Yesterday was a tough day here at CNET New York for the home-theater team. With a sense of regret, we carefully packed up oursample, and I headed to Best Buy to return the product a day before the store's 30-day no-questions-asked return policy expired (yes, we do occasionally end up buying certain key products ourselves when we can't get them quickly enough from manufacturers). Earlier in the week, Senior Editor David Katzmaier's bid to expense the $500 deck and keep it as a reference piece for HD content was summarily shot down after we decided our money would be better spent on a next-generation model. While the HD-A1 has its share of kinks--and we haven't been afraid to point them out, even at the expense of being accused by readers of favoring Blu-ray (not true, we just call 'em as we see 'em)--we were sad to see our slightly clunky HD-DVD player go just as more discs were coming out. Training Day looks great, by the way.
"What's wrong with it?" the no-questions-asked customer service rep asked as I plunked the weighty box on the counter.
"It's slow and has HDMI issues," I said.
She nodded, and with a few magic swipes of her bar-code reader, my MasterCard was credited for the correct amount and--thank you, Best Buy--I was free to go. But instead of leaving right away, I headed to the back of the store to check out the HD-DVD display. When I'd bought the player 29 days earlier, a day before the player was to be released officially, no demo was running. But now there was one, and it was looping.
In case you haven't seen it, the demo's divided into two parts. One part has clips that feature various impressive-looking trailers--the King Kong trailer, in particular, looks awesome. But scattered among them is a woman narrator with an English accent talking over a split-screen picture comparing an HD-DVD image to a standard-definition image. The problem is the standard-def image looks truly horrible, blurry, and much worse than just about any DVD that not only I but the Best Buy rep standing next me said he had ever watched. Underneath the standard-definition label is a disclaimer that reads, "simulation."
What Toshiba might say in its defense is that the demo shows a comparison between an HD source and a standard-definition TV signal displayed on an HDTV--which often does look pretty bad but can also look much better than the demo footage. However, the correct comparison is clearly HD-DVD to DVD, movie to movie.
Consumers who have little experience with high-definition content may be swayed by the demo, but I think it's unfortunate that Toshiba has to stoop to this level. The fact is the HD-DVD clips look really good and should be able to stand on their own merit. What do you think?
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