OK, let’s get the obvious bit out of the way first. Yes, there’s a format war. Yes, this Toshiba deck ‘only’ plays HD-DVD discs and most additional legacy discs, such as DVD and CD. And yes, that means if some movies only come out on Blu-ray, you are, if you’ll forgive the pun, stuffed.
But in fairness, the same restrictions apply to Blu-ray decks – including the mighty PS3 – and, to be equally fair, Toshiba’s HD-XE1 flagship works so well as a DVD player, it still makes financial sense to invest in one.
Even if HD-DVD does eventually go belly up – unlikely in the foreseeable future, but let’s just say ‘if’ – you’ll be left with a very tasty DVD player, plus a smattering of your favourite movies in hi-def. Not the end of the world, is it?
Built to last
Besides, the Toshiba is so transparently well-made, so obviously desirable, that we reckon it’s been put out to market as a ‘loss-leader’ to get popular attention.
If Denon built a DVD player to this standard, it’d charge much more: the Toshiba is lavishly built from thick chunks of metal, its remote is a backlit brick of equally dense materials, and everything about this deck’s functionality oozes quality.
The specification is equally comprehensive. The Toshiba was one of the first hi-def players to include Ethernet connectivity, and it has benefited throughout its life from a series of free, easy-to-install firmware upgrades.
For example, in its latest form, it can output 1080p at 24fps (earlier versions couldn’t), and it has vastly improved disc loading times. It’ll also upscale DVDs to 1080p quality if needed.
Hi-def audio on the way
As for sound, the current firmware spec won’t allow for high-definition audio to be sent via the ‘XE1’s HDMI audio out, but we’re assured that a suitable (and free) fix is in the works.
In the meantime, it’s simple enough to decode Dolby Digital Plus or Dolby TrueHD audio onboard the player, for output via its six-channel analogue out. Alternatively, you can stream HD audio in PCM quality via the player’s HDMI out, or listen to standard Dolby Digital/DTS sound from either optical or coaxial sockets.
And performance? Nothing short of exceptional. We can see many prospective buyers in the £600 DVD player market being swayed by the Toshiba’s charms: it competes very well with most price rivals on both picture and sound. The upscaled 1080p DVD image quality is as assured and stable as it ought to be, while the colour balance is exemplary.
And as for HD DVD – well, blimey. The Matrix has always been a home cinema stalwart: on HD DVD, and fed through the Toshiba, it’s an astounding experience, with sharpness and colours that are sure to impress.
The player’s onboard surround sound decoding does a great job with the film’s Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, too, so you get a sound experience that almost matches the majesty of the picture. When the full-house audio spec arrives – meaning that the player will be able to send the likes of Dolby TrueHD from its HDMI out – things will only get better.