If you’re a movie buff you’ve probably been keeping a close eye on the next generation of optical formats. In fact the replacement for DVD has been a talking point for quite some time and now that both HD DVD and Blu-ray have officially hit the streets the amount of discussion is only set to increase. The most obvious question being asked is which format to go for, since no one wants to be left with redundant hardware and software. As always though, it’s the early adopters like me who will bite the bullet and buy into these new high definition formats. Why? Because we simply don’t have the patience to wait around and see how things pan out.
When the first generation of Blu-ray players launched a couple of months back, the price tags were scary enough even to put off some early adopters. That said, I can remember first generation DVD players costing over £1,000 too. I was therefore surprised and a little sceptical when Toshiba told me that it planned to sell its HD DVD player for around half the price of the Blu-ray competitors. But sure enough, sitting under my TV right now is the HD-E1 – an HD DVD player with a recommended retail price of only £450. Even more amazing is that the HD-E1 is already available for under £350 online!
Despite the HD-E1 being the first HD DVD player to launch in Europe, it’s actually second generation hardware. The HD-XA1 that launched in the US last year never made it over to these shores, but considering that it was a thinly disguised Pentium 4 PC with an HD DVD drive, that’s no big surprise. So, whereas the HD-XA1 was massive, and extremely slow to start up, the HD-E1 is very slim and only slightly slow to start up. To be fair, the HD-E1 doesn’t take the age that the HD-XA1 took, but you are left twiddling your thumbs for a minute or so after powering it on.
Design wise, the HD-E1 looks pretty good – at only 65mm high, it will fit unobtrusively below most TVs. Finished in black and silver, the HD-E1 has an attractive, minimalist look about it with only the power and eject buttons on show. Pulling down a near-invisible flap reveals Play, Stop, Pause and Skip buttons, as well as a couple of USB ports. Strangely though, these ports are described as “Extension Ports” rather than USB and the manual states “The EXTENSION ports may be used in the future for additional control options”. I’m not certain what that means, but I’m hoping that a firmware update could bring the ability to stream video from USB devices.