You get support for all three HD video codecs – MPEG2, VC1 and AVC (H.264). The latter is particularly useful considering that there are already HD camcorders appearing that record in AVC format and write to DVD discs. The first generation of HD DVD movies have generally favoured the VC1 codec, which is far more efficient than the older MPEG2 codec used by much of the first generation Blu-ray releases.
HD DVD playback proved to be awesome, especially when coupled with a 1,920 x 1,080 panel. The King Kong disc that proved to be so impressive when I tested the Xbox 360 HD DVD drive pulled out even more stops when coupled with the HD-E1. The clarity and sharpness of the image was, quite simply stunning – again highlighting the limitations of even the best CGI effects when viewed in HD. The depth of field during the jungle scenes was also spectacular, while the vivid and rich colours just drew me into the scene.
But surprisingly it wasn’t the HD DVD playback that impressed me the most with this player, it was the standard DVD playback. The HD-E1 will upscale standard DVDs to 1080i and the results are very, very impressive – so much so that Benny actually thought I was watching an HD DVD, when in fact I was watching a standard DVD. Of course when I switched to an HD DVD disc he could clearly tell the difference, but what this player can do with your existing DVD collection is nothing short of staggering.
Obviously the quality of the upscaled image is dependant on the source disc, but I found that even poor quality DVDs looked considerably better when played back on the HD-E1. Feed this player a good print though, and the result is very special. I fired up the three disc Special Edition of Black Hawk Down and was completely blown away by the resultant images. Watching the helicopters fly over the coast on their way to the doomed incursion looked breathtaking – hopefully this will make up for the fact that the high definition release of Black Hawk Down is Blu-ray bound.
On close inspection you can see the odd jaggie on the upscaled DVD content, especially when you’re panning across uneven surfaces. But what’s really impressive is how good facial close-ups look, it really does appear as if there is more detail there, even though I know it’s just very clever interpolation.
Like the Xbox 360 drive, the HD-E1 will happily play HD DVD discs from both Region 1 and 2, but it resolutely refused to play anything but Region 2 DVDs. I’m sure that a hack will appear on the Net at some point to enable multi-Region support on the HD-E1 though, but of course Toshiba could never support such a feature officially!