Toshiba Cuts Price Of HD-DVD Player To $299
Consequently, the PS3 is now no longer the cheapest Blu-ray player available. Interestingly this was Sony's main justification for the high price of the console and it can't be denied that being the most inexpensive player on the market certainly helped sales.
Toshiba Cuts Price of HD-DVD Player to $299
Toshiba today announced that it is stepping up its successful marketing campaign for HD DVD as it experienced record-breaking unit sales in the fourth quarter of 2007. Major initiatives, include joint advertising campaigns with studios and drastic price cuts which will begin in mid- January. HD DVD will also tout their focus on quality DVD upconversion and continued customer support. It seems Toshiba isn't ready to give up the ghost just yet.
Taking the holiday season sales based on promotional prices into full consideration, these new manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) are designed to meet the potential demand for HD DVD players in the U.S. market. Effective on January 13, 2008 the MSRP of the entry-model HD-A3 will be $149.99, the HD-A30, with 1080p output, $199.99, and the high-end HD-A35, $299.99.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, said consumers seeking to switch to high-definition DVDs will be enticed by the content available for HD-DVD players. He added the lower price for the devices will appeal to the family market.
"Today Toshiba is making HD-DVD players available at $299, which is a first time that it's really been at an affordable price," Katzenberg said. "It's a game-changer, what they're doing, and it's why we decided to throw in with them."
Toshiba management expressed disappointment over Warner's decision but said that Toshiba would continue promoting the competing format. The following Monday, Toshiba reduced the price of its HD DVD players by 40 to 50 percent, calling the price a "deal breaker for the mainstream consumer". At the time, analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates likened the price cut to the high-stakes blackjack bet of "doubling down" in an effort to increase market share and "win back the studios". Richard Greenfield of Pali Capital called the move a gimmick and predicted that HD DVD would not become widely adopted. Gartner analyst Hiroyuki Shimizu predicted that while the price cut might extend HD DVD's life somewhat, the limited title library would ultimately "inflict fatal damage on the format", leaving Blu-ray the victor by the end of 2008.
Cheap DVD players have set the expectation that about a hundred bucks is the fair price for a player. The price on Blu-Ray players is still pretty steep, though, and many will opt to save $200 by waiting an extra year to upgrade.
Although you may be correct about the current high prices for the hardware and movie ownership which may act as barrier for some to enjoy high definintion, My guess is that if people have already kicked down $1000.00+ (and much higher in most cases) for an HD TV, then $300.00 for a player is just a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy the high definition experience when watching new release movies in the comfort of your own home.
But it'll also pay to wait. High price-tags of next-generation home entertainment generally fall over time, and the new players are no exception. Newer models will include features not found on older ones, such as picture in picture and Internet access. What's more, regular DVD players are dirt cheap and look perfectly fine.
There's talk that some might offer Blu-ray players at a discounted price to HD-DVD owners. If that doesn't work out, HD players can still handle regular DVDs and up-convert them. It's a high price to pay for early adopters, retail executives acknowledge. "Those folks didn't do anything wrong," said Gary Yocoubian, president of the Myer Emco retail chain in the Washington area.
At Best Buy BBY, -1.58%, for instance, the least expensive Blu-ray player sells for $400 -- though some promotional prices came down near $300 briefly during the holidays. They aren't much cheaper at online sites, either. Amazon.com AMZN, -2.02% billed its lowest-priced model at $350.
Phillip Swann, who runs the popular Website TVPredictions.com, believes Blu-ray players could drop to the key price point of $200 by next Christmas. So does Erickson. "Once DVD players got below $200, sales really started to pick up," he noted.
Professional reporters and amateur bloggers alike began to predict a format war that would stretch well into 2009 [source: Bangeman]. Companies that had hoped to build players that could handle both formats abandoned those plans. While the prognosis for HD-DVDs was grim, Toshiba's HD-DVD players were still less expensive than dedicated Blu-ray machines. The lower price gave HD-DVD supporters hope that they backed the right high-definition horse.
