Just when I thought that I would probably never review a DVD player gain, Toshiba introduced their new XD-E500 1080p up conversion DVD player. Toshiba, who was one of the co-inventor’s DVD technology, and also the creator of the now defunct high-definition HD DVD optical disc, is coming back to the DVD marketplace with a new upconverting DVD player. Why? While still licking its wounds from the loss of its high-definition optical disc format, Toshiba has unveiled a new video processing technology called ‘XDE,’ which stands for ‘Extended Detail.’ According to Toshiba, XDE offers enhanced picture performance from standard definition DVDs. Toshiba has also realized the folks are not quite ready to give up their DVD players just yet in favor of Blu-ray players either, and are still quite fond of their DVDs. So, the idea of XDE was born in hopes of breathing renewed life into the DVD format. The new model XD-E500, which is housed in a sleek and very slender black cabinet, is priced at $149.95 retail. I expect it to be $99 by the Holidays.
Features and Design
While other companies have been producing upconversion DVD players for awhile, Toshiba now brings its 10+ years expertise in DVD development to bear. It should also be noted up front that this product does not playback anything but DVDs and CDs. What it does do, however, is upconverts standard definition DVD content to 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and 1080p/24 frame to match the screen resolution of a viewer’s HD display. The end result is near-HD picture quality (in theory). To separate this DVD player from other upconverting DVD players, Toshiba has decided to further improve image quality by employing their new XDE chipset.
In addition to upconversion from 480i/p to 1080p, XDE technology offers viewers the ability to customize their viewing experience to their liking with its specific picture mode settings. With these three selectable settings – Sharp, Color and Contrast – users can get the most out of their DVD movie-viewing experience on their terms.
Image Courtesy of Toshiba
The Sharp mode offers improved detail enhancement that is one step closer to high definition. Edges appear to be sharper, and background details in movies are more visible and pronounced. Unlike traditional sharpness control, XDE technology analyzes the entire picture and adds edge enhancement precisely where it’s needed. The Color mode makes the colors of nature stand out with improved depth and richness. Blues and greens appear more vivid and lifelike. The Color mode further combines the improvement in color with the detail enhancement of the Sharp mode making the combination a good bet for outdoor scenes. To complete the visual improvement, the Contrast mode has been designed to make darker scenes or foregrounds appear more clearly visible without the typical “washing out” that can occur with traditional contrast adjustment. This mode is recommended for dark scenes where detail may be difficult to notice in films like Pan’s Labyrinth. When combined with the Sharp mode, the Contrast mode provides a clearer viewing experience overall especially, I found, with animated films adding additional punch.
The upconverting technology in the XD-E500 is similar to other upconverting DVD players such as the Toshiba’s SD-6100. The difference in the processor is seen after the upconversion process, when the chip further analyzes the video content through artificial intelligence. For example, it intelligently sharpens edges where necessary, while leaving alone other images where sharpening is unnecessary. It analyzes the color, pumping up blues and greens where it’s needed, while leaving the warmer colors alone. And it improves contrast in darker scenes where necessary, while seemingly leaving brighter areas of the picture untouched. And, if you don’t like it, you can turn it off.
At the same time, this is a progressive scan DVD player featuring 3/2 pull-down (or what Toshiba calls Digital Cinema Progressive). Progressive scan does several things to improve the video image over a standard DVD player. While many standard DVD-Video players’ process digital video information at a rate of 4:2:2, progressive scan DVD players utilize digital video processing that is done at 4:4:4 that doubles horizontal color resolution. This provides greater, color detail and more brilliant colors. Progressive scan DVD players also use something called “a reversed 3-2 pull-down algorithm.” A 3-2 pull-down algorithm is used in transforming movies (shot at 24 frames/sec.) into NTSC videos that require 30 frames/sec. The bottom line – progressive scan further eliminates NTSC artifacts such as jagged edges, flickering lines, the visible scanning structure, and shaky images producing a much smoother-looking image. On the other hand, if you’re display accepts 24-frame playback, the 1080p/24 frame mode can be employed to offer the best possible picture from your standard definition DVD.
The model also plays back CD-Rs, CD-RWs, DVD-Rs, DVD-RWs, MP3 & WMA-encoded discs plus the JPEG Viewer (using Photo CDs) enabling the user to display digital photographs on your television in the JPEG digital format. Like most DVD players today, it plays back both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks passing the signal via either digital coaxial, digital optical, or HDMI outputs. It comes with a 47-button remote with set-up, menu, and navigation. The XD-E500 further incorporates key features such as HDMI-CEC, DivX certification, and JPEG capability.
