At the beginning of the year I looked at Toshiba’s first European HD DVD player, the HD-E1. The HD-E1 proved to be a very impressive piece of kit, marketed at a bargain price, especially when compared to the competing Blu-ray products at the time. Unusually however, Toshiba chose to release its entry level player before its high end machine, but now I have the flagship HD-XE1 in my possession and it’s time to find out whether it’s worth the extra cash.
The HD-XE1 definitely looks more substantial than the HD-E1, but not as big and bulky as many high end DVD players out there. A nice touch is the HD DVD logo etched onto the top of the casing, although if you have the player sitting underneath your TV you probably won’t see this. As with the HD-E1 the only two buttons on show are the round power switch and the eject button to the right of the disc tray.
A pull down flap covers the bottom half of the fascia. This hides a set of basic playback controls along with a “Mode” switch that can be flicked between 1 and 2. The Mode switch determines whether the player outputs a high definition signal or downscales to standard definition. The switch should be left at position 2 if you’re outputting an HD signal through HDMI or component video, but if you choose to output SD through S-Video or composite, you’ll need to flight the switch to 1. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would buy a player like the HD-XE1 and output a downscaled image through S-Video or composite, but I guess the option is there if you happen to be insane.
Also hiding behind the front fascia flap are two USB ports, although like on the HD-E1 they’re labelled Extension Ports. Toshiba confirmed that these are most definitely standard USB ports and that they may well be labelled that way in future products. What I’d like to see though, is the ability to playback video from a USB memory key plugged into one of these ports. Considering that Toshiba’s standard DVD players support DivX, I would like to see the same support added to its HD DVD players, with the ability to stream content from USB devices.
Looking at the rear of the HD-XE1 makes its flagship status very clear indeed. There’s a plethora of gold plated connection options, far more connection options than the HD-E1 in fact. Obviously there’s both HDMI and component video outputs for digital and analogue high definition connection. There’s also an Ethernet port for connection to the Internet – this is a mandatory requirement for HD DVD players, so every player, no matter how basic, will have access to online content and be able to download firmware updates from the Web.