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Toshiba A-20 Review

1062 Views 10 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  shazza
To anyone interested. Shane Buettner over at UAV has posted a review of the A-20. www.ultimateavmag.com
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I bought the A-2 today at BB, and I was going to exchange it for the A20 on June 10. But after I read that AWESOME review of the A20..forget it .

Thanks for the great post and I am so glad i found this site!!!!!!!!
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Going further to check this with program material, I looked at the Vatican scenes from Mission: Impossible 3, which are loaded with torturous brickwork and other fine details. Sure enough, this scene threw the A20 into veritable fits at 1080p. Obvious moiré, line twitter and other artifacts were plentiful, and some of the images were noticeably softened in detail as a result of the motion artifacts.

Well...that's a little strange. I watched MI3 the other night on the A20 and didn't see any of that.

At all.

So...don't let one bad review make you think this is a horrible player.
This review really does bother me because my only doubt before purchasing it was that I didn't want it if it read the disc at 1080p and then took it to 1080i and then back into 1080p, I wanted it to read at 1080p and then send it out that way to my TV. In fact I even asked this question very specificly at Value Electronics over the phone before making the purchase and was told there was no 1080i conversion. Anyone know what there return police is because this is total BS. I was either misimformed or was lied to and this is complete BS.
We need more HD DVD players and PLAYERS to enter the market soon.

Originally Posted by Dave Vaughn /forum/post/0

To anyone interested. Shane Buettner over at UAV has posted a review of the A-20. www.ultimateavmag.com

I wonder what firmware was on the unit he reviewed? At any rate, the issues he described sound like they can all (or mostly) be corrected with future firmware.

Originally Posted by ultimateavmag /forum/post/0

Although 1080p video has been encoded on every HD DVD disc released so far, the first generation HD DVD players have been "limited" to mere 1080i output. With the second generation this changed, first with the upscale $799 HD-XA2 and now with the HD-A20. At $499 the Toshiba HD-A20 is a mere $100 more than Toshiba's entry-level HD-A2, which maxes out at 1080i. So, the question we're here to answer, is this 1080p player worth that extra hundred bucks?

A Look Around

Connectivity-wise, the HD-A20 is a ringer for the less expensive HD-A2. Toshiba has slimmed these 2nd gen players down physically and logically in its second generation players, and just a few corners have been cut as a result.

Key outputs on the video side include, according to Toshiba, HDMI (1.3a), and component. For audio, there is a Toslink optical to complement the HDMI output, but no digital coaxial output. There are also no multichannel analog outputs, which means that the only way to experience the next-gen audio codecs, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD, is via the HDMI output, So, if you don't have an AVR or pre-pro that can process hi-res multichannel PCM think about stepping up to the HD-XA2 if the advanced audio is something you're interested in.

As with every Toshiba HD DVD player, an Ethernet connection is included as well as two USB extension ports. The Ethernet port is used for system updates, and also for web enabled interactivity features that are on the way (Warner's Blood Diamond will be among the first titles supporting these new features, hitting stores July 3rd). The USB ports have potential for gaming controllers or hanging hard drive storage off the player, among other things.

What's Inside

The slimmer profile of the HD-A20 is a departure from the first-gen players, and the portents of good things inside and out. The first-gen players, which were essentially home theater PCs, were notorious for slow boot-up times and other ergonomic/disc response issues and glitches. The newer players are built from a more integrated platform and dramatically improve on all the first-gen players' noted failings. Boot-up and disc access times are vastly superior, and the players offer far fewer playback issues in general.

The HD-A20 includes onboard transcoding of Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD to PCM for output over the HDMI output. But it does not transcode DTS HD Master Audioa limitation of all current HD DVD and Blu-ray players. It also upconverts standard DVDs to 720p/1080i or 1080p. The 1080p output is 1080p/60 with DVDs and HD DVDs even though HD DVD movie material is 1080p/24 native on the disc. It's long been rumored that a future firmware update will enable 1080p/24 output from both the HD-A20 and the HD-XA2, but it hasn't yet been officially announced. An Anchor Bay video processing solution is used for DVD deinterlacing and upconversion, and perhaps for something else I'll get to later.

Like the HD-A2 the A20 allows a 480i output over HDMI, which the upscale HD-XA2 does not. Other oddities include unexpected interaction between the Digital Out HDMI audio setting and the Digital Out setting for the SPDIF Toslink optical connection. Although it wouldn't seem that the latter should affect the former in the slightest, I found that if PCM is selected for HDMI but not SPDIF, the transcoding for DD, DD+ and TrueHD tracks is at 48kHz instead of 96kHz. I only got the full 96kHz over HDMI if both the SPDIF and HDMI Digital Out settings were notched at PCM. Strange but true.

Also, when the Toslink digital audio output is used this player handles Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks differently than the first-gen Toshiba players. The first-gen players converted these tracks first to PCM at 96kHz, and then to DTS at 1.5Mbps for output over the Toslink or coaxial digital audio outputs. The HD-A20 converts these streams to 640kbps Dolby Digital over Toslink. I did the DD vs. DTS thing about a decade ago and don't want to go there- but I'd prefer a higher data rate to a lower one.

The Dynamic Range Control setting defaults to Auto, which according to manual means it will be enabled if the content is flagged to do so. I set this to Off, as I prefer to control such a setting manually.


