The rear of the HD-E1 is surprisingly sparse for a cutting edge home cinema product. There’s a single HDMI 1.2 port, which will be the preferred connection method, but there’s also a set of component video connectors, an S-Video port and (god forbid) a composite video port. There’s also both analogue audio and optical digital audio outputs, although if you use HDMI (as you should) then you’ll be pumping the digital audio along with the video. Of course if you have an external surround sound amplifier or processor you’ll probably want to pipe the optical out to that.
The final connection at the rear is an Ethernet port, which allows you to make use of all the online, interactive features that HD DVD brings to the party. What does this mean? Well, let’s take the US release of Miami Vice for example, which will give you access to undoubtedly useless, but nonetheless fun features like GPS positioning. Basically you can get GPS coordinates for pretty much any location in the film, should you ever wish to visit that EXACT spot while you’re in Florida. Of course a great many of these interactive features will involve you getting your wallet out – really like the watch that guy in the movie is wearing? Well why not just hit a button on your remote and buy it?
OK, I might be slightly cynical about the online features, but there is little doubt that the studios see it as a revenue opportunity. On the plus side though, it does also open the door for some interesting features for real movie buffs. No longer will you have to stick your disc in a PC to get at the online extras, you’ll be able to access them from the comfort of your sofa. Of course Blu-ray will be offering a similar online experience, but the BD Live service isn’t up and running yet. It’s also worth noting that a network connection is not mandatory on a Blu-ray player, which is why the initial batch of players have no Ethernet ports, and thus will not be able to access online content once it becomes available.
Being that Toshiba is offering the HD-E1 at such a bargain price compared to the competition, it comes as no surprise that a few compromises have been made on the feature set. The HD-E1 will happily output both 720p and 1080i resolutions, but it falls short of outputting a 1080p signal. The more expensive HD-XE1 will support 1080p output, and I’ll be reviewing that as soon as I get my paws on a sample. The audio output is also limited to a maximum of 5.1-channels, but I maintain that unless you have a living room the size of an aircraft hanger, a 5.1-channel system will be more than sufficient to create a convincing sound envelope. The HD-E1 does support the new Dolby TRUE HD and dts-HD standards, although only the core standard for the latter. That said, without an HDMI 1.3 port the HD-E1 has to decode 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD or Dolby Digital Plus and output raw PCM.