HD DVD Player Buying Guide

On Tuesday Star Trek Season One is released on the combo HD DVD/DVD format. Recently Paramount Home Entertainment announced that it is committed to HD DVD exclusively until 2009 (Star Trek Season Two hits stores on March 25th and Season Three by the end of 2008). So if you want to see the new box set or any other Trek in HD in the near future, then you will have to get yourself an HD DVD player. The good news is that it wont cost you too much latinum.

First, let’s talk HDTVs & upconverting DVDs:
The most common HDTVs today are 720p resolution, this includes most flat panel and rear projection TVs from 2003-2006. By 2006 new 1080p resolution HDTVs were common, but cost a premium. Today 1080p native resolution TVs are rather plentiful at sizes above 37 inches. So before you buy, consider if you really need a 1080p capable player. Also remember all HD DVD players play your existing DVDs. Standard Definition DVD video must be scaled (or “upconverted”) to the higher resolution of an HD display, the HD DVD players all have scaling circuitry in them, how advanced the capabilities are vary by model.

Toshiba HD-DVD Player Options

Entry Level: Toshiba HD-A3
Toshiba’s basic HD-A3 model is the best low-cost choice for people with 720p and 1080i TVs (which covers the majority of HDTV owners). Audio is available via HDMI, S/PDIF (optical digital audio), and basic stereo analog audio ports are also included.
NOTE: Only HDMI or the analog outputs are capable of sending the new high resolution audio HD DVD offers. While the MSRP of the Toshiba HD-A3 is $299 retailers have been playing a price war with many retailers selling the HD-A3 for around $200 (Amazon is currently selling the player for $199.00). For those crazy bargain early bird shoppers, Sears will be putting the A3 on sale for Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) for only $169.

Toshiba HD-A3s can be found for less than $200

Step up to 1080p: Toshiba HD-A30/Toshiba HD-A35
Toshiba’s HD-A30 adds 1080p compatibility (including 1080p/24 support for those with new HDTVs that are able to accept it), and it also includes better upconversion for standard DVDs. The retail price is $399, but it goes on sale quite a bit as well (Amazon Price $311.67).

Toshiba’s top of the line is the HD-A35 (MSRP $499) which includes all the features of the A30 plus 5.1 analog outputs for those with surround sound receivers that don’t have HDMI but who wish to experience the high resolution audio from HD DVDs (Amazon Price $405.16)

Get up to 10 free movies and a phaser!
Buy any Toshiba HD DVD player (including older models which can still be found discounted some places) and the Star Trek Season One set and you will get a free phaser remote control (Player must be purchased between 11/20/07 and 2/29/08 and can be bought separately from the DVD Set – more details here). Plus all Toshiba players are currently eligible for a 5 free movie promotion (details here). In addition, the ‘third generation’ (A3, A30, and A35) all come with 300 and The Bourne Identity in the box. And if you buy an A3 or A30 player from Amazon, then you get three additional movies, giving you a total of ten HD DVDs to start out your collection.

Other options

For Xbox 360 Owners: Microsoft HD DVD Add-on
The Microsoft HD DVD enables your Xbox 360 to play HD DVD movies. The kit includes a new remote made for HD DVD use, and a copy of King King (2005) in the box. The Xbox drive also counts for Toshiba’s 5 Free HD DVDs via mail-in rebate offer, but does not qualify for the Phaser remote offer (Amazon sells it for the retail price of $179.99). Other retailers put the Xbox drive on sale periodically (or bundle it with extra HD DVDs).

Xbox 360 Add on – cheapest way into HD DVD (if you have an Xbox 360)

HD DVD on your PC
If you have a modern relatively powerful PC, you can use the Xbox 360 drive with a PC if you purchase a copy of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD Ultra ($99.95) which is needed for HD DVD playback (also works with Blu-ray drives). If you prefer an internal solution, then the LG GGC-H20L plays HD DVD and Blu-ray plus it includes Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra ($299.99 at Best Buy and other retailers). For more on PC solutions and system requirements see my article at A/V enthusiast site MissingRemote.com here.

HD DVD/Blu-ray combo players
You can also hedge your bets with the LG BH-200 (out now) or the Samsung BD-UP5000 (coming in December); both can play Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, they come at a premium and run in the ball park of $800 to $950. The Samsung model features top of the line video processing and has nearly every kind of audio and video output one could want. In the end they may not save you money, but may save the space of having two players.

