HD DVD players may be cheaper, but it's Blu-ray players that have had the upper-hand technically, thanks to their support for 1080p. Until now, that is. With the arrival of the Toshiba HD-XE1, the balance is restored. This player can display video at the highest quality 1080p mode, and features an HDMI 1.3 port for better colour reproduction. There's also an improved range of audio outputs.
The HD-XE1 is phenomenally well-built and feels like it will last a lifetime. The outer case is sturdy metal and the whole unit is surprisingly heavy. At around £520 online, the HD-XE1 is about £100 more expensive than its lesser sibling -- the HD-E1 -- however we feel the extras make it well worth the higher price tag.
We don't think anyone will be sitting on the fence with the HD-XE1's styling. We like it, although its retro appearance doesn't really suggest high technology. It reminds us of a VHS deck from the mid-80's -- it's not ugly, just different.
The remote control for the HD-XE1 is a fantastic piece of design. It's got a weighty authority about it that makes you feel like you're holding something of value. It has a metallic front with chrome effect keys that light up if you press them, which explains why it takes four AAA batteries. The dimmable display is basic, but it offers enough information to be useful.
To the rear of the machine are several sockets including composite video, S-Video, component video, two channel audio and 5.1 channel audio. There are also two digital audio outputs, optical and coaxial.
The HDMI output is the 1.3 version. The higher bandwidth this offers is supposed to allow for things like a better colour range. Bear in mind that your TV will also need to support HDMI 1.3 to see any difference. There aren't many of these around at the moment, but at least you're future-proofed with the HD-XE1.
The front of the player features a flap that conceals some buttons for playback control. There are also two USB sockets for future upgrades, although there's no indication yet what this expansion might be.
The HD-XE1's main selling point is that it's a 'full HD' player, supporting 1080p. It doesn't differ from Toshiba's previous model in many other ways, however there is now 5.1 analogue audio out and digital coaxial audio out (the HD-E1 only has optical digital out). The outputs are also gold plated to minimise signal loss, and there's an RS232 socket that can be used for custom remote control systems.