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It was just a little over a year ago that Toshiba introduced the world to their HD DVD format and did so at prices well below what was expected. Indeed the industry was so sure that Blu-ray was the only HD format worth waiting on that nearly everyone had given up on HD DVD, or even considered it merely a flash in the pan. However with a specification that was complete from launch, interactive features that actually worked and a price almost half that in terms of hardware when compared to Blu-ray, HD DVD at that early stage looked like it was not about to give up easily.
With most of the Blu-ray camp still on their first generation players and confusion reining over profile 1.1 and the actual specifications for the ‘other’ HD format, Toshiba are introducing their third generation HD DVD players to the UK market at stunningly low prices.
So putting the format war to bed for the time being what we have for review here is the HD-EP30, a £249 standalone HD DVD player which promises most of the formats most important features, plus at the time of writing two free HD DVD discs in the box with a further five to be claimed after purchase. That offer is simply a stunning example of how to introduce a new audience to High Definition video discs and when you calculate the cost of those seven free movies you are talking about a saving of over £140 at least! So kudos to Toshiba for the clever marketing but can this player actually be up to much? They must have cut corners surely?
The HD-EP30 follows the slim line design of the companies’ previous UK machines and when sat next to my first generation HD-XA1 which I imported from the states, it looks positively tiny! It has a sleek black finish with the disc tray on the right hand side and a small blue display to the left showing chapter numbers and resolution settings. It is however not very heavy and does have that cheap feel to its construction, but looking closely it appears to be rigid enough in design and as it’s not an audiophile product there is no real need to employ a heavy power supply. The player measures 430(mm) x 340(mm) x 60(mm) (W x D x H) and weighs in at just 3.3Kg.
On the front facia from left to right we have the power button that lights up blue when in use and red when in standby. Next to this is the display which gives you chapter and time information as well as resolution used, this can be dimmed or switched off completely. Next is a row of the most used feature buttons, including play, chapter skip, stop, pause and eject before you come to the disc tray itself which when closed has an HD DVD logo on the front. Overall the design is in keeping with Toshibas range of HD and SD players.
Moving around the back we have the outputs which include one HDMI slot, one component, one composite and two audio RCA jacks as well as the mandatory Ethernet connection and digital optical slot for audio. Also on the rear plate is a fan vent and the power supply. It may appear quite barren around the back, but as this is a budget machine, you have everything you could possibly need to connect the player to your HD panel or AV Receiver.Next we have the remote control supplied with the player and in my opinion it is a vast improvement on that supplied with the HD-XE1. I always had issues with the backlight system used on that remote and when watching movies or even just talking in the same room would cause it to start flashing away to what you are doing. Because of this the battery life was also restricted as even when not in the room, the slightest sound would cause the remote to use power to light up. Another gripe was the response time from pressing a button to the player carrying out the task you requested, rather like asking a teenager to do anything! However, this new remote is far better if a little light and on the rather plastic side. Gone is the annoying backlight – indeed there is no backlight – however don’t let that put you off as the layout is intuitive to use even in the pitch black. The layout is simple and everything needed to watch movies is included. To set the players many functions you simply select set up and follow the on screen menus.
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Setting up the player is fairly easy using the menu system to set your picture selections and a new feature on the EP30 is the inclusion of 1080/24fps playback for your HD DVD movies. If you have a compatible display device then it is recommended to use this option. If you have a new AV Receiver which accepts bitstream for the HD audio you are going to be a little disappointed that the EP30 does not allow you to do this. Instead the player will decode Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus inside the machine and allow this to be passed to your AV Receiver via HDMI, so you can still enjoy HD audio from Dolby, but sadly DTS HD & Master Audio is still ‘core’ only (at 1.5mbps). So you should really think about what your Receiver will accept and whether you will miss out on the new HD audio formats before deciding on the EP30. (This player’s big brother the EP35 which will be reviewed here soon should allow bitstream audio out over HDMI, so it’s not all doom and gloom). You can also use the two RCA analogue outputs on the EP30 to get a downmix of the audio on disc.