Connection is easy and straight-forward. In order to reap the benefits from this DVD player, however, you need to use the HDMI output. Otherwise, upconversion is not possible. If you utilize component video, the player will only output 480p. A Tributaries HDMI cable was used to tether the XD-E500 to the Onkyo TX-SR875 AV Receiver, which processed audio and video signals before passing the video imagery onto the LG’s 52LBX, which is a 52-in 1080p LCD HDTV (also using a Tributaries HDMI cable).
The back of the Toshiba XD-E500
Testing and Use
As a long-time reviewer of Toshiba products, I was dutifully impressed with the XD-E500. Like other Toshiba DVD players, this model lived up to its reputation of producing excellent images from both movies and music videos. Aurally, this model passes both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks.
The XD-E500 is a serious upconverting progressive scan DVD player, and all of the images displayed on the LG 52LBX HDTV had a clarity and depth of field giving the illusion of near HD-quality from a standard DVD-Video player. If you want to be a stickler, you can always put on the Video Essentials test disc or use the Home Theater Demo disc featuring Mannheim Steamroller, and watch test patterns to measure gray scale (and I did), and calibrate and test different multi-channel audio signals. But, the proof is in the pudding – sort of speak –, and let’s face it, a DVD player and an HD television are the perfect marriage to watch movies and music videos – not test patterns.
Several new and classic releases were watched with a keen eye towards picture detail and clarity, and in each case those images were far superior to what I have viewed on many other brands of standard definition DVD players recently. Various type of films on DVD were watched including: the newly restored El Cid, Stargate: The Ark of Truth, Stargate: Continuum, Lawrence of Arabia, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind-30th Anniversary Ed., Pan’s Labyrinth (awesome DTS soundtrack), 1776, Chicago, Ratatouille, Cars, Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, Casablanca, Eagle’ Hell Freezes Over (DTS Soundtrack), and Celtic Woman-Live at Slane Castle ((DTS Soundtrack) among others. I also viewed a couple of old standbys like Fox’s The Abyss-Special Edition and Columbia-TriStar’s The Mask of Zorro (SuperBit) because of their aural and visual brilliance.
On purpose, I chose various types of film material from action/adventure movies with a lot of special effects to musicals – some were recent releases and others were classics from various studios. The image quality pumped out from the XD-E500 and displayed on the LG LCD HD set quite vivid and like-like. All selections had a true film-like quality that bordered on quasi-HD like images. That’s how good the image quality was from the XD-E500 as displayed on LG’s next-generation HD LCD. Using the ‘Pic Mode’ button, which is located directly below the keypad on the left, allows you to cycle through the ‘Sharp,’ ‘Color,’ and ‘Contrast’ modes of XDE. Personally, I found that most movies looked best with the ‘Color’ mode option, which combines the ‘Sharp’ and ‘Color’ enhancements. Animated films, on the other hand, I thought looked best using the ‘Contrast’ mode. And, as I’ve said before, if you don’t like the enhancement, you can turn it off. I’ve always liked it when manufacturers have included an ‘off’ mode.
How did they compare with one of my favorite DVD player (from a leading upconverting DVD manufacturer)? Quite favorably! I was able to place key scenes side-by-side so that I could easily judge image quality, and I have to say the images portrayed on the XD-E500 were somewhat sharper, clearer, and did offer more contrast than this leading upconverting DVD player model. Is the Toshiba XD-E500 worth the price? Absolutely!
Is the Toshiba XD-E500 a Blu-ray killer? The answer is NO. Blu-ray Disc does provide the best possible image quality currently available. And, for a handful of movies, e.g. Transformers, it does make a difference. That said, however, BD player are still relatively expensive ($399+, and prices are slow to come down (maybe $299 by the Holidays from Wal-Mart). Let’s face it, most folks are happy with DVD, and rightly so because it offers excellent value for the money. Some movies can be purchased for as little as $7.99 on sale, and many brand-new movies cost about $15 at first release. This is compared with $39.95 for a new BD movie. And, if you’re sitting six to eight feet from the screen anyway, it may not make much of a difference to a lot of people.
At the same time, there are other upconverting DVD players currently available esp. from companies like Oppo Digital (which I reviewed last year). Although, to be fair, the Oppo Digital models are more pricey (up to $399 and including SACD & DVD-Audio playback), and do not include the XDE enhancement, which does work. While the price of the XC-E500 is currently $149, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it priced around $99 for the Holidays. At that price, the XD-E500 is hard to pass up as it offers superior image quality at a very reasonable price.
The Toshiba XD-E500 is an admirable performer. It gives you the added bonus of bringing you into the 21st Century with an upconverting top-of-the-line progressive scan DVD player. Image quality is among the best available for standard definition DVD. If you’re waiting for Blu-ray prices to come down, don’t wait. Buy the XD-E500 now, and it will give you many years of enjoyment.
• Great picture quality
• 24 frames per second mode
• Very affordable
• Will not replace a Blu-ray player
• XDE technology is a questionable enhancement