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Toshiba's aggressive pricing strategy for its HD DVD hardware might be bad news for the Blu-ray camp and fellow HD DVD manufacturers, but it's great news for consumers. It means that you can pick up a fully featured hi-def deck like the HD-EP35 for under £300, a price tag which for many people will suddenly make hi-def seem a lot more accessible.
The HD-EP35 is the step-up version of the HD-EP30 player that we recently reviewed. It looks exactly the same, with the familiar black styling found on all of Toshiba's HD DVD decks, but the EP35 adds a few extra features, including support for 7.1-channel bitstream audio and Deep Colour, both of which are likely to have significant benefits for picture and sound performance (when the supporting technology catches up with it, that is).
Deep Colour increases the number of bits available for colour reproduction and is made possible the inclusion of an HDMI 1.3 output, which can support 10-, 12- and 16-bit colour depths (HDMI 1.2 could only support up to 8-bit). This increases the amount of shades at its disposal, leading to smoother gradients (eliminating the banding that can be seen on many 8-bit TVs) and a richer colour range.
What's more, its ability to output 7.1-channel audio as a bitstream from its HDMI output means you can use your amplifier to decode Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD soundtracks, as opposed to the player.
Of course, to take advantage of these features you'll need a TV with Deep Colour support (plus a currently non-existent Deep Colour disc), plus an amplifier with HDMI 1.3 input that can decode the HD audio formats - all of which are still thin on the ground.
And using external audio equipment to decode HD soundtracks means you won't be able to listen to new commentaries streamed over the web, as the relevant decoding and mixing can only be carried out inside the player. But despite these implications, it's good to know that Toshiba is supporting these features.
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