Toshiba HD A3 Review

Ok, I have had a few days to play with my Toshiba HD A3 and I decided to put up a little review for it...

The Toshiba HD A3 is an entry level priced HD DVD player ($199 - $250) that currently includes two free movies: "The Bourne Identity" and "300".  Both of these movies are pretty good (albeit one is over 5 years old) and do justice to the HD DVD format.

Hookup is very easy if you have an HDMI port on your receiver/TV; simply plug in an HDMI cable and the video and audio is carried across the single cable to the destination- done.  The power cord is a (thankfully) a removable '8' plug (with one side flat) as found on the PS2, ReplayTV and other such electronic devices.  There is an RJ-45 plug for Ethernet connectivity (recommended).  The rear of the unit also has component and composite video along side L/R audio and an optical SPDIF connector. 

The HD A3 will only output 1080i for HD DVD movies (or upsampled DVDs over HDMI) but this works well with my Philips 42" plasma TV as it only supports 720p/1080i.  From what I read in the owners manual 480i/480p is the only signal that will be sent across the component cable from copy-protected media; this means that standard DVDs can do no better than 480p across this path.  I believe that 1080i is still available across component as they have not activated the HDCP copy protection flag for HD DVD movies (why bother, AACS has been cracked each time it is update)- but don't quote me on this as I have not tested this!

Once the system is powered on it takes about a minute to respond to the 'eject disk' button.  Once a disk is inserted it takes another 30 seconds or so to recognize and bring up the menu.  Now here are some basic complaints:

  1. The screen indicates nothing until the 'Welcome' message has disappeared form the A3- so I wasn't sure if I had cabled it correctly or not until the 'No Disc' display comes up.  This is a very frugal display compared to most standard DVD players.
  2. Network settings are hard-coded to a 192.168.0.x address- this should be DHCP out of the box.
  3. Menus can drag a bit- almost like the GPU is choking while trying to render the menus
  4. Standby to power on takes another minute or so- and another 30 seconds to recognize the disc...

Once I set the IP address of the unit I had it do a firmware update check- one was available and it started the update; and then rebooted and went through the 'welcome' cycle again.

For the discs there can be a TON of features in the HD DVD menus- Transformers for example has downloads, movie annotations and director commentary overlays- all of which are very interesting for a 2nd movie watch.  There are also lots of behind the scenes thrown in that show how it looked from the actors point-of-view.

The HD DVD picture is much better than standard def TV- but I personally cannot tell the difference between 720p/1080i/480p upsampled to 1080i (even with my glasses on).  I guess I have been spoiled by 720p downloads of most movies that appear almost identical in quality- so I am not overwhelmed by the video.

Overall this is a very good HD DVD player with a decent feature set.  The player will automatically do updates and connectivity has been provided for most standards (no s-video).  The HD DVD standard was finalized before release so this unit should play all features for all past and future HD DVD releases (unlike the BluRay 'standard' as some players will not support the new 1.1 requirement as it specifies persistent storage and a 2nd decoder for PiP rendering- look for these BluRay units on closeout as the new players come out!)

One thing lacking is an RS-232 port for remote control (for automated theater setups) but I understand this is available on their next up player (the HD A30 for $499).  The HD DVD library is not as vast as the DVD library as many titles are still being converted and the format wars have created exclusive titles on both sides (The Matrix, Transformers, Battlestar Galactica on HD DVD- Pirates of the Caribbean, Underworld, and Ratatouie on BluRay).

The A3 is a great introduction to the world of HD for the typical user.  I see HD DVD sales starting to even out with BluRay on Amazon, so I would think that both formats will be around for at least a few years (until the next 2160i format comes along).

Side Note: I do not see the point of making some of the titles HD format; why would anyone want a HD copy of 'Blazing Saddles' or "A Christmas Story"- these were filmed so long ago on such old technology that I doubt I would see any improvement in video quality.  Given the choice of $30 for a HD copy or $5-$10 for a standard DVD copy I cannot see anyone going the former route (unless -like a fool- they like to be parted with their money)


  1. good review.

    i just got an A3 as well (xmas gift to myself), and I can confirm that the A3 will output HD-DVDs at 1080i over component video as I have an ancient (as in more than three years old) HDTV without HDMI.

  2. Same here. What is not clear to me is why standard DVD's are treated as "protected" and cannot be upsampled over the analog HD component cables. Isn't there a market full of upsampling players that already designed to do this? Wouldn't having this feature encourage people to buy HD-DVD players instead of upsampling DVD players?

    And the big question I have is whether my own DVD's made with Adobe Premiere will have this same limitation, even though I own the content in question. If it does, then this would imply that you could rip a DVD and reauthor it to get it to play in 1080i.

  3. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Thanks for a good review. Can you say some more about picture quality and the observable difference between an "HD DVD" and a "Regular DVD upsampled".

  4. Anonymous7:20 PM

    I just purchased the HD-A3 and was ready to throw it against the wall because the component output was being limited at 420p...which defeated the purpose of purchasing an upconverting player since I don't have an HDMI receiver or TV. After reading the previous blog post I ripped my DVD and put it in the player. Sure enough...it played at 1080I. I find it ironic that my legit copy is limited to low-res and the "pirated" version will play at 1080i.

  5. I make copies of most movies. When I play my (SD) copies in this player, it stays at 1080i. I see very little difference between the 2 resolution settings (through component)...they both look incredible for SD!