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Review of Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player

December 25th, 2007 by Maxim · 6 Comments · 7,344 Views


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Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player

As I promised when I wrote “Who is winning the format war: Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD“, I am reviewing Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player.

Why HD DVD and not Blu-Ray? Despite a seeming stalemate between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD in the war for the eyeballs, I did not want to buy a proprietary technology from Sony, especially considering most of their previous attempts to create new standards have failed miserably. Also, HD-DVD players tend to be cheaper then Blu-Ray disk players, with a sub-$200 HD DVD player already on the market. The proprietary technology is most bothering – I don;t want to be bound to a single manufacturer – I prefer more open standards.

What I wanted? An HD-DVD player with 1080p output and 24fps (cinema mode). Preferably black to match my other components and furniture, as thin as possible and quiet: since I had a bad experience playing Blu-ray movies on Sony PlayStation 3 I wanted to be sure the player is quiet.

hd-a35What I got? Since Toshiba is the biggest proponent and supporter of HD DVD format, they were the obvious choice. HD A35 is the top model Toshiba’s suggested retail price is $499, but most online retailers like Vann’s and Amazon sell it for $349 or less. I actually paid $320 at Amazon for it with free shipping, no sales tax and “10 free HD DVDs with the purchase of the HD DVD player” promotion.

The features:

  • HD output 720p/1080i/1080p. My 46″ Sharp Aquos supports 1080p signal, but there are a lot of older HDTVs and monitors that work at the lower HD resolutions. 1080p is roughly 6 times higher resolution then standard DVDs.
  • Standard Definition DVDs can be up-converted to 480p/720p/1080i/1080p.
  • 1080p/24p support – the movies on the film are shot at 24 frames per second, so with support for this mode you can see the movie in the format that is closest to the way it was filmed and have the real movie feel. Your HD TV also has to support 24p output to enjoy this feature.
  • Advanced Audio including Dolby® TrueHD, Dolby® Digital Plus and DTS® HD (core only), along with legacy formats including Dolby® Digital DTS®. Advanced Audio capability brings increased sonic realism to movie soundtracks.
  • Web-enabled. In the future some studios may provide special features accessible online.
  • With backwards compatibility you can enjoy your existing library of DVDs and CDs, and through the process of up-conversion and output through HDMI, your movies are scaled to match the resolution of your HD display for near-HD picture quality.

  • CE-Link HDMI-CEC. CE Link offers the capability to communicate with and control another CE device in a completely new way. For example, using CE-Link with “One Touch Play,” consumers will be able to turn on a HDMI-CEC capable HDTV and a Toshiba HD-A35 player, and start playing a movie with a single touch of a button on the player’s remote.

  • Persistent storage. Information may be stored on the player’s 128MB flash memory.

  • Ethernet connection. Connect your HD DVD player to the Internet to allow it to receive updates that will support future applications and services.

  • HDMI™ with Deep Color. Deep Color™ provides smoother image transitions, improved contrast and detail, and displays up to a billion possible colors all in the comfort of your own home theater.

  • Supported media: DVD video, DVD VR, DVD R (Video), DVD-R DL (Video), DVD-RW (Video/VR CPRM), CD, CD-R/-RW (CD-DA).

  • Outputs: Ethernet, HDMI™ with Deep Color, Digital / Analog out simultaneously, Component Output, Composite Output, Analog (2 ch), Digital Optical Output, 5.1 Analog Outputs.

  • Weight: 7.26 lbs.

  • Dimensions: 16.9” x 2.34” x 12.9” (WxHxD)

The box. Two free HD DVDs were already in the box packaged with the player when it arrived. I unpacked it and discovered that there was no HDMI cable. No cables whatsoever actually.

The looks. Well, it’s glossy black finish – exactly what I wanted. Once the unit is powered on, the LED display is light blue, bright and rather big. You can use the dimmer on the remote to dim the LED display when you watch the movie – at normal brightness I found it distracting when playing movies and the room lights are off. The player is less then 2.5″ thick, it’s very light and it has exactly the same form factor that my D-Link DSM-520 Media Player, so I could put one on top of the other in a very nicely looking stack.

The infra-red remote. It’s black, thin and the average size. There are a lot of buttons on it, but they are reasonable size, so a guy with fat fingers like myself can punch them quite happily. However, I never even put batteries into it because I have a Logitech Harmony 880 universal remote. I just went online through the remote software and added Toshiba HD A35 to my setup. That’s pretty much all that’s needed to set up the universal remote. It’s pretty expensive at $250, but it’s worth every dollar and every penny: I have 9 components and I use just one remote to control all of them. You just choose the “activity” such as “Watch TV”, “Listen to CD”, “Listen to Radio”, “Watch Photos” etc. and the remote will turn the needed components on and switch them to proper inputs.

