Despite earlier statements that it had developed a standard-def DVD technology that would render Blu-ray high-def players obsolete, Toshiba instead last week launched an upconverting DVD player--the XD-E500--that the company claims will surpass the performance of other upconverting standard-def models.
The player, priced a $149, appears to be an interim step between standard upconverting players, priced about $80 to $100, and Blu-ray high-def models, which cost $300 or more. Despite earlier proclamations following the demise of the Toshiba-backed HD DVD high-def format, at a press event announcing the player Toshiba went out of its way not to compare the picture quality of the XDE (eXtended Detail Enhancement) model with that offered by Blu-ray players, instead saying that the XD-E500 offers a "near-HD experience." None of the standard-definition upconverting players we've tested--which can convert the 480i video contained on all regular DVDs to simulate 720p, 1080i, or even 1080p--offer picture quality comparable to a Blu-ray high-def model.
The player has three different picture modes: "sharp," which analyzes the picture and adds edge enhancement; "color," which produces more vivid blues and greens; and "contrast," which the company says can make darker scenes or foregrounds more visible without "washing out" the picture as many conventional contrast adjustments do. Both the color and contrast modes are combined with the sharp mode's detail enhancement.
Although it was rumored that the new player would use the Cell processor, a powerful microprocessor jointly developed by Toshiba, IBM and Sony for use in the Sony PlayStation 3 video game system, Toshiba confirmed to CR that the player doesn't use that chip, which is supposed to be employed in other Toshiba products, such as TVs, this year. The player can upconvert source material from 480i to 1080p, and can output 24p (24 frames per second, the native frame rate of film) if it's available on the DVD. Toshiba tells CR that it presently has no plans to license the XDE technology to other manufacturers.
Stay tuned for for more information about Toshiba's new XDE player. We'll be getting one in and testing its performance against other standard-def upconverting models, as well as a high-def Blu-ray player.
--James K. Willcox