Some events tend to change your life forever. I'm thinking about stuff like getting a driver's license, having kids, winning the lottery (never personally experienced that one). About a year ago, something that permanently changed my life for the better was getting hold of Toshiba's HD-XA1 HD DVD player along with a 1080p HDTV. Since then, watching movies on disc in pristine high-def has been nothing short of a godsend - but playing them on Toshiba's big, slow, and buggy first-generation machine has been a bit of a drag. Which is why I was thrilled to finally receive one of the company's second-generation models, the Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD players.
The HD-A20 (street price around $420) sits right in the middle of Toshiba's current HD DVD player lineup, flanked by the HD-XA2 ($800; reviewed May 2007) and the HD-A2 (street price around $350). So how does the HD-A20 stack up against Toshiba's other models? Like the HD-XA2, it delivers 1080p video output over an HDMI connection (the HD-A2's resolution, meanwhile, maxes out at 1080i). But unlike that machine, it lacks six-channel analog audio outputs for multichannel soundtracks - an issue of some concern if your current A/V receiver or processor lacks HDMI inputs. The HD-A20 also omits the well-regarded Silicon Optix Reon video-processing chip found in the more expensive HD-XA2. Depending on your TV's capabilities, this could be a deal breaker (more on that subject later).
For second-gen players such as the HD-A20, Toshiba managed to port the PC guts of its first machines over to compact silicon chips. The benefits of this are twofold: The HD-A20 is a lightweight machine with the same slim exterior as that of a standard DVD player, and it's whisper-quiet during playback. (Compared with the HD-A20, the HD-XA1's large internal fan emits considerable noise.) With a glossy black front panel accented by a horizontal metal-tone strip, the HD-A20 also looks pretty sweet. A flip-up door covers a set of basic control buttons to play, stop, and pause discs, as well as skip through chapters. There's also a pair of USB "extension" ports, though I'm not exactly sure what uses the HD DVD camp has in store for these.
Video jacks on the HD-A20's back panel include HDMI (version 1.2 as opposed to the 1.3 connection found on the more expensive HD-XA2), component-video, and one each for composite- and S-video. Other connectors include optical digital and stereo analog audio. Like all other HD DVD players, the HD-A20 has an Ethernet jack for plugging into a home network to enable interactive features on discs as well as to receive firmware updates.
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