LG’s BH-200 keeps you neutral in the format war

Quick note on the ‘format war’

As you know there are two competing HD media formats competing for market domination right now: HD DVD and Blu-ray. As mentioned before, Paramount recently changed their policy of releasing on both to go HD DVD exclusive for the next year and a half. This means that all three seasons of TOS Remastered and possibly the new movie will be on HD DVD with no guarantee of showing up on Blu-ray. Same goes for other possible releases of Trek films and TV series in HD. Despite various claims by both sides, neither can claim victory in the ‘war’ and it is likely to go on for some time. The choices are to wait, pick a side, or buy both formats. TrekMovie.com does not advocate one side or the other, but the simple fact is that if you want to see any Trek released in high definition you need to buy an HD DVD player. The good news is that HD DVD players can be significantly less expensive than Blu-ray players. As mentioned above you can get an HD DVD player, the Star Trek Box Set, 10 free movies and the phaser remote for around $330 (from Amazon). Of course ideally this would not be an issue, but it is. So you can wait around for what could be years, or plunk down 200 bucks and start enjoying Trek and other HD DVD exclusives now (or hedge your bets and get a Blu-ray player too).

If you have more questions about your HDTVs, I’ll be happy to try and point you in the right direction. Just ask a question in the comments section below.

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Glad I went HD. :)

I got my Xbox 360 Add-on for my birthday, and I’m ready for Trek HD goodness. I just have to convince the wife to let me spend even more money on a show she thinks is “boring and cheesy” (she likes other Treks, just not TOS, sadly; you can’t blame her with some of the episodes though).

I don’t like that Paramount when exclusively HD-DVD. Don’t get me wrong, they look nice, but I like having the option.

In my opinion, Blu-Ray is the superior format. It can hold much more data, which means lower compression, which means higher bitrates, which means better picture and sound.

Oh well.

Wow, The first!! Can’t believe it!

I do have a HDTV question that maybe somebody can answer.

I’ve seen some HDTV’s listed as “1080i” (meaning 1080 interlaced display) and some listed as 1080p (meaning 1080 progressive scan display). Which of the 2 actually has the higher picture quality?

Not that I can really afford to invest in the new technology yet, but if I was, I would want to go with what is the highest resolution (i.e. picture quality), and even though I’m fairly educated in general on specifications, it’s amazing how many different ones there are to keep up with.

If anybody has an informed opinion, I’d love to hear it!!
Keep up the good work Anthony!
Until Next Time,

Matt- nice article.
Quick question for you. Does the Toshiba A3 have an optical digital audio output?
I use an HDMI to connect straight to my projector for video only and pipe the audio seperately through the reciever. I just want to make sure there is an optical output for sound.


#4 Don’t get too worked up on the 1080p/1080i debate, a 1080i TV is fine. All LCD, Plasma, DLPs, and similar flat panel screens are “fixed pixel” displays… they are ONLY CAPABLE of displaying PROGRESSIVE images, so the image you will see is 1080 lines of resolution progressive even if you have a 1080i only TV. Now a 1080i flat screen will still need a good de-interlacer or have your TV properly calibrated to avoid some very minor image defects(almost imperceptible unless you have your face right in front of the screen or have a 70″ display).

Only CRTs, tube style televisions, are capable of displaying interlaced images because they are constantly displaying every other line of resolution in a matter of microseconds to the point your eyes deceive you into believing you are watching a full image.


#3 Beta/Video. We’ll see who wins the race.

In order to be eligible for the phaser remote, does the player have to be purchased *with* the DVD set, or is proof of purchase of each all that is required?

1080p is better than 1080i. I have a 1080i/720p Optoma projector with a 100 inch gray wolf screen and I can honestly say if you haven’t gone HD (or Blu Ray I don’t care) then you’re really missing out. Right now I belive you can get the projector for about $800 which is a heck of alot less than many HD tvs. Only problem is I can’t seem to find TWOK non director’s cut (can’t stand the director’s cut.. I mean, there is a reason it was cut)…

Toshiba is desperate and losing a ton of money selling players so cheap. So now’s the time to buy ’em up – if you have money to throw away. Paramount is quite smart – trying to get us to buy a format that’s dying, so they can sell us the same titles again on blu-ray in a year! b#%tards.

Thank you for the explanation

The format war sucks! You would think somebody would have learned lessons from the Beta Vs. VHS fiasco!

If I had a vote, I would vote for Blu-ray, but nobody cares what I think, only what I’ll spend my money on, and until they work it out, I’m withholding my investment into Hidef DVD’s (either Bluray or Hidef-DVD).

Until then screw um!!

