Connectivity is above average for the HD-XA2, with the highlight being the HDMI output, which can handle both high-definition video and audio. The rest of the video connectivity is completed by a component video output, as well as an S-Video output and a composite video output. For audio, there are also both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, plus stereo analog outputs and 5.1 analog multichannel outputs. Rounding the connectivity is an RS-232 port--which is useful for those with home automation systems--and an Ethernet jack that can be used to update the firmware. Being able to update the firmware via Ethernet is a nice convenience, but do note it took more than a half hour for the process to complete.
The XA2 supports 1080p output via its HDMI output, although it doesn't support 1080p output at 24 frames. While some have claimed this feature can reduce judder with compatible displays, we haven't seen an increase in performance with the 1080p/24 Blu-ray players we've tested. Therefore, it's not a big missing feature as far as we're concerned.HD DVD Performance
The picture quality of the Toshiba HD-XA2 is excellent overall. HD DVDs deliver vastly superior image quality to DVDs, especially when viewed on large TVs. To be clear, we feel that the performance is essentially identical to the HD-A1--which isn't a knock, since they both put out a stunning image. For example, on Swordfish we could easily make out very fine details of Hugh Jackman's face on closeups, and the colors really popped on our reference display, the Pioneer Pro-FHD1. We also looked at the The Hulk, which is also extremely sharp, and saw very few flaws in the image quality.
We've seen some reports (including High-Def Digest's review) regarding an issue with "video stutter" on certain discs, including MI: III and Serenity. After watching scenes from these movies several times, both on the XA2 and the A1 (the latter supposedly does not suffer), we had difficulty seeing it. We feel that all but the most demanding videophiles will probably not even notice it.
A big difference between the HD-XA2 and its predecessor is operational speed. The HD-A1 was extremely slow, taking more than a minute to boot up and play a disc. The HD-XA2 definitely improves on this--it only took us 50 seconds total to load the unit and start playing a movie, and it only took 32 seconds to load an HD DVD when the unit was already turned on. That's not as fast as standard DVD players, but it was fast enough to not be a major issue.
We did, however, experience some operational quirks with the unit. For instance, there were several times when we hit the "Eject" button and the HD-XA2 just shut off. On the other hand, many of the troublesome issues with the HD-A1 have been fixed--we didn't run into any "HDMI errors" while testing the HD-XA2. One thing we did notice that was surprising, though, was that we felt the HD-A1 was more responsive when fast-forwarding and skipping chapters than the HD-XA2. This was probably more noticeable to us since we use those functions frequently during testing, but anyone who likes to search around movies may be a bit frustrated.Standard DVD performance
We also checked the XA2's ability to upscale standard-definition DVDs high-def resolutions--not to be confused with watching actual HD DVD discs. Of course, real HD DVDs deliver noticeably superior image quality to standard DVDs, and no amount of upscaling can change that. That said, we were very impressed with the XA2's upscaling performance. We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on DVD, and the initial resolution test was excellent, demonstrating the player's ability to display the full resolution of DVDs. Other tests designed to produce jaggies looked smooth, with a waving flag exhibiting none of the jagged edges we see on lesser players. A 2:3 pull-down processing test was successfully passed, with the XA2 kicking into film mode in about a second. Considering the HD-XA2 uses Silicon Optix's Reon video-processing chip, we weren't surprised it faired so well on these tests, but it's still a good indication of its performance.
Using Windows DVD Test Annex, we did notice the chroma bug, although it should only show up on poorly authored DVDs. We followed up this test by taking a quick look at the introduction to Star Trek: Insurrection and again confirmed that the HD-XA2 has 2:3 pull-down processing as it smoothly rendered the curved lines of the bridge and boat hulls.
While the HD-XA2 was generally very good at upscaling, it wasn't perfect. We also took a look at the introduction to Seabiscuit, which often gives players problems. We have to admit we were a bit surprised by this disc--we saw some significant jaggies in the black-and-white photos as the camera panned over them. We looked at the same sequence on the HD-A1 and the XA2 had the edge, although at some points the HD-A1 outperformed the XA2. We also compared it to the Oppo DV-981HD on this same sequence, and the DV-981HD had a definitive edge. So, while the upconversion on the HD-XA2 is very good, we still felt that the DV-981HD was significantly better.
We did notice some annoying playback issues on some homemade DVD copies we have. For example, if we tried to fast-forward the player would just hang and wouldn't play back even if we tried hitting play. We had to stop the disc and hit play again to get it to work. We didn't have any problems fast-forwarding or rewinding in standard commercial DVDs, but we did feel like it was less responsive than the HD-A1.
The XA2 also has decent support for older, non-anamorphic wide-screen DVDs. Some HDTVs, such as the HP LC3760N and the Philips 42PF9831D, do not have aspect-ratio control when fed high-def sources, so it's nice to have the player handle it. This is not an issue for most high-quality DVDs, which are anamorphic, but non-anamorphic wide-screen discs will look distorted on lesser players. While the HD-XA2 doesn't give you control over the aspect ratio, it did automatically put our copy of Carlito's Way in the correct aspect ratio, which left black bars on all four sides of the screen. Unfortunately, there's no zoom option on the player, so you'll have to watch a relatively small image unless your TV has a zoom feature.
In terms of load time, the HD-XA2 was able to load a DVD in a speedy 16 seconds.
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