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 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 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.