Again thanks for the Tech explanation,

Until Next Time,

I have sold HDTV’s and equipment for about 4 years now. This much I can tell you: HD-DVD was intended to be the successor to DVD. Sony simply beat Toshiba and JVC to the punch with the Blu-Ray Disc. Then, because Sony is a company full of money hungry lechers, they decided to plant a sticker on it at about $900, and watched as customers who are Sony Loyalists buy it up en masse. Then the PS3 had BRD support integrated….imagine how foolish those PS3 buyers will feel when BRD goes belly up and won’t have legacy support. Of course Sony is too rich and boneheaded to give up this early, so they will keep dickering with the price points, feeding disinformation to the consumers (their biggest is “HD-DVD is only 1080i.) — and it’s not anymore. They both have almost exactly the same components, the same sound, the same vision. Some people even think a dual-format future is in our midst. Take it from me, a guy who has been selling this stuff for four years now…HD-DVD will win. I feel somewhat justified alone by the price points being a good 400 less on HD-DVD then on BRD. Don’t be afraid to buy Trek in HD! The dual-discs (for those of you who still aren’t sure) will future-proof your investment. No guarantee if they will play on BRD players though….

Matt will come by later to answer some tech questions.

to 8, RE: Phaser
I added a bit in the article on that. You do not need to buy them at the same time, but you do need to buy them between tomorrow and February. There is a little card in the box set with more details…you need to send in proof of purchase and 7 bucks for shipping

I also believe HD-DVD will win the battle.

The smart money is never on a Sony media format. Beta tapes, Mini CD’s, PSP Mini DVDs… where are they now?

#15 Mucho thanks!

I plan on getting an HD-DVD player this holiday, and Trek will be a part of my collection. I’m all for HD-DVD, but I have Sony so im biased :D

*Hate Sony ^

Trek is really the only reason I went HD DVD, and I am kind of pissed. I “early adopted” for an early Tosh player when I heard Trek was sticking exclusively with the format. I love the thing, but so many titles are simply going BR that I will have to buy one of those as well (The LG combi-player is not quite a 100% solution). I will wait until prices come down to less greedy levels.

And the fact that both formats are competing for a minuscule percentage of buyers makes it worse. DVD still looks so great to most ex-VHS consumers, that HD formats, that the standard HD format is still aways away.

And I vote for Carol Marcus ;-)

As far as I know….Blu-Ray Disc format has a larger capacity than HDDVD – it can store more data. This has been misinterpreted as meaning it will give higher quality. In fact the complex and very clever codecs used for both formats are very similar and HD can look perfect at 20-30mbps at 1080p which both formats are easily capable of, with very little visual benefit from higher bitrates on a domestic 40 odd inch LCD/plasma. There may be some small issue on sound, but the differences in AV experience between the two is going to be hardly noticeable. I know having experimented with decoding my own HD content from raw camera data (uncompressed highest possible quality ) using MS’s WMV Advanced Profile HD VC-1 at 20-25mbps (that’s 20:1 compression!) at highest quality multipass and any compression artifact is hardly detectable – stunning! It’s down to these latest ingenious codecs that we can have quality domestic HD, not so much the disc type as far as I am aware.

Mr. HD-12
I believe you are correct. HD will win out. It’s ALWAYS the price point that wins. Remember VHS & Beta? Same thing.

AJ…i think the cheapest way to get blu-ray is a $400 playstation 3. Even if Blu Ray dies out you will still have a game console. In fact a PS3 and Toshiba A3 combined is $600 bucks…and that way you can wait out the war without caring who wins.

Blue-ray is the way to go people, the picture quality exceeds HD-DVD!

I’m covered for both formats – have a first gen HD-A1 player and just picked up a PS3.

Once you go HD you can never go back.

Anthony for shame.. you KNOW paramount will only be putting new Trek out on HD.. and THAT is not available on the PS3…

Dang it the toshiba.. now how do I remove/edit old posts.. crap…

Do they (hd players) upconvert well?

I have so many dvd’s I really don’t want to start buying my old catalog again.

How close to High def do th upconverters get?

I think it’s safe to say that Trek-in-HD ultimately is one impressive project, warts included.
The transfers on those standard DVDs were pathetic by comparison.
Amazon, here I come.
PS- Matt- the overview really helps. Thanks.

Just wanted to point out, too, not to be put off by the much less expensive 720p HDTV’s that will be on special this holiday season. The top gear reviewers all agree that on sizes less than 50″ it is next to impossible to distinguish between 720p and the higher resolutions.

I have a 37″ Panasonic 720p plasma that looks awesome, and can now be bought for less than half what I paid for it.

