It's only been about six months since we reviewed the second-generation HD-A20, but nevertheless, here we are on to the third-generation. Some things have changed while others remained the same, but one thing is for sure: Toshiba keeps finding ways to improve its next-generation HD format.

Hardware
The HD-A30 isn't that much different than the A20 before it; they both have a nice clean, solid feel to them. They are both far and away better than the A10 was, but we were kinda disappointed that not all of our issues with the A20 were resolved. The remote actually got worse -- which we didn't think was possible -- as we lost TV controls and there still isn't a back light, definitely nothing as nice as what Toshiba supplies with its TVs.



The connections are still skimpy and you still have to upgrade to the A35 to get analog outputs or RS-232 control. S-Video got the axe, but we don't miss it, but we still really miss a coaxial digital output -- believe it or not, there is still some good use for it.



Setup
As expected, we were able to get things going in no time, but there were still a few hiccups we'd expect to be resolved in a third-generation product. The biggest is the fact that DHCP isn't on by default, which means there is simply no way this thing will "just work" after plugging it into your network.



After we got an IP, we tired four times to update the firmware with our FiOS connection, and each time we received a different error, eventually we got smart and downloaded the iso -- which updated on the first try.




We tried both HDMI and component (they won't both work at the same time), which looked great on the Pioneer PDP-6010FD, and while the main reason to use HDMI is 1080p, we also enjoyed the benefits of CE-Link HDMI-CEC. We did, however, run into a few problems: the A30 would turn on automatically when the HDMI input was selected with the TV's remote, but when we tried to go beyond the play button, we got a communications error. We also tried CE-Link with a Toshiba TV that we had in for review and as expected, everything worked perfectly.

Usability
We really don't understand why so many disc players still make you eject the disc to configure the player, but we hate it -- this is especially true with the current state of 24p. Unlike other players we've played with, 24fps material plays perfectly (no lip sync issues), but with the player set to 24Hz, 1080p30 content results in so much judder that we almost got sick enough to eject the disk, change the output setting, and wait the 25 seconds for the disc to reload -- almost. We'd really like to see a firmware update to enable a native mode that would simply pass the native resolution of the video.



HD DVD has the most polished user experience when it comes to HD movies, but the one thing that is still a real drag is the startup and loading times. We've almost forgot how fast DVD can be. We're glad the A30 (and the latest firmware version of the A20) turns on when you hit the eject button, but what could possibly be going on in there for a minute and five seconds while we wait for the tray to come out? This seems like a lifetime while standing in front of the player and is way longer than the fifteen seconds the Samsung's BD-P1200 takes to do the same thing. The good news is that the disc is actually loaded in about half the time that the P1200 takes, as The Borne Identity took about 25 seconds to load on the A30, while the P1200 took 50 seconds to load Home of the Brave. The problem is no doubt related to boot times, as starting the players with a disc in yields similar results: the A30 finishes loading in about one minute and thirty seconds, while the P1200 takes one minute.



Picture and Sound Quality
As we've come to expect, the picture and sound quality of HD DVD is fantastic. Just like the previous two generations before it, we can't imagine how the picture quality could be any better. While we were able to enjoy 1080p video in all of its glory on a 60-inch set, we weren't able to take advantage of any next-gen audio formats as our trusty Pioneer Elite A/V R doesn't have HDMI inputs. And since the A30 doesn't tout analog outputs, we were stuck with Toslink. While we recognize that our A/V R is older, we hate to upgrade an otherwise perfectly good piece of hardware, so if you're in this boat you should opt for the A35.

Conclusion
Pros:
Nice fit and finish, great picture and sound quality, rock solid performance, and HDMI-CEC rocks.

Cons:
24p outputs makes all other sources' frame rate judder, DHCP should be on by default, and slow boot times.

Toshiba keeps updating the hardware to stay one step ahead of the competition, and we must say it just gets better and better. As good as the A30 is, we doubt many A20 owners will feel compelled to upgrade. That being said, with the slight price increase over the A3, it's a no brainer upgrade for anyone who has a new 1080p TV and can actually take advantage of 1080p24.

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