My initial A2 impressions
Got to play around with my new A2 for a little while last night. My wife wants me to unwrap it as a Xmas present so it goes back in the box today (I only took it out to make sure it was working properly).
It is a March 2007 build, and it comes with firmware 1.3 (latest is 2.7). I did not update the firmware so I don't know if that will have an impact on PQ.
The included HDMI cable is not long enough for me to use it as my projector is well beyond its 6' length away from where I could set up the player, so I used component cables. I used the optical audio connection with my receiver and it did not have trouble with the 1.5mbps audio bitstream in DTS--at least with the disc I rented to test the player.
I did not calibrate the player in any way. The only adjustments I made were to set the optical output to bitstream, the video output to 1080i (I also tried 720--more on that later) and, to see if it made a difference, the "picture mode" (I believe that's what it is called) to "auto" and then later to "film". I did not run my copy of DVE (I think I will wait until I get the HD copy and calibrate the HDMI input--each input keeps its own settings if I read my pj manual correctly).
I rented Serenity as I already have the SD DVD and I wanted to compare the two. I sync'd their playback (SD DVD on my Cambridge 540D set to 480i via component and HD DVD at 1080i via component to my receiver--the receiver acted as the switchbox) and switched several times back and forth. This allowed me to compare the PQ and the SQ, not blindly, of course, but with less than a second delay.
PQ--SD vs HD
Now Serenity may not be the best example of either SD or HD DVD, but from the many reviews I consulted, the general consensus seems to be that each transfer is of high quality in each format. Moreover, it is a film I've watched many times, so I am familiar with it.
The difference was not "night and day" (despite some reviews that suggest otherwise). It was noticeable and the HD picture is better. However, it was not as drastic an improvement as HD cable is over SD cable in my set up. I understand there are numerous factors at play (not the least of which is that I did not calibrate for the HD DVD player) but I do not want my statement to be taken as disappointment. In the first place, I have a 720p projector, and while I'm very happy with it, I'm also aware that a 1080p projector (with all the other capabilities of mine intact) would make the difference greater. Also, it is a 64 inch diagonal 16:9 screen, not the more typical 80-100 inch screens that front projector owners appear to have, so the differences may be subdued by that factor.
Overall, I found the HD presentation cleaner, with better skin tones, better colour and contrast, deeper blacks and sharper (but not artificially so). But the difference in quality was more subtle than I expected. I chalk that up to a few factors (some noted above), including the quality of my pj processing of the SD signal.
As for sound, this is a subjective impression as I was concentrating more on the PQ, but the DD+ converted to DTS 1.5mbps seemed to offer more articulation of individual sounds but it did not provide as immersive a feeling that the DD track of the SD audio. The DD+ did have more dynamic range. An improvement, but a tiny one overall. If the only difference in presentation was the sonic one, I would not consider the upgrade worth making based on this sample. I would need more examples.
I also tried the output at 720p (so the pj did none of the work except display the signal "as is"). In theory, this should have made it better (matched the resolution of my display) than 1080i, but it did not. The 720p output was indistinguishable from the SD DVD presentation. In fact, as I switched back and forth, I got confused and when I wanted to stop the HD disc (to try a different setting in the player) I pressed "stop" and the movie kept playing. That's when I realized the SD image was on display. I would not have made that error with the 1080i output as the PQ, though not drastically better, was improved enough to not be confused with SD. I concluded that my pj's video processing is better than the player's processing and so I will let it do all the work from now on.
I did not test SD DVD via the A2 via component (I'm very happy with the 540D for that at the moment). I will try it with HDMI--both at 480i (it is able to do that--not many players can, I gather) and at the other resolutions to see if the "upconversion" of the player is better than the pj--though I doubt it, if the 720p/1080i comparison from the player is a sign of the player's overall processing quality.
Summary: Without calibrating the pj with the HD DVD player's signal, via component out to a 720p 3LCD projector, using one disc as a sample, my initial impression is that it is an improvement, but not a dramatic one. However, I acknowledge that with other discs, some tweaking and a firmware upgrade, there is potential for a more dramatic improvement. For the price, the improvement, modest though it appears initially, is worth it. But if I'd paid the original price for this machine (700$CDN) I would not be prepared to make that same statement at the moment.
When I "unwrap" it and get it fully set up (in a month--
), I will run it through its paces again and that will be a fairer judgement.