I've been playfully accused by some of my colleagues at Sound & Vision of waxing a bit too enthusiastic last year in my review of Toshiba's inaugural HD DVD player, the HD-XA1. If so, dear reader, consider this fair warning to get out your barf bag, because here we go again. Not only has Toshiba directly addressed nearly every issue we had with the original's operational quirks, but it has done so while improving already stellar video and audio performance. To call this a big leap forward is not, I daresay, exaggeration.
Much of Toshiba's success can be attributed to smart design decisions, among them use of a Silicon Optix Reon-VX video scaling/processing chip, a new spin-off of SO's professional-grade Realta HQV processor. The company also employs an Analog Devices 32-bit SHARC processor for digital audio. But most obvious are architectural changes in the control circuitry and firmware that make this version more responsive and stable in operation, and, generally, a breath of fresh air for anyone living with a first-gen HD DVD player.
To wit: On the Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player, bringing up an image from a powered-down machine with a pre-loaded HD DVD takes 45 seconds, versus a coma-inducing 1.5 to 2 minutes on the XA1. Likewise, loading a fresh HD DVD in the XA2 with the player on takes 30 seconds, compared with 75 seconds for the XA1. It's almost enough to make a grown man give up cussing.
Furthermore, HDMI hookups are robust and solid compared with the XA1's, which were prone to error messages and disc restarts. I could even break the HDMI connection with my HDTV and watch the playback counter run without incident, then watch the picture pop back up when I re-established the connection. Indeed, about the only ergonomic issue I had with the XA1 that survives on the XA2 is the inability to resume play on an HD DVD from the point at which you hit the Stop key; this still results in having to restart the disc from the top. Toshiba says it's a limitation for all HD DVDs with advanced content.
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