support menu). I described the symptoms and asked if this is a common error. The rep replied: this model is too new to say. He suggested a software fix (till I disclosed I had already updated the firmware to v1.5 and confirmed it in the maintenance screens). Next he suggested I send the player to Toshiba for repair - at which point I thanked him but said I'll have Amazon swap it under their defect exchange program and I thanked him for his help.
UPdate #2: SUCCESS! Amazon's replacement arrived and now I cannot induce the errors - despite robust attempts, repeating all previous load tests. HD-DVDs play just fine: "Swordfish," "12 Monkeys," "Batman Returns," Van Helsing," "Children of Men."
HD-A20 rocks - highly recommended. Sleek looking, great performer.
PS - Price just dropped $36 at Amazon since I bought - so they're crediting me under their price guarantee.
Thanks for any thoughts,