The setup. Piece of cake, really. Plug the power, plug the HDMI cable to the HDMI output and the other end into Onkyo SR-705 audio/video receiver (Check soon for the upcoming review). This receiver can pass-through video and decode sound from 3 HDMI inputs. The receiver then outputs HDMI signal to my 46″ Sharp Aquos 1080p LCD television set.

As I said before, there were no cables provided by Toshiba, but that was OK. I bought several gold-plated HDMI cables online for $1.99 plus $4.95 shipping each. I believe any HDMI cable will do – the signal is digital so you don’t really “lose” anything by buying the cheapest HDMI cable you can get.

After the unit is turned on with the remote, it takes about 20-30 seconds for it to boot. It’s a bit long, but not annoying. I have a theory that the delay is caused by the player trying to get online to check for the latest firmware. My unit came with firmware version 1.1 installed, and Toshiba’s website says the latest is 1.3 (as of the date of this article). I used remote to become familiar with setup menus, which a very easy to figure out and navigate through. Even though the player was able to obtain an IP address from the HDCP server, it was not able to connect to the Internet and I am yet to figure out why.

Using a CAT6 cable I connected the player to my 1GB home network router. If your network is 100/10MB, you can use a good old CAT5 cable. Due to peculiar setup of security in my network, I had to add the MAC number of the player to the access list to make DHCP work. If you don’t know what it is, read the manual – it’s quite clear. You can always telephone Toshiba support for help.

I also set through the menus that I prefer the output in 1080p/24p if possible.

The unit is very quiet and stays cool.

Time to complete the setup: 8 minutes.

HD DVD playback. It takes the player about 30-40 seconds to begin playback. It’s more then I expected from such a feature-full unit, but by no means annoying. I watched 300 and The Bourne Identity in 1080p on it and the quality of video was great. No artifacts of digital compression, the black looks very naturally black and colors are very natural.

Of course, 90% of the movie experience for me is sound, not visuals, and the quality of sound in Onkyo receiver and my speaker is quite descent, but it’s something the player itself cannot be judged on: all it does is output digital signal via HDMI. It’s the receiver’s job to decode it.

Standard DVD playback. What a surprise! The player up-converts standard DVDs to 1080p very effortlessly. They must be using some very nice interpolation filter because the standard definition DVDs look almost like HD – even DVDs of old movies. Just saw Hitchkock’s “The Murder on the Orient Express” (with stars like Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery et al) and it was awesome. If you think about it, the player has to go from a relatively small amount of information to 6 times that – how do they manage to keep the image so sharp and crisp? Nice job.

If you press Display button, the player will display information such as Video Codec: MPEG2, Audio: English Dolby D, Angle 1/1, Video Output: 1080p (!!!), Audio Output: Digital Bitstream.

The player also plays CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs.

Firmware Updates. Just go to Setup->Maintenance menu and select Update option. If the player is connected to the Internet, it will download the latest firmware and install it. For my last firmware upgrade it took the player about 20 minutes to download the update and install it. It’s a long time. There’s also no menu to see current firmware option. When I selected Update menu, it said “1.1/1.1″ – not very informative. It’s actually confusing, because it’s supposed to say “<current firmware version>/<latest available firmware version>”. So I chose upgrade anyway, it it loaded firmware version 1.3.

I am very happy with this player so far. I’ll update the article if I discover anything new.

If you liked this post, buy me a beer

Rated 5/5 on Dec 25 2007
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Tags: Hardware · Home Theater

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 admin // Dec 30, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Why would anyone pay $388 for a Bluray player if one can get PS3 40GB with BD player built-in for $399?..

  • 2 Stash The Vampede // Dec 26, 2007 at 6:21 am

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    Thanks for the review on the A35. I’m holding out on a newer HD-DVD player until the boot/load times are under a minute.

    I’m definitely avoiding Bluray for the foreseeable future — another Sony product that may or may not make it.

  • 3 Maxim // Dec 26, 2007 at 7:01 am

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    I did not think the boot time is unbearably long. The players are really cheap now. The entry level Toshiba player now goes for $178. So why keep watching movies in standard definition when you can watch them in HD right now?

  • 4 Maxim // Dec 29, 2007 at 7:13 pm

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    Just saw a Sony 1080p Bluray player with upconversion of SD DVDs at WalMart for $388. This is still more then I paid for Toshiba HD DVD player…

  • 5 admin // Dec 29, 2007 at 11:40 pm

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    Why would anyone pay $388 for a Bluray player if one can get PS3 40GB with BD player built-in for $399?..

  • 6 Review: Onkyo TX-SR705 THX-certified home theater receiver with HDMI switching and 1080p-upconversion | Maxim's Movie Reviews and Opinions Blog // Apr 19, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    [...] – that’s what I used to connect my cable box, D-Link DSM-520 HDMI network media player and Toshiba HD A35 HD DVD player. The latter is set up to up-convert all signal into 1080p. The one HDMI output of the receiver goes [...]

  • 7 mike // Apr 21, 2008 at 5:31 am

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    399$, this was a few months ago. What is the best price now?

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