Moving on and we find the setting controls for using the Ethernet connection to allow us to update the firmware online and also experiment with new HD DVD discs which feature online content. This was straight forward enough for me to get going after following the instructions provided and the player indicated it already had the latest firmware loaded. If you have to download the latest firmware on buying this player then it usually takes about 40 minutes using a broadband connection to complete and make sure you do not switch off the player or the connection otherwise you may find that the EP30 will not work again, so take care. Toshiba or your dealer will be able to provide you with a firmware CD disc to use if you do not have an internet connection or are wary enough not to trust a download procedure.
So once we were set up it was time to put the HD-EP30 through its paces with music and movie content. This brings me on to my only real gripe with HD DVD technology and that is the load up times of discs and indeed the machines themselves from standby. Unlike DVD and CDs which load within seconds and start playing, HD DVD discs can take up to 50 seconds to load correctly on some machines and indeed from standby my HD-XA1 takes a staggering 65 seconds to switch itself on! So does the HD-EP30 continue that trend? Well, to be honest it is not as bad as the first or second generation machines and will come out of standby in around 42 seconds. I also tried a number of various HD DVD discs whilst timing them and the average load time appeared to be about 36 seconds. This might sound like a long time, but if you actually compare it to normal DVD players and discs the difference in load up is only about 19 seconds. So the HD-EP30 still takes a little while to get going, but it is certainly faster than previous generations. Let’s hope that by the time we get to fourth generation we can have load times equal to DVD.
Video Processing Tests
The HD-EP30 employs video processing from Anchor Bay Technologies which is under the VRS name. We were so impressed with the HD-XE1 and it’s Silicon Optix processing that we based our entire review on that models upscaling and deinterlacing abilities. Can the HD-EP30 compete with its VRS processing? Well in Demo clips on DVD I normally use the scaling to 1080P was good quality but there were some slight issues with jaggies and digital noise. So we run the following tests from the HQV Benchmark HD DVD and Pal DVD, here are the results.
|Tests||Possible Score||Test Score|
|HD Noise Reduction|
|Noise is problem that continues to affect high-definition
video sources. While analogue noise is typically introduced during the
duplication and editing process, noise in HD sources represents film grain
and CCD noise introduced at the time of recording (particularly in the
darker areas of a scene), noise introduced during the compositing and
post-processing stage due to color and exposure correction, as well as
during the compression process itself. Noise affects all HD sources.
The challenge is removing the spurious noise while preserving the detail in the scene.
|25 - Noise reduced without loss of detail.
15 - Noise reduced somewhat and detail is preserved.
7 - Level of noise reduced but detail is lost.
0 - There is no apparent reduction in noise and/or image detail is significantly reduced or artifacts are introduced.
|15 - Noise reduced somewhat and detail is preserved.|
|HD Video Resolution Loss|
|The odd and even fields of interlaced video are recorded
a fraction of a second apart (1/60s or 1/50s). This presents several problems
to the video processor. When the video contains non-moving objects, it
is possible to recover the full resolution of the original scene. On the
other hand, if the video contains moving objects, resolution is necessarily
lost; it was lost at the time of the recording.
A good video processor needs to distinguish between objects in motion or objects that are not in motion. Doing so ensures that all of the resolution is preserved. If a video processor assumes that a non-moving object is, in fact, moving, as much as half of the useful resolution is being discarded. Likewise, if a video processor assumes that a moving object is, in fact, not moving, then 'feathering artifacts' can be seen.
|20 - You can see fine horizontal black and white lines
in the corner boxes.
0 - The boxes in the corners strobe - half resolution processing
|0 - The boxes in the corners strobe - half resolution processing|
|Video Reconstruction test|
|In these tests, we will evaluate the quality of the
video reconstruction. Recall that with interlaced video, resolution in
moving areas has been lost at the time of the recording. In order to replace
the missing data, most video processors compute the average of the pixel
above and below the area of interest. This loss of resolution causes jagged
edges to form, most prominent on diagonal lines. High-quality video processors
can reduce the appearance of these 'jaggies' by implementing more advanced
reconstruction methods such as a diagonal interpolation (also called diagonal
The only method for dealing with motion is to throw away some of the pixels that would cause feathering. So, the difference between a good and bad video processor is how selective it is at throwing away data. If you only throw away the pixels that would cause feathering, you maximize as much detail as possible.
