Some Final Notes
Toshiba obviously put a lot of effort into making its HD-XA1 HD DVD player as complete and future-proof as it possibly could. It's worth noting, however, that because of the wait for final specifications for, among other things, the next iteration of HDMI (known as version 1.3), both the HD-XA1 and its sibling the HD-A1 lack two key technical features that will eventually find their way into HD DVD players.
One is the ability to provide video output in the 1080p format that is actually being used to encode all of the first HD DVD titles and that is the highest-resolution HDTV format now available. But it remains to be seen how much, if any, benefit will accrue from taking 1080p straight off the disc and into a 1080p display that can accept this type of signal, of which there are still only a handful. The alternative is to do what I did with our test sample, feeding 1080i from the player into a 1080p display. In this case, the player interlaces the 1080p signal on the disc to the 1080i format used by most broadcasters, then the TV deinterlaces the 1080i signal internally back to 1080p for display on its screen. For film-originated material, converting between 1080i and 1080p (or vice versa) involves fairly simple processing that doesn't degrade the image if done correctly, and I can't argue with the amazing picture quality we got on our well-tuned big 1080p DLP rear projector. Frankly, it's hard to imagine it getting much better.
On the other hand, the enthusiasts most likely to be the earliest customers for the Toshiba HD-XA1 may bemoan its inability to decode internally or pass through via any output the Dolby TrueHD surround soundtracks that will appear on future discs. TrueHD is a new high-resolution lossless audio format that can provide up to 7.1-channel surround sound. Future A/V receivers, or possibly the multichannel surround processors built into future HD DVD or Blu-ray players, will have the ability to decode this signal without downconverting it to another, less pristine format.
The HD-XA1 will decode two-channel stereo from discs encoded in TrueHD - just not surround sound. Of course, future discs will also have alternative surround-sound tracks, in most cases Dolby Digital Plus, that the HD-XA1 will decode and play faithfully through its HDMI or multichannel analog outputs.
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