If HDDVD players continue to be priced lower than Blu-Ray and if HD movies are cheaper with more titles available, simple economics tells me that HDVD will win the “war.”

However, if Studios Like Sony and Paramount only release on one format, then consumers get screwed and HD adoption will be slow. Why? – Cause Joe Six Pack ain’t buying two DVD players – not happening Skippy.

However, the solution is the combo player, but the price is in the VIDEOPHILE range, not Mr. Six Pack’s. When the $200.00 combo player is released – then adoption rates will skyrocket.

In the meantime, Joe will be content watching upresed DVDs on his HD TV.

Thanks for listening,

J.S. Pack

I’m not buying either until the price for players drops under $100. That was my rule for DVDs, that’s my rule for HD. Besides which, TVs are ridiculously expensive. Those need to drop to about $300 or lower for a reasonable size (say, 30″).

Till then: Screw you, HD.

Well, I’m going to borrow my friend’s HD Trek and my nephew’s Toshiba laptop with an HD DVD drive and run it through my HD front projector. First I’ll use the laptop, then flip the disc over and run it through the upconverted standard DVD player and see if my old eyes can even see $200 worth of difference before I shell out the $ for a stand alone HD player. .

If it hits me over the head with a big “wow!” I’m sold.

If the difference to my eye, on the big screen, is negligible, I’ll still buy the set and just run it through the standard DVD setup I already have.

Ok , dumb question here: If I buy a HD-DVD player with 1080p output and pump a 1080p feed into a 50″ 720p HDTV, will I notice an improved picture or will the TV just downgrade the image to 720p/1080i??

My particular HDTV says it will accept a 1080p feed (native 720p). Would I be better off spending $200.00 on a 1080i player or will I benefit more by spending $100.00 extra on a 1080p player in this case??


#35 , I’m not quite sure that difference between 720p and1080p isn’t more exciting in the specs than it is with the naked eye. I think your down scaled 720p will looks just fine.

Matt –

You left the three Higher-end HD-DVD offerings off your list………

The Toshiba XA-2 ($799 MSRP) which is the flagship model. It has the Reon chip and is said to be one of the best players on the market. Upscaling is said to be outstanding. A new firmware upgrade allows it to decode DTS-HD MA. Toshiba stated last week that this is still its flagship player and that they won’t be replacing it until they can build a better machine. If you want the best, this or the Onkyo DV-HD805 are the ones to get (It can be found for $400-$600 online).

The Onkyo DV-HD805. ($899 MSRP) is based on the Toshiba XA2 and decodes all of the lossless formats. It is supposed to be slightly more refined than the Toshiba, but we’ll have to wait for reviews.

Integra DHS-8.8 ($1099 MSRP) Basically the same as the Onkyo with a longer warranty. Integra is to Onkyo what Pioneer Elite is to Pioneer.

This is a great discussion. And I’m reposting here because I like what I wrote:

I was one who said I’d wait for the ‘wars’ to shake out. But I didn’t. Life is too short and who knows what will happen. I purchased the Toshiba for under $300 and I love it. The upscaling for dvds is great. The first item I put into the player was a third season trek dvd and I was floored! (It was Spock’s Brain) Great plasma picture even at the standard resolution.

The HD DVDs look to me like a pristine 70mm film clip projected onto a screen. I’ve now got a few HD films and I’m glad I took the plunge.

Yes, the upcoming Star Trek sets are what pushed me over the edge and I’m glad I learned to swim in the deep end. Price? No big deal.

Tomorrow Amazon ships the set and I’ll have it at the end of the week. On my birthday March 25th the second season set is released. Life is good.

Ahhhh this is a much more civil argument than last night!

For anyone who’s interested…..Wal Mart is having a Black Friday promotion for the PS3(I’m not sure which model)….but the deal is buy a PS3 and get 10 free Blu Ray movies.

BTW….i have a 1080p plasma display….I can’t recommend it enough. That being said, other models are lower resolutions can be quite nice. All depends on how hardcore you are about electronics.

I am fortunate enough to have accumulated Star Trek’s I, II, III, IV, VI, & VIII (all original theatrical versions) in 1080i MPEG2-HD, backed up on an external hard drive hooked up to my Mitsubishi HD1000u 720P projector through an ancient Buffalo Link Theater Media Player.

Even through a Stone Age component connection, “Wrath of Khan” looks particularly good. So does “First Contact.”