When you throw away data, you must replace it by averaging pixels above and below the area. The loss of resolution causes jagged edges to form, most prominently on diagonal lines. High-quality de-interlacers can reduce the appearance of these 'jaggies' through intelligent reconstruction methods. The reconstruction process get increasingly difficult as the angle becomes more oblique.
|20 - All three bars have smooth edges at all times.
10 - The top two bars have smooth edges, but the bottom bar does not.
5 - Only the top bar has smooth edges.
0 - None of the bars have smooth edges.
|5 - Only the top bar has smooth edges.|
|Film Resolution Loss test|
|1080p content exists today. In fact, the majority
of today's HD content on CBS and NBC is 1080p. Virtually all major Hollywood
films and the majority of 'scripted' television shows broadcast over 1080i60
are originally recorded as 1080p24 (1080p resolution, 24 frames per second).
Content that has been recorded at 1080p24 is converted into 1080i60 for broadcast purposes via a telecine process. A good video processor should be able to decode the original 1080p data by recognizing the '3:2 cadence' of the repeated fields generated in this process. This process is known as 'inverse telecine.' With support for this feature, 100 percent of the pixels from the original 1080p source can be seen. Without proper inverse telecine, the video processor discards half of the resolution.
This test is relevant for testing Blu-ray and HD DVD players for any content that is 1080i and was sourced from a 1080p master that underwent a telecine process. This includes some concert footage, documentaries, films, and many television shows. For example Discovery's China Revealed available on Blu-ray is a combination of 1080i video and 1080i 3:2 content.
|25 -You can see fine horizontal black and white lines
in the corner boxes.
0 - The boxes in the corners strobe, or the edges of the boxes have vertical bands - half resolution processing.
|0 - The boxes in the corners strobe, or the edges of the boxes have vertical bands - half resolution processing|
|Film Resolution Loss Test (Stadium)|
|This test is a follow up test to the film resolution
loss test. If you failed the previous test, you will fail this test. Pay
attention to the stands. Any moiré or flickering in the upper stands
indicates half resolution processing. This test provides you with a real
world video that can show you how improper video processing can affect
an active image.
The stands in this stadium are very high in detail and a good processor, player or display should be able to reconstruct the intended 1080p image with all of its intended resolution properly.
|10 - No moiré pattern or flickering in the upper
0 - Moiré pattern or flickering in the upper stands.
|0 - Moiré pattern or flickering in the upper stands.|
Total Score for HD Tests out of a possible 100 = 20.
Pal DVD Video Processing Tests
|Tests||Possible Score||Test Score|
|Colour Bar / Vertical Detail|
|This test verifies how good the processor is at identifying motion||10 - Image detail Is seen at marker '1', no flicker
5 - Minor flickering is seen at marker '1'
0 - No Image detail Is seen at marker '1'
|5 - Minor flickering is seen at marker '1'|
|Jaggies Pattern 1|
|This test helps to verify how good the processor is at handling motion||5 - Jaggies are not seen until the bar enters the green
area; Logo is free of Jaggies
3 - Jaggies are not seen until the bar enters the yellow area; Logo is free of Jaggies
0 - No Image detail Is seen at marker '1'
|3 - Jaggies are not seen until the bar enters the yellow area; Logo is free of Jaggies|
|Jaggies Pattern 2|
|This test helps to verify how good the processor is at handling motion||5 - All three bars have smooth edges at all times.
3 - The top two bars have smooth edges, but the bottom bar does not.
1 - Only the top bar has smooth edges.
0 - none of the bars have smooth edges
|1 - Only the top bar has smooth edges.|
|This test helps to verify how good the processor is at handling motion||10 - Jagged edges are not seen In the red and white
bars, and the flag exhibits fine detail.
5 - Some Jagged edges are seen, and/or the background appears soft.
0 - Jagged edges are quite apparent along edges of the bars
|5 - Some Jagged edges are seen, and/or the background appears soft.|
|A high-quality detail enhancement algorithm is a mathematical restoration of data that is lost during the recording and mastering process.||10 - The bricks on the white building exhibit fine detail
and sharp outlines, resulting In a crisp, realistic Image.
5 - There Is moderate Image detail within the bricks on the white building and the bricks' outline appears slightly blurred.
