Impressive though it is, the picture doesn't seen as eye-poppingly sharp and striking as other HD DVD and Blu-ray decks we've tested recently. At times (particularly during dark scenes) the picture seems a touch on the soft side with some video noise evident, which might be explained by the conversion process explained earlier. It made us wonder how much better it could have been with pure 1080p/24 output, so we hooked up the 1080p-capable Toshiba HD-EP35 and the image does seem a little sharper (but admittedly the difference isn't huge).
Next we loaded up the Hulk DVD to check the deck's ‘near-HD' upscaling, and to be perfectly honest the 1080i picture quality almost matches its HD DVD performance - sure, you can see the drop in natural detail, but the images still possess an impressive boldness and clarity that'll inject life into your existing DVD collection. Also pleasing is the lack of compression noise.
Sonically, Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from the optical digital output are top-notch on a decent system, and PCM playback is even better. Ang Lee's big action set pieces are delivered with aplomb, with the player's flawless Dolby Digital Plus decoding allowing the effects, dialogue and bass to be reproduced in a crisp and dynamic fashion. A more accurate test of the player's audio chops is stereo playback from the analogue outputs, and thankfully it sounds clean and clear whether you're listening through your TV speakers or a home cinema amp.
If you want a hi-def player under £200 and you're not phased by the potential fate of HD DVD, then the SHD7001E's solid picture quality makes it a decent bet, although the lack of 1080p output means you won't get the full hi-def experience. You'd be better off seeking out the far superior (and currently cheaper) Toshiba HD-EP30, which boasts HDMI 1.3 and 1080p/24 output, or paying a little more for the future-proofed HD-EP35, which adds 5.1 analogue outputs and Deep Colour support.