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The earth-shattering events at CES have left the HD DVD camp reeling, but let's not get carried away with all this talk of the format being on its last legs. There's plenty of life left in it yet, with two major studios (Universal and Paramount) still on board, a sizeable catalogue of discs already launched with plenty still to come and most importantly, hardware prices are still significantly cheaper than Blu-ray.
Case in point: the Venturer SHD7001E. This is the first non Toshiba branded HD DVD deck to appear in the UK and at well under £200, it undercuts even the cheapest Blu-ray player by a fair margin, which could be enough to tempt HD fence-sitters to take the plunge. It's exclusively available from QVC, but thankfully you don't have to watch the channel as you can buy one from the channel's website. It comes with two free discs (Hulk and Troy) and an HDMI cable in the box, all of which makes this terrific value for money.
At first glance the Venturer looks remarkably similar to Toshiba's third generation HD DVD decks (HD-EP30 and EP35), with that classic sloping fascia, black/silver styling and an identical front information panel. The similarities are explained by the fact that the Venturer is manufactured by Alco, the company that also makes Toshiba's third generation decks.
You'll find HDMI, component and composite video outputs, optical digital and analogue stereo audio outputs and an Ethernet port, which makes it possible to update the deck's firmware and access bonus movie content online - something you can't do on any current Blu-ray player.
The Venturer differs from Toshiba's latest HD DVD players in that it lacks 1080p output. The maximum resolution available is 1080i, which means 1080p/24 HD DVD material can't be transferred from source to screen in its pure, native form. The player has to convert the signal to 1080i/60, which then has to be de-interlaced when it reaches your progressive hi-def display - two additional processing stages that could increase the chances of video artefacts being added to the picture.
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