Blu-ray and HD DVD Face Off Page 2
HD DVD, Round 2.5
Toshiba's second, second-generation player is the HD-XA2. We reviewed the HD-A2 in the April issue and found it easier to use and just as good looking as its predecessor. It lacked 1080p and six-channel analog outputs. The HD-XA2, thanks to a Silicon Optix Reon processor, outputs 1080p. As you can see in the photo, it has the same six-channel analog outputs as its predecessor.
What this and nearly every other high-resolution disc player lacks is a 1080p/24 output. This isn't a big deal for most people, as their TVs can't handle 1080p/24, anyway; and, even if they could accept it, nearly all add a 3:2 sequence. It's mostly just disappointing, but, in reality, almost no one could do anything with the 1080p/24, anyway. As more displays hit the market that can refresh at different rates (other than 60 hertz), the inclusion of this feature would be nice. But, even so, any display that would be able to refresh at a rate that is a multiple of 24 (say, 72 Hz or 120 Hz) would hopefully be able to sense the 3:2 sequence and adjust accordingly. So, yes, a native 1080p/24 output would be nice, but, for the foreseeable future, you're not losing anything. This is especially true seeing as the HD-XA2 correctly deinterlaces and adds the 3:2 sequence to the signal. If it didn't, that would be a whole other story.
The Toshiba's picture quality is excellent, as you'd expect. It also does an excellent job of scaling up standard DVDs, enough so that you wouldn't need a separate scaling DVD player (which isn't the case with most other HD disc players). The remote no longer lights up when you pick it up. Instead, there is a backlight button that is adjacent and identical to the eject button. You may have to hold it down for a few seconds at first to get it to work.
The HD-XA2's not much quieter than its predecessor. But it's easier to use and looks better with DVDs. So, all in all, it's a big improvement.
Blu-ray, Round One
The Panasonic DMP-BD10 is a sort of oddball. It uses the Sigma Designs chip like the Sony and Pioneer Blu-ray players, but it does not output 1080p/24. It's not a clone of the Sony/Pioneer siblings (which are allegedly different), and it's certainly not a clone of the oft-copied Samsung Blu-ray player. It plays DVD-Audio (a rarity), outputs Dolby Digital Plus via HDMI (a rarity), and has 7.1 analog outputs (a unique-ity). There is still no Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio digital output to be seen in either the BD or HD DVD camp. This is partially due to the fact that none of these players has HDMI 1.3, and it's also partially because there are no receivers available that can decode any of these new formats.
The remote looks like one of those telephones for people losing their vision. Massive buttons dominate its chunkiness. There is nothing to distinguish the buttons in the dark, and, more bizarrely, there is no eject button. It also looks way too similar to the remotes that come with Panasonic's $100 DVD players (although, ironically, it has fewer buttons).
The DMP-BD10's picture quality is the same as that of the other Blu-ray players. It upconverts standard-definition DVDs quite well. Perhaps it's not quite as detailed as what you see with the HD-XA2, but it's pretty close.
If it had a 1080p/24 output, the DMP-BD10 would be a solid all-around pick for a Blu-ray player. As it stands, thanks to its Dolby Digital Plus and DVD-Audio compatibility, as well as its 7.1-channel analog output, the Panasonic is the choice for audiophiles. The Pioneer or the Sony BDP-S1, with their 1080p/24 outputs, are better choices for hard-core videophiles. In between are the other players that don't do what makes either of these players unique, but they are several hundred dollars cheaper.
Can't We All Just Get Along?
To many people, the LG BH100 is the key to the whole format war. Here's a player that reportedly plays both formats for the price of a Blu-ray player. Personally, I'm not so sure it's totally fair to say that it does play both, but I'll get to that later. Probably the most impressive aspect of the BH100 is that it exists at all, but, despite the hope and possibilities, there are some caveats.