The battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD will be won and lost in two areas: content and hardware prices. So far, both camps are doing pretty well on the former, but as for the latter HD DVD is winning hands down because the players still offer the best price-to-features ratio. The HD-EP30, the cheapest of Toshiba's two third-generation players, continues this trend with a feature list you'd expect from an HD deck costing twice as much.
Toshiba has tweaked the design of the first two generations and come up with a deck that looks even slimmer and sleeker than its predecessors. It's another all-black affair, but this time the buttons aren't hidden under a flap and the disc tray has been moved over to the right. It's a great look - understated yet achingly desirable.
Rear connections include all the basics, such as HDMI, component video, optical digital audio and composite video outputs. The HDMI output is version 1.3, but it can't output high bitrate audio and doesn't support the Deep Color feature specified in the v1.3 spec - both of these are reserved for the more expensive HD-EP35, which also adds 5.1-channel analogue audio outputs. However, the HD-EP30's HDMI does support the Regza Link feature, which allows you to control the player and a compatible TV using just one remote (courtesy of HDMI-CEC technology).
The EP30 not only supports 1080p but also 1080/24p output, which delivers 1080p content at 24 frames per second - the rate at which most movies are filmed and stored on HD DVD discs - so as to deliver a more cinema-like experience. The deck also offers 1080p output at 50Hz, plus 1080i and 720p output, and it'll upscale DVDs to any of these resolutions.
Unlike the majority of current Blu-ray players that now boast an out-of-date spec (thanks to the introduction of Profile 1.1 in November), HD DVD has been fully formed since day one, which means you'll find an Ethernet port on the HD-EP30 so you can hook it up to your broadband router. Once configured, you can use the HD-EP30 to access online content from the web (found on discs like Blood Diamond) as well as download firmware updates.