Today Toshiba announced a pair of second-generation HD-DVD players at the CEDIA show in Denver. The first, model HD-A2 (October, $499), improves on the currentby using a smaller chassis that's mostly black, as opposed to the old two-tone black-and-silver. Toshiba's rep also claimed that load times on the HD-A2 were faster than the older model, although he stopped me when I reached for the power button to cycle it on and off to see for myself (I'll be back, Toshiba!).
The new player also has an improved remote control with keys arranged in a much more logical fashion than those of the HD-A1's bulky clicker. Otherwise, the two players are identical: The HD-A2 has 1080i output, not 1080p; the HDMI jack still uses the 1.2 spec; and image quality should be exactly the same.
1080p and HDMI 1.3 are reserved for the new step-up model, the HD-XA2 (December, $999). The benefits of 1080p are hard to pin down--in fact, given a display that de-interlaces 1080i correctly, and most do, we expect the picture quality improvement from 1080i to 1080p output to be minor, if not nonexistent. HDMI 1.3's chief video-quality benefit, according to its backers, is better color depth that's less subject to false contouring, among other problems. It's worth mentioning that you only get the benefit of HDMI 1.3 if you mate your HDMI 1.3 source to a display with HDMI 1.3, and as far as we know, no HDMI 1.3 displays will be available this year (although next year is a different story; we've even heard an HDMI rep hopefully refer to HDMI 1.3 as "the 1080p of 2007"). The HD-XA2 also offers some control over picture parameters like contrast, color, and brightness.
At first glance, the HD-A2 looks like a better player than the HD-A1, and hopefully the company has indeed addressed some of the first-generation player's usability quirks. For HDTV owners with $500 to spend on a disc player that delivers phenomenal video quality, it looks like a solid value. The same can't be said for the twice-as-expensive HD-XA2, which is obviously aimed at buyers who don't mind paying a lot for cutting-edge features.