One of the key features HD DVD players offer is the option to connect to the Internet. The main use for this is that at some point in the future HD DVDs will include interactive features, so even after an HD DVD is released, there's the possibility of adding more content. This means that you can update the player's firmware by simply hooking it up to your home network and selecting an option in the menu -- handy for when Toshiba wants to add a new feature to the player, or fix a problem.
The menu system is very easy to use -- the only setting you'll really need to worry about initially is selecting the output suitable for your television. The options are either 'up to 480p/576p', 'up to 720p', 'up to 1080i' or 'up to 1080p'. Extra picture control settings are available via the 'picture' button on the remote control. These settings are mostly concerned with cleaning up the image of upscaled DVDs, and many of the options won't work on HD DVD material.
As soon as the HD-XE1 was out of its packaging we popped Superman Returns into the tray and waited. And waited. It takes about 1 minute 30 seconds for the player to switch on, accept a disc and start playing it -- this is about 30 seconds slower than the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player.
If you turn the player off and on again with a disc loaded, it takes about 1 minute for the player to boot and start playing -- fractionally slower than Samsung, which took about 48 seconds to perform the same function.
The relatively slow start up times aren't the end of the world, but the waiting can get annoying.
The picture quality was excellent. We hooked it up to a Sharp Aquos LC37XD1E so we could make the most out of the full 1080p resolution of the player. Superman Returns looked great, even though it can be a difficult disc to play as there's such as diverse range of footage.
Clark running through the fields 15 minutes into the film showed us how clear the picture can look and how bright the colours can be. Later on, when Superman rescues the aeroplane, we were on the edges of our seats -- this is as close to flying as you can get while watching TV. When Superman crashes through the wing of the plane we pretty much ducked.
The player's sound will depend very much on your setup. If you are playing your HD DVDs through your television speakers, you won't be experiencing the full breadth of sound that you would if you hooked it up to an external Dolby Digital or DTS decoder. Support for uncompressed Dolby TrueHD is mandatory on HD DVD players (it's optional on Blu-ray), which improves upon the quality of compressed audio found on DVD.
The HD-XE1 also upscales your regular DVDs as well. It does a very good job of this, with excellent colour and a mostly grain-free image. Our well worn copy of The Big Lebowski looked great, and it's encouraging to know that it can replace your current DVD player, even if it is a decent upscaling model.
While the HD-XE1 is a superb player, it's still worth pointing out that the format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD is still raging. HD DVD has less studio support than Blu-ray, but there are still plenty of films available. Universal supports HD DVD exclusively, so any films it owns the rights to will only be available on this format. Likewise, Sony only supports its own format -- Blu-ray -- so don't expect James Bond on HD DVD anytime soon.
Initally, Blu-ray was at a disadvantage because the players were so much more expensive. The PlayStation 3 changes this -- it costs about £425, which is around £100 less than the HD-XE1, and not only do you get Blu-ray, you also get a next-generation games console as well.
If you backed Betamax in the 80s and are wary of getting stung again, you could opt for the LG's Super Multi Blu player, which will play both Blu-ray and HD DVD. It's important to remember, however, that advanced HD DVD features, such as interactivity and Internet support, aren't available on the LG, which is why it is not officially certified as an HD DVD player.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield