First let me say that the upscaling produced by the XD-E500 is pretty damn good. Hooking the player up to my Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX5090 gave the XD-E500 the best possible platform on which to demonstrate its upscaling talents, and although the results are still a fair way behind a good, native high definition source, there’s a significant improvement over a standard definition DVD feed.
I slotted my Black Hawk Down Special Edition DVD into the XD-E500 and set the output to 1080p over HDMI. What I was greeted with was a very crisp and clean picture. There was surprisingly little evidence of jaggies, indicating that the XDE sharpness enhancements were doing their job. The level of detail in facial close ups was also impressive, as was the definition of debris and smoke during explosions and fire fights. XDE’s improved contrast processing also shone through in the film’s night time scenes, giving proceedings the nervous, claustrophobic feel that Ridley Scott was shooting for.
However, direct comparisons to the Black Hawk Down Blu-ray hammered home the point that no matter how good a player is at upscaling, it can only work with the detail that’s present in the original source. The Blu-ray (played via a PlayStation 3), simply offered a more cinematic picture, with detail that simply wasn’t present when watching the DVD on the XD-E500. It’s also worth noting that Black Hawk Down isn’t even a particularly good Blu-ray print, encoded using MPEG 2 and a very modest bit rate.
Turning to something far more colourful like Spider-Man, and the XD-E500 tries to work its magic, but manages mixed results. The images definitely appear sharper than a non-upscaled source, but colours take on a slightly oversaturated look – I know that the film is supposed to have a comic book feel, but the XD-E500 takes things a little too far. And of course, compared to the natively high definition Blu-ray, the XD-E500’s image looks a generation behind – which of course, it is.
More worrying though, is that the XD-E500 just doesn’t offer enough over existing upscaling products, including it’s own players. Add to that the fact that a Blu-ray player, or even Toshiba’s old HD DVD players will also upscale DVDs very convincingly, and the argument for a £130 DVD device starts to look shaky. And when you consider that you can buy a standalone Blu-ray deck for as little as £160 online, I can’t see why anyone would want to buy hardware based on outgoing media.
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