HD-DVD, Don’t Believe the Hype, Why the First HD-DVD Player, Toshiba’s HD-A1, Sucks the Big One

Hands-On First Impressions: Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player DVD HD-DVD Blu-Ray at TheManRoom The Man Room Welcome to the most confusing mismarketed over-hyped and jumbled new technology in years. High Definition DVD! Ohhhh, ahhhhh, ohhhhh.

Ok, so I was there with the best of them this year at CES and boy were they hyping this HD-DVD stuff. Blu-ray too, but since today’s the big HD-DVD launch we’ll stick with them for the time being.

So *why* does HD-DVD suck so bad? Well thanks to The Man Room’s early coverage, and the first review I’ve seen yet of the first generation Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player, we get this little nugget directly from the Toshiba’s manual:

“”HD DVD and DVD video disc creators have the option to include copy protection instructions in their discs that prohibit the output of some standard video or high definition video (original 720p or 1080i or up-converted 480i or 480p) from the COMPONENT OUTPUT jacks. If such instructions are present in the disc you are playing, you must use the HDMI OUTPUT jack to view the disc in a high definition format and the COMPONENT OUTPUT jacks, if activated, will output video only in 480i or 480p resolution.””

So let’s see, not only am I a sucker for spending (how much? $500+) on the player, but now when I bring it home it can’t even play my movies on my 43″ plasma Pioneer HDTV, THAT I BOUGHT LAST YEAR! So, I can either watch HDTV from HBO, etc. on my HDTV TiVo. Or I can rent regular DVDs, which look pretty darn good. Or I can go out a buy a brand new $5,000 plasma to go with their crappy HD DVD player.

Now in fairness, Hollywood is more to blame with regards to these poor decisions on HD-DVD but Toshiba and every other manufacturer who has decided to support HD-DVD seems to be going along for the ride.

Forget about the disaster format war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray and who will survive, etc. Take this advice directly from The Man Room:

“So should you rush out and buy an HD-A1? With a looming format war on the horizon the best bet is always to wait on the sidelines until a clear-cut winner emerges. I encourage ManRoom owners with deep pockets and urges to own the latest and greatest to at least wait until we spin a real HD-DVD before taking the $500+ plunge into an unproven format.” Well said.

As for me (and remember, I’m an early adopter folks) and the rest of the world with our crappy plasmas from last year, I think we’ll just wait a while on this one. Certainly there is a lucrative market out there with over 100 million U.S. households currently with regular DVD players but sorry Toshiba, I don’t think it’s going to as lucrative this second time around. People *hate* hearing that after buying a new HD-DVD player that they won’t be able to… well… watch HD-DVDs.

Want more evidence that this HD-DVD thing is going to be a fiasco? Just check out Blockbuster’s decision today to *not* carry HD-DVD titles in their stores. You will only be able to get them as a Blockbuster Online customer.

Until the DVD manufacturers can unequivocally state that HD DVDs will play in full high res HD glory on all HDTV’s then good luck to you sparky!

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  1. Thomas,

    Just so you know — most experts *don’t* expect the ICT to be enabled.

    I would also say that (more credible) reports put the image quality at nothing short of WOW!.

    The *only* reason people are giving this “review” any credibility is due to the absolute dearth of real reviews. Let’s wait and see how The Last Samurai looks on something like a Ruby (or a G90 for that matter)

    The bottom line is that VC-1 at those bitrates should be able to achieve transparancy, and how can you argue with that.


  2. Shawn Morton says:

    In response to Richard’s comment:
    “I honestly find it hard to believe that someone as technologically in tune as you would have made such a poor buying choice”

    I think the point is that thousands and thousands of people who aren’t technologically in tune have purchased HDTVs over the past few years. And many of those people will not be able to view HD-DVDs.

    Many of the people I know who have purchased HDTVs expect these things to last quite a few years.

    No one (early adopter or not) wants to learn that the $2,500 HDTV they bought isn’t capable of playing HD-DVD.

    Those of us that keep up with these topics have somehow rationalized that to almost, sorta make sense. But to most people, it is (as it should be) crazy.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know which tv you bought last year, but every Plasma I have seen for over 3 years has had a DVI port on it. The only name brand exception I know of is Mitsubishi which didn’t add it untill 2003.

    I also don’t believe the manual 100%. Everything else up until now has stated that down-rezing would be to 540p not to 480i.

    Go back inside Chicken little the sky isn’t falling yet.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    The Pioneer that I bought last year from Costco does not have DVI it only has component input. I hadn’t read anythign about the DVI and monitor requirements until after the purchase.

