Toshiba HD-E1 HD-DVD Player

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Toshiba HD-E1 HD-DVD Player
  • Toshiba HD-E1 HD-DVD Player
  • Toshiba HD-E1 HD-DVD Player
  • Toshiba HD-E1 HD-DVD Player

Pros

  • Brilliant image quality, great DVD upscaling, online capabilities in the future, competitively priced

Cons

  • Slow interface, no 1080p support

Bottom Line

While it is missing 1080p support and has a somewhat sluggish interface, the HD-E1 is a well priced High Definition player that supports both DVD and HD-DVD, and outputs exceptional image quality.

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Toshiba's HD-E1 is the first HD-DVD player we've had through the office. While we looked at the Qosmio G30 notebook with a built in HD-DVD drive, the HD-E1 is a different animal all together, as it is a standalone home entertainment device designed to play back HD-DVDs on your television. The quality of the image was stunning and satisfied our expectations of the fledgling High Definition format. Unfortunately the unit itself had a few other issues that somewhat hampered the overall user experience.

The primary reason one purchases a device like this is for extremely high quality images, and in this regard the HD-E1 delivers. Offering playback at resolutions up to 1080i, this device produces stunning detail and clarity, however keep in mind that it doesn't offer full 1080p High Definition output. This is understandable considering the reduced price tag (compared to the Blu-Ray players on the market that currently offer 1080p), but it will be a sore point for some buyers who want the very best. It does however support the new HD sound modes including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD (core only).

We primarily tested the device using Mission Impossible III, and suffice to say it looked amazing. The differences were most evident in background areas, with every part of the shot rendered clearly and precisely, rather than the grainy, pixilated back drops that are a common trait of regular DVDs. Even in areas of extreme detail, with debris flying everywhere and flames licking the corners of the screen, there were no visible aberrations. Our only complaint was a minor amount of image noise visible on some background areas, but much of this can be attributed to the mastering of the film itself and it wasn't enough to detract from the overall quality of the picture. For those of you wondering if upgrading will make a noticeable difference, let us assure you; you'll never be able to watch DVDs quite the same way again after seeing your favourite films in High Definition.

We also tested regular DVDs to see how the device handled the upscaling process. The HD-E1 will upscale your 576i Standard Definition disks to 780p or 1080i, and it did a very good job. While there were some noticeable artifacts resulting from the process, they weren't too distracting, and the overall picture looked excellent. People looking to use this device as a hybrid HD-DVD and DVD player will be more than satisfied.

For owners of video cameras, there is good news too, as the HD-E1 supports MPEG2, VC1 and most importantly MPEG4 AVC (H.264) video formats. While currently there aren't many HD camcorders on the market, they are growing in prominence, and this device is well suited to playing back video files written by HD DVD cameras.

We did however have one issue with the device, namely, its responsiveness. The HD-E1 is quite a slow machine. It took just over 50 seconds to start up, and the first menu of our disk took several seconds to respond to a button press. As the device warmed up, things seemed to speed up, with the main menu operating flawlessly, but we still encountered slow down when skipping scenes or trying to issue commands during playback. This isn't a major factor, but it certainly was irritating.

The unit itself looks quite sleek. The first HD-DVD player, the HD-A1, never saw the light of day in Australia, but was said to be quite a blocky, chunky device. With the HD-E1 however, Toshiba has remedied this, creating a sleek, gloss black unit that will fit in comfortably with a modern home entertainment system. It has a single power button on the left hand side, and an eject key next to the disk slot, while the front panel flips down to reveal play, stop, pause and navigation keys.

The rear of the unit houses all the connectivity options, including HDMI, Composite, Component, S-Video and both optical and analogue audio. However, keep in mind that to take advantage of the new HD audio modes (like DTS-HD), you'll need to be connected via HDMI.

The other interesting feature on the rear of the HD-E1 is the Ethernet port. While currently it doesn't do much, in the future it will be used to take advantage of the online, interactive elements available on HD-DVD disks. You will be able to do things such as receive context specific information about people and places represented on that particular disk, although this will likely cost extra.

Overall, the HD-E1 is a great product for those looking to take the plunge into the High Definition era. It offers excellent image quality, the ability to play back your older DVDs and online capabilities, at a price considerably lower than the two Blu-Ray players currently on the market. The only real downside to the unit is the lack of 1080p, but with few televisions on the market currently supporting this resolution, it really won't become an issue for half a year or more.

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