0 - The bricks on the white building appear to be flat and the bricks' outline Is blurred
|5 - There Is moderate Image detail within the bricks on the white building and the bricks' outline appears slightly blurred.|
|Noise, or film grain, is inadvertently added to a program through capture, duplication and editing and compression process.||10 -level of noise Is noticeably reduced without loss
of Image detail.
5 - Level of noise Is reduced somewhat when noise reduction Is turned on, or Image detail Is reduced.
0 - No apparent reduction In noise and/or Image detail Is significantly reduced, or the TV or monitor has no noise reduction feature
|5 - Level of noise Is reduced somewhat when noise reduction Is turned on, or Image detail Is reduced.|
|Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction|
|In this test, noise has been added to a video of a roller coaster. A temporal filter that is does not distinguish the movement of the roller coaster from random noise will produce an echo or ghost-image of the moving roller coaster.||10 - The sky exhibits little or no noise, Image detail
Is sharp and crisp, and no motion trails or smearing artefacts are observed.
5 - Some noise Is evident In the sky and/or the Image appears soft; the roller coaster appears to be slightly blurred.
0 - Noise Is clearly present In the sky and/or motion trails are visible behind the roller coaster as It moves through the scene.
|5 - Some noise Is evident In the sky and/or the Image appears soft; the roller coaster appears to be slightly blurred.|
|Telecine A&B Detection|
|Hollywood motion pictures are shot, edited and screened with a picture refresh rate of 24 frames per second (fps), progressive scan (24p). To convert these films for DVD or 1080i HDTV, a conversion process is used to find a common mathematical relationship between the original program (24fps) and the broadcast format (25fps or 50 fields). One common technique to deal with this issue is Telecine A. With Telecine A the film is digitized at 24 fps (i.e. 2:2 film) and then played back 4.166% faster (25/24 = 1.04166). A less common technique is Telecine B where you take 24fps material and add a field at the 12th and 24th film frame.||20 - No flickering, Jaggies, or loss of resolution with
telecine A & B.
15 - No flickering, Jaggies, or loss of resolution with telecine A.
0 - Flickering and Jaggies apparent with telecine A & B.
|15 - No flickering, Jaggies, or loss of resolution with telecine A.|
Total score out of a possible 80 = 44
We approached Toshiba back in November when we received the EP30 to try and find out why the video processing was not as good as expected. To date (January 2008) we have had no reply from the company as to what fixes can be issued to solve the slight issues we have seen with our tests. As you can see in the tests above there are issues with motion control on fast moving objects which results in artefacts being seen on screen. The issue of half resolution playback on 1080 material is also a surprise.
Given what we have found here there are ways to help the EP30 improve its video performance. The most obvious would be to allow your display to handle some of the work load and this certainly worked with the Mitsubishi HC6000 I was reviewing at the same time. Most of the issues disappeared allowing the video quality to improve greatly. The other fix will have to come from Toshiba themselves in the form of a firmware update, they have done this in the past and there should be no reason for them not to include one for the EP30.
Another thing I should point out is that these issues do look worse on a larger screen. We were using the EP30 to provide the source to our projectors using a seven foot screen, when I added the EP30 to a 46” Toshiba LCD TV it was generally more difficult to notice the issues straight away, although they were still present. Using the display to do the processing improved things greatly.
With these issues and no quick firmware fix, it means that the EP30 fails to reach the all rounder tag that the XE-1 rightly deserves. However if you have a quality display then it’s not going to be a major issue as the problems should not be seen. It’s still a disappointment that not everything in this player is perfect, but then again corners need to be cut to get the player to the budget price point.
Using the HC6000 projector in our review room we set about watching some tried and tested material to see just how good the EP30 can be.
First up was chapter 45 from King Kong on HD DVD, a difficult scene with bright street lights and dark surroundings. Detail on offer was as expected with no signs of softness and a general three dimensional depth to proceedings. Solid lines were strong with only the occasional stepping artefacts seen in fast moving areas. Colours looked natural without any signs of bleeding present and the overall image looked stable and solid. Moving onto daylight scenes within the movie again provided no real issues with picture performance, only really difficult action scenes gave an indication that the image looked slightly softer than it should, but at no point did it break up and produce any artefacts. The 24fps playback is a plus point here and certainly helps with smooth panning shots on HD material. Just remember to switch it off when going back to DVD playback.
Overall the EP30 managed a good HD playback which would please most users looking for a budget machine. Just make sure that your display helps as much as possible with the video processing.