In the meantime, Toshiba has offered multiple firmware upgrades of its own, which can be downloaded and installed automatically via the Internet. We took another look at the HD-A1 with the latest firmware (version 1.4) installed and with several more HD DVD movies on hand than were available during our initial evaluations. For the most part, the firmware upgrades didn't seem to fix some of the player's more distracting quirks. Most notably, start-up time and disc loads are still painfully slow, and HDMI stability is far from ideal--the sort of annoyances that would, for instance, be unacceptable on a run-of-the-mill DVD player. That said, compared to the admittedly crippled Samsung, the half-as-expensive Toshiba is clearly the better choice for the early adopter looking for the best high-def picture quality. Editor's note: This review has been updated several times since originally posting on April 18, 2006. The review has been changed to reflect subsequent testing on the HD-A1 with newer firmware (version 1.4), more HD DVD movies, and direct comparisons to the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player. Subsequent changes may be made based on whether future firmware upgrades deliver noteworthy performance adjustments.Senior editors Phil Ryan and David Katzmaier contributed to this review. Thanks to its rather beefy dimensions--4 inches high by 17 wide by 14 deep--the Toshiba HD-A1 looks like something of a throwback to older DVD players or even some big, old VCRs. Why is it so big and clunky? As it turns out, it's just a Linux PC dressed up to look like a video component, complete with a motherboard, a Pentium 4 CPU, PC2700 RAM, and a 5.25-inch optical drive--all of which are clearly visible in this CNET Out of the Box video.The HD-A1 lacks the slick upscale look and motorized front door of its step-up sibling, the Toshiba HD-XA1, which lists for $300 more. (There's also an all-black version, the Toshiba HD-D1, that's otherwise identical except that it's a Wal-Mart "exclusive," as well as the RCA HDV5000, which is also a virtual clone of the HD-A1.) The bright blue front-panel display shows information such as output resolution and HDMI status, and home-theater purists will appreciate that it can be dimmed or disabled completely. A smattering of standard controls (play, pause, eject, and so forth) litter the front panel, and a small fold-down door can be opened to reveal a pair of USB ports; Toshiba hints that they could be used to connect some sort of future interactive controller, but they're moot for now. Of course, most of the interaction with the Toshiba HD-A1 will happen through the unit's remote control. That's unfortunate because it's one of the most poorly designed remotes in recent memory. The long, slender wand utilizes 37 keys and a five-way directional pad, plus a slide-down panel that reveals lesser-used buttons: a numeric keypad and three setup keys. But almost all the keys--including such vital functions as disc transport and resolution--are the same size and shape, making navigation anything but intuitive. And despite the fact that it uses four included AAA batteries, the remote isn't illuminated (backlighting is reserved for the HD-XA1). It can, however, be programmed to control the basic functions of most common TV brands. The onscreen display is another shortcoming of the player. The setup screen is great: You can effortlessly navigate between the five main categories of the setup menu--picture, audio, language, Ethernet, and general--and their respective submenus. The display can be toggled between any one of three skins for a degree of customization. And those interface niceties are only the hardware-specific ones; individual HD DVD discs have the potential for much more animated and interactive menus and overlays than standard DVDs (see Features for more details). The problem is that the player lacks any other sort of onscreen displays or prompts. For instance, toggling between audio soundtracks (with the remote's Audio button) gives no feedback--either onscreen or on the machine's front-panel display. Similarly, there's no splash-screen when disc playback is stopped; it sounds innocuous enough, but displays connected via HDMI will often start wigging out from the resulting loss of the "handshake signal." HD DVD is essentially DVD 2.0, and like any good big-budget sequel, the new format manages to combine some impressive new special effects without straying too far from the familiar narrative that we've come to expect. The native resolution of standard DVDs maxed out at 720x480, and compared to VHS and even regular analog TV, that was quite impressive. But HD DVD discs can store video with native resolution of as much as 1,920x1,080--as much as six times the detail potential of the standard DVD. Moreover, HD DVD discs can also store new super-high-resolution digital audio formats specifically designed to take advantage of the discs' extra capacity (15GB to 30GB, compared to 4.7GB to 8.5GB for standard DVD). These Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD soundtracks offer improved bit rates, lossless compression, and as many as 7.1 channels of discrete audio tracks, providing the potential for much more realistic and lifelike sound than DVD's Dolby Digital and DTS tracks. In addition to taking audio and video to the next level, HD DVD even has the potential to one-up the interactivity offerings and special features that distinguished DVDs from their linear VHS predecessors. For instance, instead of just the familiar director's commentary, HD DVD allows translucent menus and superimposed video to appear over the film itself while it's still running; you could, for instance, see the actors and filmmakers reacting to the movie in real time or see a before-and-after comparison on how a stunt or a special-effects sequence was composed. That offers the possibility for more contextual "making of" featurettes that can be viewed without having to stop the movie, jump back to a main menu, then drill down to a related special feature.Now that we've told you just how great HD DVD can be, it's time to pile on the caveats. As with DVD, the format's theoretical potential is limited by the quality of the software that's available for it--and the HD DVD roster is certain to be anemic for many months to come: The format launched with just four titles on day one--Warner's The Last Samurai, Phantom of the Opera, and Million Dollar Baby and Universal's Serenity--and a handful of others (including Apollo 13, The Bourne Supremacy, Unforgiven, and Lethal Weapon) have dribbled out in the weeks since. But very few of the titles currently available feature the bells and whistles that Toshiba has promised. Similarly, HD DVD's vaunted increase in visual and audio fidelity comes with a few buts. Despite the fact that the format supports HD resolutions of up to 1080p, the first wave of hardware--including the Toshiba HD-A1, HD-D1 and HD-XA1, as well as the RCA HDV5000--can output only as high as 1080i. That's not such a big deal, however, since the difference between 1080i and 1080p sources is very difficult to discern on-screen, even with the most cutting-edge hardware. Another video "gotcha," and one that HD DVD shares with Blu-ray, is analog downconversion. When linked via an all-digital HDMI connector, HD DVDs can be displayed at high-def resolution (720p or 1080i). But to prevent the possibility of pirates making a perfect high-def copy, studios can encode their discs with an image-constraint token (ICT), a software flag that can be activated at the discretion of the movie studio publishing the disc. When activated, it tells the player to downconvert its output resolution to 960x540 when played through the analog component-video outputs, which lack the robust digital copy-protection of HDMI. The result: anyone with an older HDTV--one that lacks an HDMI or HDCP-compatible DVI connection--can lose as much as 75 percent of the maximum possible HD DVD resolution at the whim of the studio executives. Audio capabilities are similarly curtailed from their theoretical potential, although--as with the 1080p issue--the culprit here is more technical than political (more on that in the Performance section). Thankfully, the image-constraint token remains more a threat than an actuality--it apparently has yet to be implemented on any HD DVDs yet released--but it remains an issue worthy of consideration for anyone with an older HDTV.Having outlined the potentials and pitfalls of the HD DVD format in general, let's return to the specifics of the Toshiba HD-A1. On the surface, the HD-A1's back panel is indistinguishable from that of any other well-apportioned DVD player. It has a full assortment of video outputs (HDMI, component, S-Video, and composite) and audio connectors (coaxial and optical digital output, as well as stereo RCA output and 5.1-analog outs), not to mention a quiet fan to keep the internal electronics sufficiently cool. There's also an Ethernet jack for connecting to the Internet through your home network, a feature notably absent from Samsung's BD-P1000 but which may appear on other Blu-ray players. Those looking for built-in media streaming will be disappointed, however; the networking functionality is currently limited to little more than firmware upgrades. The Toshiba HD-A1 and all forthcoming HD DVD and Blu-ray players can play all your standard DVDs, including home-burned DVD-/+Rs, DVD-/RWs, and DVD-RAM discs, and upscale them to 720p and 1080i resolutions through the HDMI output. The HD-A1 can likewise play back CDs as well as MP3/WMA CD-Rs and CD-RWs, but it won't spin SACDs or DVD-Audio discs. Of course, the Toshiba HD-A1 can't play Blu-ray discs, but Blu-ray players don't play HD DVD discs either. And despite some juicy rumors, there are no officially announced universal players on the docket, so HD fans are left choosing a