  5. While most (maybe all) studios have announced publicly that they will not be enabling ICT I think this is because the issue has already gotten a little bit of press and is the kind of thing that could slow HD-DVD/Blu-Ray adoption.

    By coming out up front and saying “we won’t use ICT (for now)” they allay the fears among most people.

    IMO it’s practially guaranteed that if HD-DVD or Blu-Ray (whichever one wins) gain a foothold in the market that the studios will begin to quietly enable ICT, starting with a few “select” releases (to guage the backlash) and eventually on everything.

    The only way to prevent this is to avoid both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, to ensure that BOTH of these formats are failures.

  6. Personally, I really don’t understand why people think that the ICT *will* be used.

    If someone can tell me what point it *actually* serves, that might help.

    Let’s look at the facts,

    The bottom line is that it only applies to DVI/HDMI non-HDCP inputs or component/vga. What are people going to do with that information?

    Let’s look at both cases (DVI/HDMI and component):

    RAW DVI is REALLY REALLY bandwidth intensive. This is faster than either real-time encoding or real-time harddrive writing allows. By the time either of these isn’t the case, HDCP will be cracked and the point will be moot.

    Component video capture suffers from similar issues. Sure, there is equipment out there that will do it. However, that equipment is pro-level and the further into digital the world dive, the more this will be the case.

    Studios (basically) understand that the ICT doesn’t really do much in terms of protecting their content.

    ICT will be the least of their problems.


  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    But Steve, if it’s not going to be used then why don’t the studios just come out and say this? It obviously must be important enough to consider using it to deal with the negative response from people like me.

    Consumers are reluctant to invest in technology that they might be sorry for later.

    If it’s not going to be used then they should say that 100% of HD-DVDs will be able to be played on any monitor period. This would do a lot towards getting people into the adoption mode with regards to this technology.

  8. The studios as an entity don’t know what is and isn’t a threat to their content, they are scared shitless (pardon the language but it’s an accurate term) by the big scary analog hole. They think that If they can degrade the analog signal enough that people won’t try to copy using analog (component) until they can disable it.

    I’m sure that there are individuals within the studios that “get it” just like I’m sure that there are individuals who are so misguided that they actually think degrading the analog signal will do something to combat piracy.

    Overall this has almost nothing to do with is preventing piracy, they know full well that the pirates are too well funded, equipped and trained and that HDCP will be little more than a speed bump for them. This is about impeding fair use.

    You say that the studios won’t use ICT becuase there’s no point, arguably there’s no point on CSS on current DVDs, people like you or I can easily defeat CSS but the studios still use CSS on every DVD they produce to keep Joe AOLer or your Grandma from making a backup copy of their DVDs.

    ICT will be the same way, they will degrade and eventually disable analog output altogether to ensure that the ONLY output will be HDCP making it prohibitively difficult for the average consumer to exercise their fair use rights to do things like make backup copies of their media.

  9. Thomas,

    I think that you overestimate consumers. Even you didn’t know about HDCP. 99.99% of all customers won’t know about ICT and frankly won’t care. Most people (as sad as this will seem) get their information from sales people and I SERIOUSLY doubt that salespeople will bring it up.

    Even worse yet — most probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

    As for the comparison to CSS… there is a HUGE difference. The inclusion of CSS *does* stop the weekend copier. ICT (if it actually did anything) would only stop “the pros” and, like you said, they will soon have better ways to do things. The only reason to activate ICT would be if the studios were convinced that ICT would be a “keep honest people honest” system and since to take advantage of the “hole” you would need some serious gear… that’s really not what it is.

    As for why they don’t say “we won’t use it…” Fear. It’s easier to say “We’re not using it” and leave the option open just in case the world changes in some unforseen way.

    The other thing that people need to remember is that TV sets have and will have HDCP. The further we go into the future, the less likely that people will be affected by this.


  10. Thomas Hawk says:

    But Steve. I think we are first looking at adoption now and many HDTV sets out there don’t have HDMI. The high price points with HD-DVD is already a problem. Throw in there the uncertainty of HDCP and ICT and you have a great reason to hold off.

    Honestly while I was wowed quite a bit by the HD-DVD stuff at CES (in a *carefully controlled visual environment*) I still don’t think it adds enough value to justify the cost of the unit or the huge hassle factor when the machine doesn’t work as advertised.

    The leap from black and white television to color was huge. The leap from standard definition TV to HDTV was huge. The leap from today’s DVD to HD-DVD is not that huge (in my opinion based on the HD-DVD’s I’ve seen).

    There is not a strong enough reason to get me to upgrade and if as an early adopter I won’t (fairly little to be gained from a quality improvement, high cost of the players, uncertainty about formats Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD, the fact that they will downsample the proramming for my present 43″ plasma monitor, etc.

    No thank you. I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

  11. I think the DRM stuff really sucks on the HD disc formats (I wonder how long it’ll be before Managed Copy is actually supported enough to be useful, for instance), and is the major downside to them.

    That said, buying an HDTV without DVI/HDCP support in 2005 is really just kind of a huge blunder. Manufacturers have been supporting DVI/HDCP since 2003 (I have it on my “antiquated” CRT rear projection set), and wouldn’t even have imagined that it was possible to buy a set in 2005 that didn’t have it.

    On the plus side, at least your TV salesperson didn’t try to overcharge your credit card and threaten you, I guess…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, I think you forgot that it is not a fact that they will downsample the programming for your plasma monitor.

    There is a possibility some discs will not play at full resolution on your monitor, but that does not make it “fact that they will downsample the proramming for my present 43″ plasma monitor”

    Being upset over the possibilities of copy protection does not require sensationalized statements about what is and is not happening. I would feel uncomfortable saying something like that thinking that it is untrue. If you don’t think that what you’re saying is incorrect, then I guess we disagree.

    I’m not buying either format because I feel $500 or certainly $1000 is too much to pay for a DVD player of any kind, no matter how good it looks. I just don’t watch movies that much, I’ll continue watching overcompressed cable channels until prices drop. My second reason for not buying would be uncertainty about the format, I’ll wait to see if LG or anyone else actually makes a universal player.

    Richard Lawler

  13. Anonymous says:

    Actually, I have a Sammy DLP from Fall 2002 that has DVI w/HDCP. Its been longer than 2003.

  14. Vansciver says:

    I saw this HD-A1 at Bestbuy today and they didn’t even have an HD-DVD playing, just a regular DVD. I thought that was kinda funny.

    On another note, I saw HD-DVD’s for sale (namely Last Samurai), and thought the packaging was a joke! It felt VERY cheap. I was sort of expecting something fancier than today’s DVD cases, but this could easily be crushed or bent.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I noticed someone say that the HD-DVDs will downrez to 540p. Great, what HDTV displays 540p (at least in the USA)? There are many that skip 720p altogether and only display 480i/p and 1080i.

    Also, I would buy the HD DVD player if it weren’t for the format war and teh ICT crap. I bought by HDTV in 2001. Almost no sets had DVI back then, and HDCP was not out yet. I like my TV, it works great. My XBox 360 outputs fantastic looking 1080i to it. Basically, the MPAA and those involved (Sony and Toshiba), are punishing everyone for piracy that will happen by very few. For that, I won’t buy HD DVD or Blu Ray until the ICT stuff is stated to never be on a disc or at the bare minimum the packaging shows which have ICT and which don’t.

  16. steve_o says:

    i too think it is WAY overhyped. i bought the toshiba off of amazon and i am very unimpressed. like a previous poster said, the difference is very small. i say stick with the up-converters and save your money. wish i had.

  17. Jeshimon says:

    I have tried in vain to discover what government agency to contact about the restriction of fair use imposed upon the US public by High Definition signal sources. There should be a discount coupon available to early adapters of High Definition equipment similar to the digital to analog antenna converter for people using sets with older analog tuners.

    Up until a couple of weeks ago I was blissfully ignorant or ignorantly blissful of the full impact of HDCP. I was so proud of my foresight when I bought my 42 inch plasma display over three years ago. I bought one without tuner or audio to be ‘future proof’; it was touted to be HD ready. It had a DVI-D input which I assume was HDCP compliant. I had no way to test and it is not like the information was openly published. I recently bought my wife an HD DVD player for her birthday and have been trying to surmount copy protection issues ever since. Copy hell, all I want to do is watch a SD DVD at 1080i instead of 480p. OK so the software solution is to make a copy of the DVD with ALL of the copy protection removed, that way I can use it any way I want. I know of several choices for the software to accomplish this. In essence making a copy for my own use makes me the criminal. When I am forced to make a copy of a DVD, for my own fair use, analog signals are not involved in any way, for that matter no DVD player of any kind is involved.

    What we have here is the planned obsolescence of all of the AV equipment of early adopters. I want a hardware solution to this problem, yes I know there is one and it is on its way.

    Can you help me?