As with the HD-E1 before it, the HD-XE1 does a sterling job of upscaling standard definition DVDs. I loaded up the recent re-release of Blade Runner, which is a pretty good print and far cleaner than the original DVD. Blade Runner is a tough test for any player, since almost the entire film is shot in semi darkness, with rain and smoke adding to the grainy, almost dirty effect that Ridley Scott tried hard to create. On the HD-XE1 Blade Runner looked amazing, even in scenes dominated by shadow, detail was clearly resolved. Facial close ups also highlight the improvement over watching proceedings on a standard 576i player, while the bright neon signs that dominate the cityscape are sharp and intrusive. In fact, watching Blade Runner on the HD-XE1 reminded me of when I first compared my Criterion Collection LaserDisc of the film to a VHS copy – the improvement really is that stark. Now, if Scott would just hurry up and release the Final Cut version on HD DVD, this player can really do the movie justice!
Even with a poor source disc the HD-XE1 does a pretty good upscaling job. I fed the player my copy of The Big Blue, which is a fairly poor print, clearly taken from a dirty master and exhibiting some rather nasty MPEG noise in many scenes. Given, even the HD-XE1 couldn’t make this disc look great, but it still offered a significant improvement over non-upscaled playback.
The HD-XE1 has an estimated retail price of £599, but it can already be found on the street for under £500. By comparison, the Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player will still cost you close to £900 on the street, and you’re not getting HDMI 1.3 or an Ethernet port! So, it would seem that even Toshiba’s high-end HD DVD player offers great value for money when compared to the competition.
Of course the average consumer is probably still too scared to commit to either of the new formats and I can’t really blame them for that. For the early adopters though, Toshiba is making the decision to go HD now far less painful by offering high-end performance and cutting edge features at an affordable price.
The true home cinema enthusiast has probably been waiting for a player to arrive with HDMI 1.3, 1080p output and an Ethernet port. But what that early adopter probably didn’t expect was for all that to come at such an affordable price. The HD-XE1 is a highly featured HD DVD player that performs superbly. Yes there are a few issues with startup and load times, as well as a lack of responsiveness in menus, but those small niggles can’t take the shine off this player.
With standalone Blu-ray players still pushing £900, the HD-XE1 offers fantastic value for money and makes a pretty convincing argument for the HD DVD format. In fact, if you really want to cover all the bases right now, the best option could be to have both an HD-XE1 and a PlayStation 3 under your TV.
Score in detail