The tug-of-war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is all but an active one. In spite of the sales figures claimed by each camp, neither has yet to garner the support it needs to firmly anchor its position as the mainstream next-generation optical format. While there's little to debate that both have their respective strengths, the HD-DVD’s primary edge has been and still is its price, a wider selection of titles and its region-free coding. Leading the charge for HD-DVD right from the beginning is Toshiba and with the introduction of the HD-E1, early adopters will have one less reason not to consider advancing beyond regular DVDs.
At just a little more than 65mm thick, the HD-E1 scores high on the aesthetics rating with a clean straight lines running horizontally across its face. In keeping with its uncluttered appearance, you'll only find two buttons neatly located beside the loading tray. Control buttons such as Skip, Pause, Stop, and Play buttons have all been cleverly hidden behind an access panel that's also part of the player's façade. There is also an USB expansion slot for future expansion purposes. Over at the back is where you will find the usual video and audio ports. The HD-E1 features HDMI, Component, S-Video, Optical, two channel audio outputs, and a LAN input. The LAN port however, is solely there for firmware updating and interactive online HD-DVD content.
The bundled remote control may not have a backlight but it more than makes up with luminous markings for those with a projector in their entertainment setup - not that the remote is difficult to use to begin with. The only tricky bit is that users might be confused by the “Top Menu” and “Menu” buttons found on the remote. To make things simpler, the “Top Menu” refers to the menu on the disc, while the “Menu” is for accessing the menu of the player.
The Toshiba HD-E1 can read just about any format you throw at it; the list covers HD-DVD, DVD-VR/R and even CD-R/RWs.
MP3, WMA and non CD-DA formats however, are not supported. Also not supported, but in resolution term, is 1080p, which is the holy grail of high-definition video. Instead, the HD-E1 has a maximum HD resolution of 1080i, which is more than enough for most but the most discerning users.
Through the onboard HDMI output, video quality from our test HD-DVD disc (Mission: Impossible III) came back sharp and clear, even if de-interlacing was in effect. Video playback was also noticeably smooth and without any stutter. Where audio is concerned, the player is built to decode Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD but that's only if your audio receiver has an HDMI input to receive audio data from the HD-E1.
While we did not have problems with the HD-E1's playback performance and video quality, there were a few qualms we thought we should highlight. First up is a fairly long startup time of about 39 seconds, which is far too long a wait as compared to the snappy response time of modern DVD players. Another gripe we had was the implementation of the player's setup menu. Instead of being able to make adjustments while a movie is playing, users are required to stop playback first before granted access to the setup interface. This may not be much of an issue to most casual users but for exacting users who wish to fine tune video quality, this would be pose as an unfortunate inconvenience.
Overall, we have no doubt in our mind that the Toshiba HD-E1 HD-DVD player will do a great job at providing 1080i video goodness. What’s more, with support for the next generation of home cinema standards, easy firmware updating and USB expansion slots, this latest HD-DVD player has longevity printed all over it.
Now, an estimated retail price of USD$645 (SGD$999) may be a little hard to stomach for most but when compared to rival Blu-ray players, it isn't really too much to ask to equip yourself with high-definition entertainment. So, if you want to have a HD player that will make every movie a perfect audio and video sensory experience each time, then the HD-E1’s arrival (sometime around the second or third quarter of 2007) will be well worth the wait.