Toshiba HD-A30 review: Toshiba HD-A30

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Toshiba HD-A30

(Part #: HDA-30) Released: Sep 15, 2007
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Excellent image quality in 1080i and 1080p/24 mode; Ethernet jack for firmware updates; Dolby TrueHD decoding.

The Bad Image quality in 1080p mode disappointing; no analog multichannel outputs; not much of an upgrade over cheaper HD-A3.

The Bottom Line The Toshiba HD-A30 is a solid third-generation HD DVD player, but for most people it's not worth the extra dough.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0

Editors' note: Toshiba officially announced it will stop producing HD DVD products, bringing an end to the format war. For that reason, CNET recommends that people avoid buying this player for high-definition movie playback.

For home theater buffs, Toshiba has been the face of HD DVD in the format war. Toshiba delivered the first ever standalone HD DVD player, the HD-A1, and followed it up with a full second-generation line including the HD-A2, HD-A20, and HD-XA2. Coming into the 2007 holiday season, Toshiba is rolling out its third-generation line of HD DVD players, which delivers more of an evolutionary upgrade than any big new functionality. The $400 HD-A30 is right in the middle of the lineup, offering 1080p output (at both the 60- and 24-frames per second rate) as a step-up to the cheaper 1080i-only HD-A3, but lacking high-resolution bitstream audio output found on the $500 HD-A35. And all third-generation models lack the excellent HQV video processing of the HD-XA2, which remains available.

Overall, we couldn't help but feel that the HD-A30 was extremely similar to its predecessor--the HD-A20--which isn't a good thing, as 1080p output on both players is disappointing. Don't get us wrong, there's a lot to like about HD DVD hardware compared to Blu-ray hardware, such as its lower cost and stronger mandatory requirements. And if your HDTV can accept and properly display 1080p/24, the HD-A30 delivers excellent picture quality as well. The problem is that the vast majority of HDTVs can't handle 1080p/24 properly, which means that for most people, the HD-A30 just doesn't justify the price premium over the HD-A3.

From afar, the Toshiba HD-A30 largely looks the same as its predecessor, with a glossy black front panel and a silver strip down the middle. Up close, there are some significant differences. The front panel controls (play, pause, fast forward/ rewind) are now right on the player, instead of under a flip-down panel like on the HD-A20. There is still a flip-down panel, but it's very small on the left side and houses a single "extension" port, which could eventually be used to add more storage to the unit. Aside from that, the A30 is even more glossy than its predecessor, plus it has a more curved look compared to the boxy second-generation models.

The HD-A30 has a single extension port.
The remote included with the A30 is similar to the A20's, but there are some significant differences. The HD-A30's remote is about an inch shorter, which is almost completely attributable to the fact that the remote now lacks dedicated buttons to control a TV. Some may lament the loss of functionality, but we preferred the less cluttered style--with almost every remote including limited "universal" functionality, we didn't mind losing that ability. We definitely preferred the A30's remote to the terrible HD-XA2 clicker, and on its own merits it's about average. The directional pad is centrally located and surrounded by useful buttons like Menu and Resume, and the play, fast forward, and rewind buttons are right below and reasonable well-differentiated. We would have loved if the remote had backlighting for dark home theater use, but you'll need to pick up a quality universal remote for that.

The Toshiba HD-A30's primary mission, of course, is playback of HD DVD movies. Like all HD movie players--HD DVD and Blu-ray alike--it can also play standard DVDs. Unlike some first-generation Blu-ray players, the HD-A30 can play standard audio CDs, although it can't handle CDs and DVDs that include MP3 or JPEG files.

The logos say it all: Dolby True HD support.
As usual with Toshiba HD DVD players, the HD-A30 offers a nice suite of soundtrack support. In addition to supporting the standard Dolby Digital and DTS surround soundtracks found on standard DVDs, the A30 also offers onboard decoding for the two new, high-resolution Dolby formats: Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. In other words, it can send those new soundtracks to a compatible AV receiver or processor via HDMI as a PCM stream that most HDMI-equipped receivers can handle. There is no onboard decoding for DTS-HD Master or DTS-HD High Resolution, but the HD-A30 can extract the "core" soundtrack from those formats, the result of which can be slightly better than a standard DTS soundtrack. Enthusiasts, take note: unlike the step-up HD-A35, the HD-A30 cannot send Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in bitstream.

The HD-A30's connectivity suite is solid, although it's missing some step-ups of the more expensive models. For video, it has an HDMI output capable of outputting high-definition video in resolutions up to 1080p, an upgrade over the 1080i-only HD-A3. There's also a component video output, along with standard composite video output, but note the lack of S-Video. For audio, the HDMI output is capable of transmitting multichannel audio soundtracks, as indicated above. There's also an optical digital audio output that can handle standard Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, as well as a standard analog stereo output. Rounding things out is an Ethernet jack.

The jack pack is solid, but we would have liked multichannel analog outputs.

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