The HD-XE1 also sports both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, while the HD-E1 only had optical. More impressive is the fact that the HD-XE1 has a built-in surround sound decoder with 5.1-channel analogue outputs. This means that you can hook the HD-XE1 up to any amplifier with six analogue inputs and get full surround sound from HD DVDs. There’s also stereo analogue audio output on offer, along with composite and S-video outputs. Finally there’s an RS232 control port.
While I’m on the subject of connections I should mention that the HDMI port on the HD-XE1 is version 1.3 compliant, unlike the HD-E1 and the recently announced HD-EP10, both of which still employ HDMI 1.2 ports. HDMI 1.3 brings with it several advantages for the high-end home cinema buff. First up is support for Deep Colour, which allows for much higher colour depth when watching high definition content. Of course you’ll need a compatible TV also with HDMI 1.3 and software that’s encoded with the higher colour depth to actually make use of this feature.
HDMI 1.3 also opens the door to the latest high-end audio CODECs like Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, although amplifiers that support the new CODECs are still pretty thin on the ground. Although the HD-XE1 has full support for lossless Dolby TrueHD, it still only has core support for DTS-HD. That said I’ve not come across any equipment that’s DTS-HD Master Audio compliant yet, not to mention any software.
Unlike the entry level HD-E1, the HD-XE1 can output the pinnacle of high definition – 1080p. Of course this player can also output 720p and 1080i, and if you really want to, 576p/576i and 480p/480i. The HD-XE1 doesn’t support 1080p 24 yet, but Toshiba informed me that this will be coming in a firmware update due in a couple of months. With the Ethernet connection, you can download and install firmware updates quickly and easily. However, if you don’t have your player connected to the Internet, Toshiba has indicated that customers will be able to request firmware updates on disc and install them that way. Of course, this could also be a good use for those USB ports at the front!
When Toshiba launched its first HD DVD player in the US, it received a fair amount of criticism concerning the startup time – with the HD-A1, you really could go and make a cup of coffee while you waited for it to startup. Thankfully that’s not the case now, but you will still be left twiddling your thumbs for a while when you fire up the HD-XE1. You’re looking at just under 40 seconds from the minute you press the power button, to when the player is ready to accept a disc. Then when you do load a disc, you’ll be treated with another 30 second wait before the movie starts playing. Of course in the great scheme of things, times like 40 seconds and 30 seconds are hardly an eternity, but when you’re sitting there, remote control in hand, waiting for things to get going, the wait feels far longer than it actually is.
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