But we’re more interested in picture quality and on that score it doesn’t disappoint. We slipped our Batman Begins HD DVD into the tray and were blown away by the richness, depth and sharpness of the picture.
Scenes of Bruce Wayne training early in the film reveal staggering detail reproduction – the textures and patterns of the surrounding mountain scenery are so razor-sharp that they’re almost tangible. But when the action moves to Gotham the player cranks things up a notch, handling the city’s harsh, grubby detail with the sort of clarity that’s sure to win over hi-def sceptics. These talents are made all the more impressive by the fact that most of the film is set in darkness, but the player’s naturally strong contrast levels still allow you to distinguish every scrap of detail.
Colour handling is equally impressive, displaying a deft touch with delicate tones like Katie Holmes’ skin but backing it up with bold and forceful reproduction of strong hues like neon signs. We’re also impressed by black level, which makes Batman’s suit seem solid and realistic without losing any of the detail within it.
DVD playback is impressive too, with The Simpsons Movie looking crisp, dense and extremely vivid when upscaled to 1080p – though ‘live action’ fare like our Region 2 Heat disc looks just as smooth and compelling. We couldn’t discern any flaws in the upscaling either.
As for sound, Batman Begins’ 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sounds detailed and dynamic through the analogue audio outputs, and just about pips the digital output to the post – though both are impressive. There are no grumbles about CD playback either, with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue sounding suitably smooth.
With outstanding hi-def performance and a superb set of features, the HD-EP35 scores yet more points for HD DVD in the battle with Blu-ray. Considering that it costs roughly the same as the cheapest Blu-ray players but offers more features, it really does represent great value for money.
But the question is, should you pay the extra cash for the HD-EP35 or opt for the cheaper EP30? Well, if you want a hi-def player with 5.1 analogue outputs that won’t seem outdated when Deep Colour and HD audio decoding becomes widespread, then the EP35 is for you. But if you’re not bothered about any of that then save yourself a few bob and buy the EP30.
Score in detail