As for the audio on the two commercial titles I had, it was superb as well, with one major exception: the level was very low—so low, in fact, that I had to raise the volume on my receiver nearly 20dB higher than usual. Both titles have a Dolby Digital Plus track, and Phantom also has a Dolby TrueHD track; there was little difference between any of the tracks in this regard. In addition, the dynamic range was too wide on both discs. This is clearly not the fault of the player, but of the mastering process. Hopefully, future Warner titles will correct these problems.
I’m told that Warner made a conscious decision to set the nominal output level of its releases 10dB lower than standard DVD to compensate for the very loud menu sounds. (When you call up the menu on the Warner titles and select things, clicks and whooshes are played at an annoyingly high volume.) Apparently, this is not a problem on Serenity from Universal, which I didn’t have during this review. I’ve heard that Warner is addressing the problem by lowering the level of the menu sounds, a move I applaud.
The benefits of Dolby Digital Plus were most evident listening to Phantom from the multichannel analog outputs, which sounded much fuller and richer than the digital output. (Recall that the DD+ track is transcoded to PCM, which is then converted to analog for the multichannel analog output and transcoded to DTS for the coax and optical outputs.) The music from the analog outputs sounded exquisite—at least, for what it is; I happen to be one of the few people on the planet who don’t particularly like the music or libretto of this movie. Even so, the extra data bits offered by DD+ for the analog output were put to excellent use in this case.
I must report one disturbing performance glitch. When I selected chapter 20 of Phantom, the playback began stopping and starting fitfully, and the audio came and went. As I tried to manipulate the controls, it froze altogether, at which point I hit STOP and finally the power button with no apparent effect. After several minutes, the player finally responded to these commands, which had obviously queued up in some sort of buffer.
When I turned the unit back on and tried selecting chapter 20 again, the same things happened, except that I did not try to manipulate the controls, and the player did not freeze up altogether. The playback finally settled down, but later, there were spontaneous pauses and audio dropouts, followed by video speedups in an effort to resync with the audio.
I was informed by Toshiba that holding the front-panel power button until the unit powered down actually performs more of a “hard” reboot than simply turning the power off or even pulling the power cord. Doing so, however, did not fix the problem. Interestingly, this only happened when I selected chapter 20; selecting other chapters did not reveal any other anomalies, leading me to suspect it’s a problem with the disc, not the player. Evidently, early authoring and mastering processes need to be improved.
I tried playing some conventional DVDs on the HD-XA1, and they looked and sounded great, though after watching true HD material, it was obvious that they were not real HD. Also, there was less difference between the 1080i and 720p outputs. Still, the XA1 makes an excellent upconverting DVD player.
Overall, I’d say that Toshiba’s first foray into the brave new world of HD DVD is a big success. Granted, there are a number of issues that I hope will be corrected with firmware updates, and I have no doubt that future generations will improve on the first models significantly. But if you have a highdef display and you’re itching to jump into the HD DVD fray, you’ll be thrilled with the quality of the images you see and the sounds you hear from the HD-XA1.