Important: On 19 February 2008, Toshiba announced that they would no longer continue with the development and production of HD DVD, thus ending HD DVD as a viable HD format. This page was relevant before this announcement, but is no longer relevant now that Blu-ray is the victorious format. It is preserved here for legacy purposes. Please feel free to skip to the next page/chapter if you wish.
Chapter 5: HD DVD Buying Tips
This chapter will present some buying tips, and some things to look out for, when buying into HD DVD. For general information about HD DVD, please refer to our High Definition DVD FAQ.
HD DVDs are completely region-free, so there is nothing to worry about when importing movies. However, the DVD functionality of HD DVD players is not region-free, and the Toshiba HD DVD players are region-locked without any remote tricks or secret menus to unlock them.
Nothing to worry about here either, as HD DVD players only come in one flavour that supports all the extra features as found on Blu-ray Profile 2.0 players (when one becomes available, that is).
Tha majority of HD DVD standalones are manufactured by Toshiba. That's not a bad thing because they produce very good quality standalones. The other manufacturers are Chinese company Venturer, as well as LG and Samsung which both produce dual format players. The budget Toshiba standalone (as of December 2007, the HD-A2 and HD-A3) only have 1080i output, although that's not an issue for people with 720p screens, or people with 1080p TVs that do proper de-interlacing. In any case, the next model up (the HD-A20 or HD-A30) does feature 1080p output and is only sometimes less than $20 more expensive. Toshiba also produces a high end player (the HD-XA2 or the European/Australian version of the same machine, the HD-XE1) for those with money to burn, featuring what is arguably the best DVD upscaler on the market (the Reon VX chipset).
If you have a 720p display, then the HD-A2/A3 is recommended. If you have a 1080p display and don't have or want a HDMI receiver that can decode TrueHD or Dolby Digital Plus, then get the HD-A30. The HD-A35 will be great for those that have or want to upgrade to an advanced HDMI AV receiver with high bitrate HD audio decoding capabilities, because unlike the A30, the A35 allows you to bitstream HD audio over the HDMI connection for your decoder/receiver to decode (more on this in "Chapter 7: HD Audio"). If you want the best of the best, then get the HD-XA2/XE1 - your DVD collection will thank you too for making them look the best that they will probably ever will (note that all the standalones will upscale DVDs over HDMI, but just not as good as the XA-2/XE-1).
For the dual format market, both LG and Samsung have models out. You might want to skip the first generation LG model, as it does not have proper HD DVD support (lack of HDi interactivity). The second generation LG, the LG BH-200, does add full HD DVD support and along with the second generation Samsung dual-format player, the BD-UP5000, both have Blu-ray profile 1.1 compatibility. The Samsung also features the excellent Reon VX HQV video processing chip for the ultimate DVD upscaler quality. The problem with dual-format players is that they are far too expensive, often more expensive than buying two separate standalones. The problem with the BD-UP5000 is numerous though (see the last few pages of this forum thread for example).
The Xbox 360 does not have HD DVD playback built-in. Instead, you have to buy the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive - the only purpose of the drive is to play HD DVD movies (and also DVD movies, but the console's main drive already does that anyway). The add-on drive is not expensive, but the biggest problem with the Xbox 360 is that it is a bit noisy - the latest generation consoles using the Falcon chip or newer will be quieter. Those with the first generation of the console will also miss out on HDMI output support. The Xbox 360 can upscale DVDs over HDMI and VGA using the optional VGA cable. Audio decoding and output is fairly limited for the add-on drive, with only transcoding to AC3 or full-bitrate (1.5 Mbps) DTS for the HD audio formats, with no decoding to LPCM 5.1 or bitstreaming support (which is not surprising because many 360's lack HDMI output). If you already have a Xbox 360, especially one with HDMI output, then the add-on drive is a cheap way to get into HD DVD.
Computer Based Players
You can also playback HD DVD movies on your computer or notebook. For notebooks, look for Toshiba banded notebooks that carry HD DVD drives. Several big computer manufacturers also now allow you to add a HD DVD (or even a Blu-ray/HD DVD dual reader drive) to computer systems. You can also build your own by buying your own HD DVD drive. Drives from Asus/Buffalo/HP/NEC/LG are available, as well as dual format drives from LG.
Please note that computer based playback has quite strict hardware requirements, including HDCP enable graphics card and monitor, fast CPU and plenty of RAM. Currently, PowerDVD Ultra from Cyberlink (note that PowerDVD 8 Ultra has removed HD DVD playback from the retail version, but you can re-enabled HD DVD playback in PowerDVD 8 Ultra by using our guide), WinDVD 9 Plus Blu-ray from Corel (read review, and yes, despite the name, it plays HD DVDs) and Arcsoft Totalmedia Theatre are the players of choice (the only choices!) available for PC platforms (and none for Macs, yet). There are ongoing projects to get Blu-ray and HD DVD playback going on Linux with some moderate success as well. Also note that PC playback has limitations as to audio output, with currently (as of December 2007) no hardware/software combination capable of outputting high bitrate audio bitstreamed through HDMI, so analogue 5.1/7.1 audio output at best, with perhaps PCM audio output for the immediate future.
Saving the best bit till last, when you buy a HD DVD player (including the Xbox 360 add-on drive in the US or Europe), you will most likely get yourself some free HD DVD movies included. In the US and Australia, qualifying players get up to 10 free HD DVD movies. In Europe, you can easily get 5 or 6 movies for free too. Links on where you can find out more below: