to 1080p or not to 1080p

Toshiba HD-A3 780p/1080iThe prices on HD-DVD players have started to move downwards at Amazon, with the HD-A3 model now priced at $99 and the HD-A30 at $129. The mail-in rebate for 5 free HD-DVDs expires on the 28th, so I assume that there will be further price reductions on the 29th, assuming they have the inventory. Both players come bundled with 300 and Bourne Identity, and I view the BBC Earth series as mandatory.

The question is, whether the extra $30 for the A30 is worth it. The primary difference is that the A30 supports 1080p output, whereas the A3 only does 720p/1080i. My intended use for this player is primarily as an upscaler for my standard DVD collection (and NetFlix), for an HDTV I have yet to buy (normal upscaling DVD players cost around $50-$70 anyway). Standard DVDs are 480p. As long as the HDTV unit supports 720p as a native resolution (which it should, regardless of whether I buy a HDTV capable of 1080p or just 1080i), then the 720p output of the A3 is all I will ever need, right? Even if I want to watch my HD-DVD discs at 1080i, few though they presumably will be, will I even be able to tell the difference between it and 1080p?

I can see myself in a similar quandary later when I decide whether to buy a HDTV at 1080p or not. I could just settle for 1080i as my maximum across the board and simplify things. I’d appreciate any suggestions or information regarding the matter, if you all have any.

Highly relevant reading: a piece at the NYT in which they talk to the founder of the Abt Electronics chain. In a nutshell, Blu-ray just isn’t a value proposition right now.

“Most people are happy just buying a better DVD player, instead of spending $350 or $400 for Blu-ray,” Mr. Abt said. “An upconverting DVD for $79 is a great value. It has a great picture, really better than an old DVD. You really see a difference.”
What about all the people who bought HD DVD players, prompted by Toshiba’s aggressive price cuts? Mr. Abt hopes he can at least partially mitigate their anger and frustration by pointing out how well the players can display standard DVDs.

“We have a lot of people who bought HD DVD players in the last few months,” he said. “We are going to communicate with them: you have an upconverting DVD player, enjoy it. You paid $150 for it, so you didn’t lose too much.”

And of course, we have less than a year to go before the digital switchover.

UPDATE: HD-DVD players in retailer inventory are now being described as “upscaling DVD players with HD-DVD playback“.

9 thoughts on “to 1080p or not to 1080p”

  1. From poking around, it sounds like the A30 (and A35) have a far superior scaling chip than the A3. For $30 more, I think you should go with the A30.

  2. Kayle, can you point me to some details on that? I appreciate that heads up. I hadnt even considered that the qualty of the upscaler might be an issue, I need to get educated on this a bit more. Apparently HDTVs also have upscalers built in, too…

    If anything I think it tells me to wait – the A3 is going to sell out before March, but people might balk at the A30. So if I wait, I might be able to get the A30 for even lower.

  3. “Standard DVDs are 480p.”

    Are they? I was under the impression they were 480i; TVs are, after all, 525i (at least in the US). A quick googling (as well as too much time spent fiddling with the innards of mpeg2dec) leads me to believe that the DVD itself is 480i and 480p players paste the two halves of an i frame together to make a p frame.

  4. ah, you are probably right. but doesnt that imply that the progressive scan player is actually giving yo half the temporal resolution? to paste the two halves together youd need to wait twice as long for a complete frame.

  5. Not really; both will give you 30 full frames a second. Well, 29.97…

    The interlaced player will display 60 half frames a second, yielding 30 full frames a second. The progressive play waits until it has both fields, but is still displaying 30 full frames a second.

  6. ahh. the bottom line tho is that the 1080p is useless for upscaling standard DVD though, correct?

  7. Every DVD Player (as well as HD-DVD and Blu-ray) and every digital HDTV have video scalers built-in to handle format conversion. The quality of the scalers can vary quite a bit.

    I’ve been poking around the net for information on the various Toshiba models for a few weeks now, but didn’t save any links. I’d suggest you start by poking around There is an HD-DVD subforum, you can also go searching. As you might expect, you’ll find all kinds of conflicting posts; what I extracted was that the HD-A30/A35 was superior to the A3 in scaling; however, the A3 scaler is still quite good.

    OK, went away for awhile, so I see there’s been some followup. From what I’ve read, there have been some firmware fixes, also, while upscaling interlaced video to 1080p@60 Hz is supposed to have some problems currently, the IVTC is supposed to be good and the 1080p@24 Hz is supposed to be very good (that’s presupposing you have an HD monitor that supports that format…)

    DVD specified output is 60i, but the encoding of frames on the disc can be progressive with flags to tell the decoder to repeat particular fields to produce 60i. Progressive DVD players will do some combination of paying attention to the designed output frames and looking at the repeat field flags to decide how to produce progressive video (unfortunately, many DVDs in the past had some oddities with the various frame/field flags so a DVD player couldn’t just look at those flags and be done with it, instead, they’re treated as hints)

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