Introduction and Connections
So, the HD-XE1 has been available for some time now on the UK market and has proven to be a very popular choice with forum members as their next generation player. We are still awaiting the outcome of the alleged High Definition disc war, so paying out any money on a format which may very well end up obsolete is certainly putting some people off buying. However, with the HD market growing all the time and with prices falling weekly, we would suggest that you may lose less than you think if you look at things from another angle.
Let’s just put the war to one side for a second and actually look at what most forum members want from their next DVD player. The DVD format is far from being dead at this moment in time; in fact many would suggest it is the HD formats which will struggle in the coming years. With such thinking you can also look at the higher end of DVD technology from brands such as Arcam and Denon to name just two, both producing upscaling decks for the image conscious. These higher end players all use the latest in scaling technology to get the very best from the Standard definition platters, with prices and build quality to match. It could be argued that these machines also offer multi region playback, something the HD-EX1 has yet to master, but then ask yourself how many forum members actually import DVDs these days. We would argue not as many as the popular misconception would suggest. So if we accept these facts as being accurate, and some of you may not feel we have thought this out properly but we believe multi region playback is not such a big deal these days, let’s look at this HD DVD player from a slightly different perspective.
The HD-EX1 is Toshiba’s top of the range HD DVD player, offering the type of technology you would expect and a build quality to die for. Let’s look at the build quality first. The unit is a slim line design which takes its looks from the current Toshiba disc player range, sporting a black case which feels substantial. The unit measures 345mm x 420mm x 90mm (L x W x H) and weighs in at just over 4kg, with all the video connections on the rear and a minimalist front panel look. There is a drop down cover which hides play, stop, skip and fast forward buttons plus two USB ports for future expansion. Round the back we have one HDMI port, one component, s-video and composite video, 5.1 analogue output, 2.0 analogue, coaxial and digital audio outputs, a 232 jack and an Ethernet connector. So, all in all the HD-XE1 has every connection you could possibly need at this moment in time. Another feature around the back is the fan vent - make sure you do not block this area when rack mounting.
Looking at the player's technology, this is first and foremost an HD DVD player offering 1080p/60hz playback at it’s highest setting. The player also outputs from 480p/60, 576p/50, 720p/60 and 1080i/60 and is also rumoured to be receiving a 1080p/24 update in the very near future via firmware. The XE1 is also an advanced upscaling player, taking advantage of the Silicon Optixs Reon-VX chipset which promises images correctly scaled with no noticeable side effects, in the same way that most of the markets higher end DVD only players do. Silicon Optix call this HQV (Hollywood Quality Video). This is one of the areas in which our new perspective comes to the fore. The XE1 also offers playback of CD-R, CD-RW and DVD-R discs as well as standard CD. So all in all this looks like being a very versatile machine.
When you power up the player you will immediately notice the fan noise and the length of time the machine actually takes to boot up, it averages 42 seconds from the 3 power ups I timed. The fan noise while noticeable straight away, actually diminishes in volume once powered up and is certainly a lot quieter than my Reference HD-XA1 US machine. The load time for boot up and disc reading is also much quicker than my US machine, something I noticed straight away. It is nowhere near as quick as a normal DVD deck, but when you take into account just how advanced the processing components are inside, you soon forgive this minor irritation. If I am being completely fair, the HD-XE1 is only just a little slower than my PS3 at load up.
Configuring the player out of the box is fairly straight forward for most end users and the menus have an intuitive layout. The only thing I couldn’t get to work on my XE1 review sample was the internet connection for firmware updates. Toshiba claim the player is plug and play in this respect but I had endless trouble trying to get it to pair with my BT Home Hub and eventually gave up. That said, I am sure that if I had persevered I would have managed to get it running eventually.
I decided to connect the player using the HDMI V1.3 port to my Reference Yamaha RX-V2700 receiver using a DVI Gear HDMI cable. The video which was on pass through from the receiver was then connected via a DVI Gear HDMI lead to an Epson TW1000 projector which was calibrated for the player and shooting a 7.5ft image. Audio was handled by the Yamaha acting as a processor feeding my Reference Mackie HR624 active speakers and two BK Monolith subwoofers. The audio chain was equalised by the Audyssey MultEQ Pro unit.
So once I was chilled out with some music it was time to test the video capabilities with standard DVD fare. This is where the Toshiba shines in my opinion.
Good Old DVD
Starting with the Japanese NTSC copy of “True Lies” gave me a bit of a shock. The image being upscaled to 1080p was a revelation in what DVD is capable of at its very best. Colours were rich and well saturated with a black level that was solid, yet revealed a good amount of shadow detail. There was a lack of any visible jaggies on solid lines and video noise was also minimal. The image looked sharp with only slight edge enhancement which was a side effect of the disc transfer and not player produced. Running some benchmark video tests in NTSC confirmed what I had witnessed and the player easily coped with 3:2 pulldown and there was a distinct lack of any added artefacts from the processing. So far so good, my US 1st generation XA1 also produces the same results so I was very happy with the XE1’s NTSC performance, but how would it handle Pal DVD.
