Toshiba takes HD DVD on the road

On Thursday, I had a chance to view a working sample of Toshiba's high-end HD DVD player, the HD-XA1 (announced at CES in January). Last week, Toshiba kicked off a 40-city road show, during which the company is visiting more than 130 retail stores to showcase HD DVD for consumers. The event I attended was at Fry's Electronics, and the content shown certainly looked appealing on the 72-inch DLP Toshiba screen used in the demonstration.

The unit on display is the US$799 model; a lower-cost model, the HD-A1, will sell for US$499. Two of this model's distinguishing features are its motorized front door (press a button, and it opens and closes on its own) and its illuminated, motion-sensor remote (any motion and the it lights up on its own). Of note: the display model has two front-mounted USB ports; as of this writing, though, Toshiba didn't have specific information as to how those ports could be used.

Among the ports on the back of the unit are composite and component video; coaxial, optical, and composite audio; and HDMI.

The player has an RJ-45 LAN connection. However, but this connection will only work to download content (using the movie disc as navigator); you cannot put this device on a home network. The company recently clarified, however, that the unit will handle interactivity.

No actual movies were available for viewing. Instead, we saw movie trailers, including Universal's King Kong and Warner's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the images, not surprisingly, had depth, and looked quite vibrant. I was even more impressed by the non-studio supplied example of HD MPEG4-AVC-encoded content. The split-screen content purportedly showed the difference between high-definition (at left) and standard def (at right) video.

Toshiba's players will be available for sale at the end of March. According to Toshiba's Tina Tuccillo, vice president of marketing communications, the company expects to sell 30,000 units in the first three months.

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