mutually exclusive high-def Coke-or-Pepsi equivalent for the time being. But it's worth noting that the Blu-ray format offers virtually the same benefits and shortfalls as HD DVD once players hit stores later in 2006, with two key distinctions: Blu-ray players will offer 1080p output straight out of the gate, and the format is backed by a wider list of studios (including Fox, Sony, Warner, Paramount, and Disney) as compared to just three majors for Blu-ray (Warner, Paramount, and Universal). But that bleeding-edge video offering and bigger catalog potential won't come cheap; entry-level Blu-ray players are slated to cost double the Toshiba HD-A1's price, though the Blu-ray-compatible Sony PlayStation 3 is scheduled to be available for $500 to $600 in November 2006. The Toshiba HD-A1 can be set to output at 480p, 720p, or 1080i via the HDMI or component connections, but HDMI is the only foolproof option because, as mentioned previously, the studios can encode their discs to restrict the image to sub-HD resolution via the component outs, though none have yet opted to do so. On most digital displays, HDMI also looks better than component video. The HD-A1 can alternately output standard 480i video via the composite or S-Video ports, though doing so completely obviates the whole point of buying a high-def player in the first place. We popped in The Last Samurai HD DVD, set the output resolution of the player to 1080i, and connected it to a variety of displays, including a Samsung HL-S5687W 1080p DLP and the Sony VPL-VW100 projector. The resulting image was impressive: minute details in the film--the blades of grass, the cresting waves, the pores of the actors' faces, the stitching of uniforms and tapestries--leapt from the screen with startling crispness. Then we watched the same scenes from the standard DVD version of the movie on a $150 Sony DVD player (upconverting to 1080i resolution) and yes, the good ol' DVD looked pretty fine. The difference between the DVD and the HD DVD was quite significant on the big screens however, and after watching the HD DVD for the comparative softness of the DVD really stood out. Over the course of a few weeks, we auditioned all of the early HD DVD movies we could get our hands on, including Apollo 13, Doom, Full Metal Jacket, Training Day, and Serenity--in many cases, doing the same A/B comparison between the HD DVD and standard DVD versions of the respective films. We were able to draw some conclusions about the Toshiba HD-A1--and, perhaps, the HD DVD standard as a whole. With the early discs, at least, the player delivers a picture that's unquestionably superior to that of standard DVDs--if you have a high-def display and a discerning eye. Color saturation is the biggest improvement: high-definition video offers a more extensive color palette, and it's evident with more natural skin tones on actors, for instance. Improved resolution is noticeable as well, but it can be a bit harder to detect; we noted on the HD DVD that we could read the actual words on the cue cards that Tom Cruise's character drunkenly ignores during his opening speech in The Last Samurai, but they were merely a blur on the standard DVD. With the available pool of HD DVD movies still limited, the fact that the HD-A1 can upconvert your existing DVDs to HD-friendly 720p and 1080i is a nice plus. We auditioned a variety of resolution patterns from our HQV and Avia Pro test discs at 1080i and via the HDMI output and found the results to be on a par with those of the better upscaling DVD players. How does HD DVD compare to Blu-ray? Direct comparisons won't be available until August, when Warner releases some Blu-ray titles, such as Training Day and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that are already available on HD DVD. In the meantime, we put the best-looking HD DVDs up against the best Blu-ray discs on the same display and felt that HD DVD had a leg up. Swordfish on HD DVD, for example, looked absolutely spectacular, with hyperreal details and a sharpness that seemed to leap off the screen. The same went for The Chronicles of Riddick, where HD DVD again looked sharper and more realistic than anything we'd seen on Blu-ray. Whether to blame any of this on the players, as opposed to the individual titles, is something we can't do until we have another Blu-ray player to compare--and the fact that the Samsung has since admitted that its BD-P1000 has a flawed chip that overly softens the picture makes us all the more desperate for another Blu-ray player to hit the market.It's also worth noting that high-def movie players--HD DVD or Blu-ray--can't overcome the limitations of the display on which you view them. We watched movies on a wide range of displays (plasmas, LCD flat-panels, DLP projectors, big-screen DLP rear-projection TVs, and even our reference Sony KD-34XBR960 direct-view CRT reference monitor), and the picture quality varied from one to the next. Black levels are