By the time Toshiba’s 150 million dollar (what’s the right word… bribe?) to Paramount and Dreamworks runs out, Abrams’ Star Trek movie will likely be out on HD-DVD AND Blu-Ray and so will the other films I’m sure. At that point I will buy a (probably) $350 or (hopefully) $299 dollar PS3 and enjoy the higher bitrate (up to 45mbps) and larger storage space (that usually means higher quality audio) that Blu-Ray offers.

In my opinion HD-DVD is great. Blu-Ray is greater than great. :)

RE 40
that is a good deal on the ps3…i think you also get 5 additional movies for a total of 15. As I said before…buying a ps3 and the toshiba a3 is the way to go. You stay neutral and can get HD DVD stuff from Dreamworks and Paramount and Blu Ray from Sony and Fox and not care who wins. Plus with the combined promotions you will start off with 25 free movies. Now is really the time to buy. The price incentives and free movie promotions may never be better as their incentive to do so goes away once the war is over. I say…enjoy the war and get both! 600 bucks is a lot of dough, but 25 free movies makes it seem like a bargain

IAlthough I know I will probably pick up the ‘remastered’ Original Series sets ( when they become ‘discounted’ a little ) at SOME point eventually…if only for the improved PICTURE QUALITY, rather than the undernourished overall ‘special’ effects ( yes, ‘handphaser beams’, I’m especially looking at you ) of what was a worthier project to begin with…it is only because I do not know when or IF there will ever be an improved ‘remastering’ anytime soon in the years to come…and life’s too short to wait…

But as don’t just wish to settle with watching the ‘standard’ DVD side of this ‘combo’ set, I will no doubt HAVE to plunge for a ‘DUAL’ player, as there are just TOO many High Definition Blu-Ray EXCLUSIVE Movies that I wish to get also. The imminent release of a favourite of mine has seen to that: A Blu-Ray EXCLUSIVE ‘multi-cut’ set for ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. It is interesting to note that the Hd-Dvd camp has been pulled up TWICE now for WRONGLY claiming at major presentations that they will be putting out the Steven Spielberg back catalog. They are to be Blu-Ray ONLY.

I think that it will be down to ‘Studio allegiance’ as to which format proves to be the most popular when the dust has settled, and prices for both have equally dropped, and have no doubt that Paramount will end up backing both formats AGAIN, once their current ‘deal’ with the Hd-Dvd camp expires…so buyer beware…

Folks, another point about 1080p (which isn’t obvious in its name) is that the horizontal resolution is much higher than 1080i. Full 1080p has 1920 pixels in every horizontal row. Also, most plasma screens that are designed for receiving 1080i, in fact, can only show 768 pixels in the vertical direction. So a full 1080p TV actually has much higher resolution than 1080i — it’s not just a matter of progressive vs interlaced.

However, as some pointed out in this thread, you’re not going to appreciate the difference on a screen smaller than 50 inches, but I’d buy a 1080p if considering a new 50+ screen.

#43 –

This is not true. You may want to check your facts again. Universal does not support Blu-ray in any capacity, and Paramount simply stated that Steven’s films “are not exclusive to either format.” How this is twisted to say Spielberg’s films will be Blu-ray only is puzzling. Spielberg’s rep has stated that no more Spielberg films (save for Close Encounters) are forthcoming on either format in the near future (Probably because the rest of Spielberg’s major films are at HD-DVD only studios who are not releasing on Blu-ray). Things change almost daily in this industry, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of Spielberg’s films turn up in the near future.

Another thing: Paramount’s Chief Technical Officer Alan Bell has stated that their deal with HD-DVD is for “an indefinite period.” Paramount has never placed a time frame on this deal. This came from the same “anonymous” source who claimed that Paramount/Dreamworks received 150 million in incentives. Toshiba has denied this figure. It’s interesting I keep hearing stuff about “higher bitrate” but whenever Paramount was releasing in both formats, from every review I’ve read, all of their releases appeared to be IDENTICAL in picture quality. Given this, there is no logical reason to believe that this set would’ve looked any different on Blu-ray. I will certainly be glad when HD-DVD goes ahead with their 51gb disc so people can shut up about these capacity issues, which so far, don’t appear to have made any difference in the picture quality.

Speaking of HD-DVD, here’s the latest “player advertisement”:


You gotta laugh. And yes, it could be Blu-ray that goes in that junk closet instead. :-)

Oops, there should be a “?” after the “index.php”:


I got the HD-DVD this morning. Just sampled one episode, Charlie X. Looks great!

If you’re still on the fence, just go buy it. It’s worth the money to see Star Trek look this good! CGI stuff looked great too. Except the Thasian ship of course! :) Never saw the pores on Shatner’s face before and the wavy texture ot Charlie’s wrap around tunic.