I want to cut to the chase here. The 1080p output is primarily what separates this player from the cheaper HD-A2, and that's where I started. Looking at the battery of test patterns I have at my disposal, I immediately saw some alarming signs. Fine horizontal 1080p luma and chroma bursts from the Spears and Munsil test disc and sections of Video and Film Resolution Loss tests on the Silicon Optix HD Benchmark on HD DVD showed artifacts. In particular, the areas with the finest horizontal luma lines were strobing, or blinking. With a video processor, this would suggest that its deinterlacing of 1080i material to 1080p is suspect. But why would this be the case with a player with a 1080p output? Simple, it clearly suggests that the HD-A20 converts the 1080p signal from the disc to 1080i, and then deinterlaces it back to 1080p incorrectly.

Going further to check this with program material, I looked at the Vatican scenes from Mission: Impossible 3, which are loaded with torturous brickwork and other fine details. Sure enough, this scene threw the A20 into veritable fits at 1080p. Obvious moiré, line twitter and other artifacts were plentiful, and some of the images were noticeably softened in detail as a result of the motion artifacts.

I then reset the A20's output to 1080i and let the Gennum video processing in my Marantz VP-11S1 handle the deinterlacing from 1080i to 1080p. Looking at the test sequences I now saw full, correct response in the vertical and horizontal bursts, including the horizontal bursts in the Silicon Optix Video and Film Resolution Loss tests. And moving onto the M:I 3 Vatican scenes, the moiré, artifacts and all other detritus were gone, replaced by a clear, sharp and detailed image.

So, in other words, in my system 1080i looked better with this player, and it appears that the HD-A20 has a conversion to 1080i buried in the video processing woodpile. So, is the 1080p output of the HD-A20 worth the $100 premium offer the HD-A2? The answer will depend largely on two things. The first is whether a future firmware update is implemented that allows a true 1080p/24 or a 1080p/60 output with no interlace conversions. The second is trickier- you would probably only see an improvement with the 1080p output of the A20 if its deinterlacing of 1080i is better than what's in your display. That is certainly possible, but for the most part the 1080i deinterlacing we're seeing in most recent vintage 1080p displays is at least this good, if not better.

As far as HD DVD image quality is concerned, I think many people will see comparable performance from the 1080i output of the less expensive HD-A2, and will certainly see much improved 1080p performance from the more expensive HD-XA2. As of now, the HD-A20 is indeed the player in the middle.

With upconverted DVDs, not only is the deinterlacing of video-based material not up to the par compared to the HD-XA2, it's not quite as good as what's in the HD-XA1. While 3/2 pulldown with movie material was fine, using the standard, video-based tests from the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark and Faroudja test discs revealed that the A20 performs very poorly- a complete fail on all the video-based tests I tried. This isn't entirely uncommon, but it is inferior to the performance of the first-gen Toshiba HD DVD players.

Stranger still, when upconverting standard DVDs I saw artifacts with video-based material from the 1080i output of the A20 that are absent from either the XA1 or XA2 when those players are set to 1080i. The Gennum processing in my Marantz VP-11S1 handles 1080i-1080p deinterlacing superbly, and so upconverting DVD players with a 1080i output work well with it. Using either the XA2 or XA1 to convert the 480i signals from the Silicon Optix test disc to 1080i showed a complete lack of deinterlacing artifacts in conjunction with the Gennum deinterlacing. Using the A20 to convert 480i to 1080i tripped up the Gennum processor in ways the other players didn't, showing very bad jaggies. Beats me what that is, but I checked and double-checked and triple-checked. I saw better performance from the other Toshiba upconverting players I had on hand at 1080i.


What a difference a year makes. A year ago, as a first-gen HD DVD player the HD-A20 probably would have drawn raves. Toshiba has done an outstanding of updating its first-gen HD DVD players and continually refining the performance in general of all its HD DVD players. If this player were to offer a more refined 1080p/60 output, or a true 1080p/24 output the tables would certainly turn. Until then, I'm afraid that for me the HD-A20 merely drove home the superb value and fantastic performance of both the HD-A2 and the HD-XA2.


Terrific 1080i performance with HD DVD

Vastly improved boot-up times and disc access speed

Glitch-free HD DVD playback

5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD decoding


1080p output apparently involves 1080i conversion w/out 3/2 pulldown

Poor deinterlacing for video-based standard DVDs

Upconverted 1080i output shows unusual artifacts

The full review.
The same site suggests than the XA2 cuts out the 1080i processing, but has since been questioned (especially with the release of MI3 and HD Video Essensials). It seems to me that they are both doing (24p -> 60i) -> 60p, but the XA2 is doing a much better job of de-interlacing. If they did cut out the 60i stage with a future firmware update, that would have benefits for both the XA2 and A20, including full resolution freeze frame and full resolution chroma. As it stands i'd be tempted by the XA2 but the A20 sounds like it has worse de-interlacing than my new LCD. I am reluctant to buy either of them until they cut out the interlaced stage.
Have the A20 on order, but after a bit more research, will be switching to the XA2. I'm sure the A20 would be fine, but doesn't seem to be too much advantage over the A2 (if the reviews are correct on the 1080i / 1080p issues). My main reason for replacing the 360 Add-on is to get something that is more family friendly, looks better, and for SD DVD upconversion - so the XA2 is a better choice for me.

I usually do more research before ordering, but have been on a slow connection, which limits search capabilities. Thanks for AVS - lots of info and it's one of the faster loading forums I visit.
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