The answer to the Pal question is fairly straight forward, this Toshiba does a sterling job of upscaling images from UK DVDs. Using chapter 15 of the now standard Gladiator test (yes I am sad and have it on Regions 1&2), produced the end results as desired. There were no issue with jaggies or image loss during fast moving scenes; colours were crisp and natural with a solid black performance. Running benchmark test again confirmed that the Silicon Optix chip was providing the magic as expected. Testing video based material was also not an issue for the Toshiba with it locking on and detecting this correctly first time out.
So, with the testing out of the way and all the difficult DVDs in my collection thrown at the Toshiba and displayed correctly, I am confident when I say that this machine, as an upscaling DVD player can compete with some of the best out there, such as the Denon 2930 which I also have on review at the moment. In fact I found it hard to choose between the two machines in terms of DVD video playback to be honest. The Denon scores higher on audio (two channel) playback and as a dedicated DVD deck it does the job quickly and efficiently, however the Toshiba in upscaling terms is in my opinion an equal.
And this is the point we are trying to make here, by buying the Toshiba XE1 now even with the HD disc battle in full flow is not a wasted exercise should the HD DVD format die. What you have here is a brilliant upscaling DVD player with the added bonus that it plays HD DVD discs, but how well does it do that?
HD DVD Playback
HD DVD playback on the XE1 is a revelation in detail and depth. Using my now standard “King Kong” reference disc the performance in high definition is simply stunning. The clarity on offer with next generation video certainly becomes apparent when using a 1080p projector and a 7.5ft screen, detail drips off the frame with colours so rich and vivid you could eat them. There are no signs of any video artefacts, instead when Kong is atop the Empire State Building, the streets of Manhattan extend into the background with the kind of detail and depth that could fool you into thinking you are in the frame with him. The impact of HD video upon the home cinema community should never be under estimated, you soon disappear into the movie leaving the outside world behind, engrossed in a three dimensional wonderland of colour and depth. Audio is also a strong point with the XE1 with every format catered for except DTS Master Audio, for the time being anyway. The lower compression of Dolby True HD is a revelation to hear and brings home the full power of those blockbuster soundtracks at last.
HD DVD delivers the goods (and to be fair, what I have seen from Blu-ray on the PS3 and Pioneer LX70 is exactly the same), so why sit on the fence? Waiting for a winner may seem like a wise move, but when you get a truly exception High definition performance, partnered by a stunningly good upscaled DVD image from the Toshiba, you can’t lose right?
In my final thoughts I will raise a few issues that I experienced with the Toshiba HD-XE1. First of all is the CD playback using the coax or digital connection. My sample player displayed a problem where it dropped the audio on a number of occasions, almost like it lost the sync from the player. This didn’t happen when connected via the analogue output. The other problem was that the player occasional froze during playback of HD DVD, meaning I had to re-boot to resolve the issue. I am not sure if this was a firmware problem or that I was just over using and abusing our review sample. It only happened a couple of times and while annoying you have to remember that we are taking about brand new technology and from time to time issues will become apparent. However, the one thing that does go in the players favour is the ability to update the firmware on a regular basis, and with the likelihood that we will see 1080p/24 and possibly audio bitstream output for TrueHD and DTS Master Audio soon, means the XE1 is future proof for now.
And using the argument that you are buying an upscaling DVD player to rival some of the best out there, with the benefit that it also plays HD DVD is a valid point. Unless, like me, you have hundreds of region 1 DVDs and multi region is a must. That is maybe one small stumbling block to our argument here, but hopefully Toshiba will realise that by giving dealers a region hack, they will open the floodgates for people wanting a classy upscaler, with built in HD playback.
The Toshiba HD-XE1 is the finest HD DVD player out there bar none at this moment in time, it also performs above its station when it comes to standard DVD playback and in my eyes at least, this is the Reference point so far for HD DVD.
- Stunningly good DVD upscaler
- Superb HD DVD performance
- Firmware upgrades available
- Excellent audio quality
- Ethernet connection
- Build Quality
- Possible upgrades for DTS HDMA, Bitstream out and 1080/24 playback.
- Slow boot up time.
- Audio dropouts on CD playback using coaxial.
- Region 2 Locked for DVD.
- Occasional software freeze.
- Fan noise may be too loud for some.
- No DTS HDMA yet.
- No Bitstream out for DolbyHD yet.
- No 1080/24 yet.
Updated: December 2007; There is now an available firmware upgrade for the HD-XE1 which brings bitstream output and 24fps playback to the player. Visit Toshiba's website for more details
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