Toshiba to launch HD DVD players in March, even without some features

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Toshiba to launch HD DVD players in March, even without some features

Wayne (NJ) – Confirming news that TG Daily had learned from CES in January, Toshiba’s US consumer products division announced this morning it will be releasing two HD DVD high-definition video disc players for the US market in March, but that these early editions may require significant upgrades over the next several months to adapt to emerging standards, the details of which even now remain fuzzy.

As Reuters reported this morning, agreement among CE manufacturers on the final specifications for the AACS copy protection system, to be used by both Toshiba and Blu-ray, are only just now being reached, with a possible breakthrough on one of many unspecified sticking points apparently having been reached earlier this week. Despite the AACS obstacles that may still remain, and that the specifications have yet to be completely written for carrying full digital sound over the HDMI high-def interface, Toshiba will go ahead with its planned educational tour of the US: a 40-city promotional tour of major electronics retailers, the first ten stops of which were announced today. Beginning in New York next week, Toshiba’s HD DVD product managers and representatives will endeavor to educate consumers about the substantial benefits to be gained from upgrading their home entertainment platforms, even though some of these benefits will have yet to exist.

According to today’s announcement from Toshiba, both players – the HD-A1 ($499.99) and the HD-XA1 ($799.99) – will fully support the iHD interactive layer, which Toshiba is referring to as “Advanced Navigation.” As officials from Microsoft, iHD’s co-authors, recently told TG Daily, at least that specification is fully completed. But whether consumers will be able to appreciate its full range of capabilities at the outset of HD DVD’s launch is unclear. Even after CES, consumers have yet to see a full demonstration of how the first wave of HD DVD movies will utilize the iHD language, which is an implementation of XML that uses ECMAscript (standardized JavaScript) as its interpreted scripting component. At CES, HD DVD manufacturers demonstrated new, fully graphical movie menus that can be superimposed over a movie while it’s still running, rather than pausing the movie as DVD menus currently do. But iHD was designed to make feasible a wider array of interactive functionality, TG Daily has been told, which the first wave of HD DVD movies may not yet exploit.

Similar reports from CES that the first wave of Blu-ray players may also have reduced functionality, have recently been denied by Blu-ray proponents to TG Daily.

A promotional brochure for Toshiba’s HD-XA1, released today, characterizes HD DVD as having already won the battle with Blu-ray, by touting its own format as, “Officially recognized by the DVD Forum as the next high-capacity HD disc.” The brochure depicts simulated frames of iHD-endowed movies, with superimposed menus and commentary feeds, and one example which appears to depict the capability of shopping via Internet for items which happen to be included in a clip from a home movie. The promotion includes the very skillfully worded catch-phrase, “The potential is there,” which can certainly be taken literally.

Just as skillfully placed beside Toshiba’s HD DVD tour locations, in its press release this morning, is the following language: “Firmware upgrade required for full interactive features. Because HD DVD is a new format, certain disc, digital connection and other compatibility issues are possible. If consumers experience compatibility problems, they should contact Toshiba Customer Service.”

Both Toshiba product brochures mention the new player units will include HDMI connectors – perhaps the leading standard among the three emerging ones for high-bandwidth A/V equipment. One passage from the HD-A1 brochure includes the following: “The HD-A1 will output HD content through the HDMI interface in the native format of the HD DVD disc content of either 720p or 1080i.” Under the first generation of HD standards, displays were capable of displaying 720 lines of fixed vertical resolution, or 1080 lines of interlaced resolution (1080i). But work is ongoing to enable high-def discs and display equipment to display 1080 lines of fixed resolution (1080p) – a capability which Blu-ray proponents claim their discs will support, even with the first wave of movie releases. Toshiba’s language today appears to concede that the first wave of HD DVD discs, although playable sooner, will not support the full capability that the industry is working toward.

As Ultimate AV reported a few weeks ago, the new wave of Dolby audio codecs that HD DVD standards are already supporting, will only be compatible with the 1.3 version of the HDMI connector interface standard, which has yet to be finalized, and certainly won’t be before the first Toshiba players hit the shelves in March. Ultimate AV reporter Shane C. Buettner expressed skepticism that HD DVD player manufacturers will be able to implement upgrades to their HDMI connectors through firmware upgrades alone, opening up the possibility that customers may find themselves taking their players to stores or repair outlets for what could be more than minor surgery.

The first ten cities on the Toshiba HD DVD promotional tour are New York (22 February); Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco (1 March); Seattle and Atlanta (8 March); Washington, DC, and Los Angeles (15 March); and Dallas (22 March).