I also tried running analog component video from the player straight to the TV. And guess what? The HD-XA1 delivered full-resolution HDTV from the component output - neither Warner nor Universal flipped the dreaded Image Constraint Token to down-rez component video on any of the six initial HD DVD titles we received (The Last Samurai, The Phantom of the Opera, and Million Dollar Baby from Warner; Apollo 13, Doom, and Serenity from Universal). Component video looked only a touch less sharp than the HDMI video, a difference that's probably mostly attributable to the TV.
So, what does an HD DVD picture look like? The first key improvement over DVD was an obvious gain in detail and a reduction of digital compression artifacts, most notably mosquito noise - the little halos of sparklies that can hug the edges of objects on regular DVDs viewed on large screens. Together, these advancements contribute to a superclean, more film-like image that makes even the best DVD transfers seem fuzzy by comparison. On the HD DVDs, for example, I could quickly see the difference between the grainy film stock that gives Million Dollar Baby its gritty look and the finer stock used to shoot the gorgeous, flowing landscapes in The Last Samurai. It was as though a window onto the movies had been cleaned, and I was able to see into their texture in a way that's impossible with DVD.
There was also a huge difference in color and contrast. Colors were much more saturated on the HD DVDs; they had the characteristic pop of film, but without seeming cartoonish or overdone. Whites were noticeably whiter and brighter than on DVD, as in the pure and vibrant images of the mighty Saturn V rocket in Apollo 13 and the flight suits of the astronauts in their capsule. And the fireball of the launch went from being almost animated on DVD to looking richer, brighter, and more convincingly "fire-like" in its colors.
Reproduction of greens appeared greatly improved in HD DVD. The mountain valleys in Samurai were exceptionally natural compared to the regular disc - again, just like film - as was the tropical island backdrop from the King Kong trailer on an HD DVD demo disc supplied by Toshiba. The extra resolution in the HD DVD transfer also brought out the incredibly fine hairs in a close-up of Kong's face as he peered at his love interest, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts).
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