If you have not yet seen TV on a new high definition display, well, you’re in for a treat when you do.  And now, thanks to Toshiba, there’s the perfect complement to that new technology, a high definition DVD player.

Whoa, wait, I know you’re thinking.  Back it up for a minute.  Let’s start with the display and a bit about HDTV. In case you have not heard, high definition TV, or HDTV, IS happening, and it’s happening now.  By February 17, 2009, ALL terrestrial broadcast TV, that is, the signals you get using an antenna, as opposed to cable or satellite, will be HDTV ONLY and no longer broadcast the way you get your shows today.

What does this mean to you and me?  It means, starting now, either we buy the new sets that are capable of HDTV reception and display, or at least a set that can see the signal using an external set-top box, or we’ll have to get an adapter of some sort, not quite yet available, that will convert the new to the old. That way, we can still use our old sets.

For the rest of us, it means that when we buy, it’s smart to buy, though more expensive, a new model that IS an HDTV, so we can take advantage of the tremendous, life-like picture improvements.  To that end, there are several technologies to consider. There is plasma, LCD, DLP and still the conventional technology of today’s picture tube-type TVs, though there are fewer of this type around.  For the big screen enthusiasts, 40 inches and above, it’ll be something in the new tech arena.  And there are still newer technologies coming, like SED from Toshiba and Canon, though not until next year.  I’ll leave the explanation of all those three-letter acronyms for your own investigation or my review at a later time because the focus of this article and of my current excitement is high definition DVD (HD DVD) from Toshiba.

This assumes you already have or will soon have HDTV and that you are interested in taking the next step in the evolutionary process – HD DVDs to watch and, as noted earlier, to complement the HDTV technology of your display.  And that brings me to the task at hand, introducing you to the wonders, ins and outs of HD DVD.

Toshiba’s full-featured HD-XA1, at $799, is a tremendous product.  I remember my first basic DVD player back in 1998 that cost a cool $1,000.  As good as today’s DVDs are, in HD, they’re even better. Now, I know that’s hard to believe, but if you’ve already experienced HDTV then you can just imagine that level of quality also from DVDs, and it’s on the way!

As an added benefit, even playing your existing library of DVDs will look better, thanks to the HD-XA1’s upconversion circuitry, which makes standard DVDs look even better than originally viewed. They’re “upconverted” to the look and close to the quality of native high def!  And they look just great, though not exactly as good as native HD DVD content.  Still it’s comforting to know this new player can easily replace your existing DVD player and is totally backward compatible with the software you already own.

Other advances are also built in.  For example, there is a pair of front-mounted USB ports that can accept gaming controllers. I guess they mean for this machine to also be some kind of gaming device, though I do not have details. I can only guess these games may be on a disc or might be via broadband, since the unit also features back panel Ethernet.  It can join your home network for gaming, programming and for firmware updates to open up new features and to make the experience better and better.

On the audio side, consider it high resolution, having full compatibility with the mandatory audio formats for the HD DVD specification. On our planet, this means support for the new formats from DTS and Dolby as well as the optionally specified enhanced sound format from DTS. It’s going to sound just great with the new software and also customarily wonderful with all your existing DVDs thanks to full backward compatibility with today’s best in audio formats – Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD (2 channel), DTS and DTS-HD.

The HD-XA1 employs the use of four high performance DSP engines to decode the multi-channel streams of the wide array of audio formats.  These high performance processors will perform the required conversion process, as well as the extensive on-board Multi-Channel Signal Management including: User Selectable Crossovers, Delay Management and Channel Level Management.

The new HD DVD players can pass digital information to a Surround Sound Processor/Receiver via S/PDIF or HDMI.  For Dolby Digital and DTS, the bitstream will be passed through both connections just as in a standard DVD player with the same interfaces.  Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD content will be converted to a standard bitstream format that is compatible with any processor equipped with decoders of the respective formats and output through S/PDIF and HDMI. Additionally, all the audio formats for either DVD or HD DVD will be decoded to PCM and output via HDMI in either stereo or multi-channel.

If you’re not a geek, then don’t concern yourself too much with what’s written above about audio, and be satisfied with the fact you’re going to love it!

At product launch in just a few weeks, HD DVD movies will be quite scarce, but that will increase throughout the rest of the year and into the future.

In addition, it is important to note that to get the full hit of the improved signal, the connection between player and TV must be via its HDMI interface, that is, the single cable from player to TV.  This specific cable is the best way and ultimately will likely be the only way to get the HD signal from the player to the TV, and this is where understanding the ins and outs is critical.

If you already have a High Def TV, chances are good that, unless it is quite new, there is NO HDMI connector. That’s because the technologists and studios had not agreed until fairly recently upon this setup, which came about because the studios insisted upon a way to prohibit digital copying, and HDMI is it.

So, if your existing HDTV is not equipped with an HDMI connector (or DVI/HDCP inputs – consult your manual if needed), the signal sent from the player using component cables may be decreased to less than all it can be. There is much debate on this right now. The outcome will be controlled by the studios and NOT by the hardware manufacturers.  Again, this will not be an issue for those of you with the newest jack(s) on your existing TV or if you get a new one, just be sure it’s got what you need.  The way it looks at this writing is, I believe, that the studios have caved to a public cry of foul so they are going to, at least for now, pass the full info on to the lesser connectors so those consumers with earlier model HDTVs can see true high def signal using component connections.  Ah, it’s another fine political mess.

Another “thing” to know about is that there is another high def DVD technology out there, though not yet on the market.  It’s called Blu-ray, and it has the backing of more studios than does HD DVD – AT THIS TIME.  Some are saying that the picture from a Blu-ray high def DVD player is better than HD DVD. I’ve seen them both, and I believe that few can tell or would be interested in the picture difference.  Technically, it may capable of being better, as far as I know and have seen.  But, just as the bulk of the public wouldn’t know how to identify a truly grand picture on a truly grand TV, so, too, are we likely to not give a rip and let the cost of the goods determine what we buy.

If this were not so, then most of us would use Macs instead of Windows computers!

Further, I believe that once consumers buy HD DVD players, studios will jump aboard like crazy to provide content. They would be stupid to miss out on our money! In addition, Blu-ray players are likely to cost more than this top-line HD DVD player and its little, worthy sibling, the HD-A1, selling at $499.

I just wish that both camps would play nicely in their common sandbox.  I look forward to a day when both technologies may be built into all the players, but who knows if that will happen any time soon, or, truthfully, ever.

Back to reality, I say have a look at this cool Toshiba HD DVD player.  The picture’s going to be the same from both models, by the way. It’s just some added bells and whistles that are on the higher-priced model.

I won’t go into all the specs and other particulars because the geeks can read it here.  However, as I indicated above, the sound is fantastic in addition to the picture.  To most of us, it will not matter. What WILL matter is that it’s affordable, software is coming to feed our need for HD DVDs, the picture is stupendous, the audio truly awesome, and it’s backward compatible with all our existing DVDs.

Download the brochure as a PDF HERE.

So, let the games begin, and look for this cool Toshiba HD DVD player to get your motor started. You’ll see it and you’ll want it.

See it soon at your local retailer! Please go to http://www.toshibahddvd.com/ for the retailer nearest you and for other important information about HD DVD or call 1-800-350-4105.

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