Moving on to DVD playback was a slightly different kettle of fish. Feeding a 576i signal to our projector provided the best image as it allowed the projector to do most of the work and the HC6000 has incredibly good processing which helped provide a clean and detailed image. Switching to 1080 upscaling added in a few issues with jaggies and motion blur in fast moving action scenes, such as Chapter 15 of Gladiator. There were also issues with fine detail strobing and judder, so I was forced to go back to using the projectors video processing. The conclusion would have to be allowing your display to handle any picture processing until such a time that Toshiba fixes the slight issues with its Anchor bay chipset used here. By switching to your displays VP you should manage to negate any image artefacts.
As a budget machine you could be forgiven for thinking that the EP30 would be pretty poor with straight two channel CD playback, but to be honest it is not really that bad a performer. Obviously you don’t get any of the finesse of a dedicated CD deck, but it will match the budget standalone offerings in terms of sound field and detail, only the bottom end struggles from a pondering bass performance.
Moving onto Multi-channel and the EP30 manages to provide a wide and expansive sound field and has onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS core playback. Unfortunately the player does not allow bitstream output from the HDMI socket so if you have a new AV Receiver or Amp that can decode the HD sound formats, you maybe better looking at the EP30’s big brother, the EP35. If you have a receiver with HDMI v.1 or above you can feed it with LPCM with the player providing the decoding. I didn’t find any issues with audio playback and in terms of performance the EP30 was capable of proving a strong multi channel sound stage that would please even the most stringent of users.
Toshiba HD-EP30 HD DVD Player Review
What stops this HD DVD player from attaining top marks is its poor video processing and a lacking DVD performance which means it is not the all round machine that the advertising suggests. The build quality is to be expected from such a budget positioned machine, its light weight and plastic feel lets you know this is made to cost. The remote control is basic and allows the main features to be accessed without any issues. But you can’t help noticing that you get what you pay for here. We are pleased that Toshiba is pushing the price of HD viewing to ever lower price points, but you also have to realise that performance will begin to suffer as it does here with some video processing troubles. The lack of feedback from Toshiba at the problems we have highlighted is a little frustrating but we are confident that they should eventually provide a firmware update, if the processing chip allows this to happen. We don’t see any issues at this time that the chip won’t be capable of having new algorithms added to help with its poor video upscaling performance. We would again stress that using a good quality display will negate any picture issues on playback performance
There are a number of cheap HD DVD players now available in the market place and many have been updated by firmware to allow things such as 24fps playback and bitstream output for audio. The XE-1 remains the ultimate HD DVD playback device and if your budget stretches we would probably at this stage advise that you track down that machine or the EP30s bigger brother and spend just a few more pounds for improved build quality and added future proof performance.
With the market still in a state of shock over Warner’s decision to drop HD DVD in May this year, you may think that buying an HD DVD player could be a waste of time, however with prices dropping on the hardware and around 800 films available worldwide and without regional coding, HD DVD is still a worthy format to have at home and will be for many years to come. With a good quantity of installed machines around the globe the format is not going to disappear tomorrow.
The EP30 could have been a real budget star, but at this moment in time with poor DVD upscaling and video processing we just cannot recommend it as an all rounder. We have also seen scores of issues with video lock up on our machine as well as end users reporting the same thing on the forums. If you want the best of HD DVD performance and a quality build then we would recommend you search out the XE-1. This is a future proofed machine and gives you everything the format has to offer. Sadly the EP30 misses out on the recommended badge award as it doesn’t do everything as perfectly as it should. However if you are after just a cheap and cheerful HD performer and can get around the video processing issues by using a quality display, then your money does go a long way, especially with those free movies thrown into the mix. Sadly the EP30 is in our minds a missed opportunity at this point for all round greatness, but if you are prepared for cheap build quality and good HD playback, mixed with a few issues that may or may not be fixed by firmware and your using a quality display, you probably cannot argue with the sub £200 price point. Cheap HD is here, just not quite as perfect as it could be, but the fact is, it may still get better!
- Cheap price
- 24fps playback
- Slow boot up time.
- Poor Video Processing
- Region 2 Locked for DVD.
- Occasional software freeze.
- No bitstream output for the Latest HD audio
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