Toshiba HD-XE1 £650

9th May 2007 | 23:00

Toshiba HD-XE1

Toshiba shows us just what HD DVD is capable of

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

Partnered with a Full HD screen and quality audio system, it delivers a peerless home cinema experience

Like:

<p>Fantastic picture</p><p>Improved connections</p><p>Good looking and well built</p>

Dislike:

<p>Slight judder during horizontal pans</p>

The arrival of HD DVD to British shores has been greeted with more of a whimper than an explosion of enthusiasm. Excluding the add-on HD DVD drive for the Xbox360, the only player that has reached the stores so far has been Toshiba's entry-level HD-E1, which matched up an attractive price-point to a deck that generally failed to capitalise on the format's inherent strengths.

But thankfully, with its second player the company has definitely made good on its initial promises and ushered in a machine that is able to fully exploit the best of hi-def HD DVD at a price that standalone Blu-ray players are currently not able to compete against.

The HD-XE-1 is more of a 'step-up' deck than a complete reinvention of its earlier HD DVD player, the £450 HD-E1. The key plus points for the HD-XE1 are its ability to output both true 1080p high-definition video and Dolby's new 'made for HD' audio codecs.

Full of it

No longer are users limited to 1080i imagery and traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The new system is capable of outputting native 1080p signals via its HDMI connection straight from an HD DVD disc to a suitable HD-ready screen, preferably one that is Full HD compatible.

The inclusion of a full bank of 5.1-channel analogue audio outputs also means that the HD-XE1 can also deliver superior Dolby Digital Plus and even lossless Dolby TrueHD audio.

Of course, none of this will matter much if the performance isn't up to standard. So we were delighted to find, after sitting down with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift HD DVD, that the machine's enhanced capabilities can transform even the most average film into a true high-definition showcase.

The colour reproduction is simply striking, making the most of the movie's lurid neon colour scheme, while exemplary detail levels give the image a tremendous sense of depth. Even the film's many fast-paced, night-time races fail to trip the machine up, betraying no traces of judder or artefacting.

The audio performance is even better than the video. The disc's Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack proves to be a truly dynamic experience, opening up the clarity of the mix and adding room-shaking low-end bass to a degree that good old-fashioned Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes could never achieve.

So far so good. But there are, nonetheless, a couple of problems. The least of these is the player's remote control, which despite being backlit, has so many small buttons that it can be fiddly to use.

Of more concern is the rather curious fact that while all HD DVDs store content at 1080p/24fps, the HD-XE1 only outputs at 30/60Hz (the American and Japanese standards) and must upconvert the material internally. While we didn't encounter problems with any HD DVDs that we tried with the player, the lack of a Europe-specific 25/50Hz output option may well cause difficulties with TV programmes that are produced in the UK or in mainland Europe.

Late arrivals

Toshiba claims that this could be corrected with a firmware update that is delivered via the machine's Ethernet cable, but no timetable for this has yet been confirmed. We just hope it materialises before the arrival of the first UK HD DVDs from the likes of BBC and Channel 4.

The good news is that no such issues are present with standard definition DVD output, which is not converted to 30/60Hz. And, while this is not quite in the same league as a £1,000-plus Denon DVD player in terms of video upscaling, it certainly holds its own against universal DVD players of a similar price point. At this price, high-end hi-def is becoming a no-brainer.

ToshibaHome cinemaHigh definitionHD DVD
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