The HD-XA2 represents a cosmetic advance as well against its boxy predecessor. It sits at half the height and looks slick with its angled front panel and shiny black fascia. There's a door behind which you'll find transport keys and a couple of USB ports that future-proof the player for interactive game or movie titles that might later tap a handheld controller. The black, brushed aluminum case is solid, and the player's 13.5-pound heft feels substantial despite coming in 6 pounds lighter than the XA1.
Around back are output connectors for HDMI audio/video, component video, S- and composite video, bitstream digital audio (both optical and coax), and 5.1-channel analog audio. An RS-232 connector (for home control systems) has been retained from the XA1, as has the high-speed Ethernet port. The back-panel fan is, by my measurement, about as quiet as that on the XA1, which is to say not whisper-quiet but not objectionable.
Two of the connectors are key for future-proofing the HD-XA2. The Ethernet port taps the Web for firmware upgrades but also ensures you'll be ready for future discs that offer the ability to play interactively, download extra content, or take advantage of studio promotions. This is standard for all certified HD DVD players and in contrast to every Blu-ray Disc player currently available save the Sony PS3 game console. With interactivity a major selling point of both HD disc formats, it's puzzling to me that players costing up to $1,500 are being sold without this key feature.
More noteworthy is that the HDMI jack on the HD-XA2 adheres to the new version 1.3 standard (see HDMI 1.3: The Missing Link), which allows it to pass Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bitstream signals from movie discs to upcoming A/V receivers and outboard processors equipped to decode them. Both formats will be used increasingly by film studios because their "lossless" or "bit-for-bit" compression schemes ensure sound quality identical to that of the original PCM digital audio soundtracks, with no sacrifice in clarity or dynamics for the sake of saving disc space. Although 5.1-channel TrueHD decoding is already performed onboard in the XA2 for output through the HDMI connector (as PCM) or through the 5.1-channel analog outputs, an outboard decoder will be needed for DTS-HD Master Audio when it appears on discs or for decoding any future 7.1-channel soundtracks in either format, at least in the absence of possible firmware updates. Again, no other high-def disc player on the market except the PlayStation 3 currently offers HDMI 1.3.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.