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.