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Toshiba HD-E1 review

The first HD-DVD player we tested, this high-definition disc spinner is now showing its age…

Toshiba’s HD-DVD range has recently been given a revamp, with two new budget decks, the HD-EP30 and EP35, coming in to bolster the ranks. That means the HD-E1, the oldest model in the current range, is increasingly outdated – and indeed, Toshiba plans to allow it a natural death in due course.

Still, in most ways, the HD-E1 is worth a look. It’s not flawless, as we’ll cover in a moment, but this is still a decent HD-DVD player (and a very good DVD player, it shouldn’t be forgotten) that costs under half the suggested selling price of its cheapest Blu-ray rival.

Sensational specs?

To hit that comparatively cheap price tag, Toshiba has had to strip out a few key features, and as a result, the HD-E1 isn’t quite the deck it could be.

It can’t output high-definition video in 1080p quality, unlike its Blu-ray rivals: Toshiba has deliberately constrained its entry-level deck to a maximum of 1080i performance.

Given that HD DVD discs are encoded at full 1080p, that strikes us as, well, dumb – almost as dumb as the player’s omission of internal audio decoding for the new surround-sound formats also carried by HD DVD. Unlike its rivals, you don’t get six or eight-channel analogue audio outputs – only an optical digital socket.

Turn on, kick back, be amazed

It’s testament to the inherent quality of HD DVD – and, being fair, to Toshiba’s disc-spinning expertise – that the HD-E1 manages to rise above these significant shortfalls and still earn our respect. With the likes of King Kong or Superman Returns on HD DVD, it can generate a plain amazing picture, full of life, colour and vitality, while surround-sound audio steering is massively better than standard DVD sound.

You hear more detail than before, and sounds seem better knitted together, with more effective panning of audio from the front to the rear of the room. Surprisingly, the Toshiba is also a brilliant DVD player, spinning the “old-tech” disc as well as many pricier rivals.

Bad points? Those technical deficiencies aside – and we know Toshiba is planning to address them in its forthcoming £650 HD-EX1 player – the biggest bugbears are poor disc-loading times (it takes an age to access disc menus or chapters), a shonky, cheap-feeling remote (why?) and mediocre reliability (our player had a fondness for crashing mid-movie). Hopefully some or all of those issues will get ironed out sooner rather than later.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5