Toshiba HD-EP30 HD DVD player
While the format war rages, movies must still be watched
Review The HD format wars may be inching forward on the content front, but on the hardware side Toshiba has made a very aggressive move with the HD-EP30 - an HD DVD player which could be yours for less than £200.
If you’re worried that the EP30 is a cut-down player then you needn’t be - it includes most of the features the average consumer will need. Unlike the HD-E1 released last year - and reviewed here - which was only capable of outputting 720p or 1080i pictures, the EP30 can produce full HD images at 1080p so you’ll be able to get the most out of your HD DVD discs. It even supports 24fps playback, so you can view movies at their original frame rate if you have a TV that supports it.
Toshiba HD-EP30: value for money regardless of the format war's outcome
You do miss out on advanced features such as 7.1 bitstream audio output and HDMI 1.3 Deep Color support, but to make the most of these features you’ll need high-end equipment to match - so you're less likely to be put off by the price of the more expensive HD-EP35, which supports both.
However, if you’re just looking for something to make the most of the brand new 1080p HD telly you got for Christmas, then it’s an extremely good deal – costing not that much more than a high-end DVD player. Even if Blu-ray eventually emerges as the dominant format in the future, with such a cheap asking price you should get your money’s worth out of the EP30 before it ever becomes a problem – especially since you get seven HD DVDs included with the machine.
You’ll find a copy of The Bourne Supremacy and 300 in the box and you can download a voucher to claim a further five titles. There are even some decent films included like Children of Men and Corpse Bride – you can find the full list on the HD DVD Europe website.
When it comes to performance, 1080p does make a real difference to the amount of detail visible on screen. Whether you can actually make it out when you’re watching a film will depend on how big your TV is and how far away from the screen you’re sitting. But as an example, the tiny "Motion Picture Association of America" text on the film rating page is crystal clear when viewed at 1080p.
Drop down to 1080i or 720p and it’s still readable, but it’s jagged rather than smooth - and at 480i it’s almost impossible to make out, unless you already know what it says. While you’re unlikely to spend that much time staring at static text, it shows the difference you can expect from full HD.
Takes almost a minute to warm up
Sit back and watch some actual movie footage, ultimately what the machine's designed for, and the results are superb – Bourne car chases at 1080p 24fps were absolutely stunning. It’s also not bad at upscaling your existing DVD collection to HD resolution. Obviously the results aren’t going to be anywhere near as good as HD DVD, but there is a noticeable difference.
Playing back the lobby scene from The Matrix at 576i there were noticeable artefacts and jagged edges. Switch up to 1080p and the quality is much improved, though still noticeably lacking compared to true HD content.
While Toshiba has managed to improve the quality of the picture compared to its previous entry-level model, there are areas where its budget roots start to show. The remote control, for example, is fairly small and basic-looking, lacking the button backlighting seen on higher-end models. That’s not to say it’s not up to doing the job, thought, and given the bargain price for the player you can forgive a little cost-cutting in the remote control department.
One area could do with improvement, however, is start-up time. Press the on button and you’ll need to wait almost an entire minute before you can put a disc in, and after that a further 30 seconds until it actually starts playing. In the grand scheme of things, having to wait a minute and a half before sitting down to watch a two-hour movie isn’t that great a hardship, but it’s annoying if you want to quickly flip through scenes from a number of discs.
Looks-wise, the EP30 could pass for a player costing twice the price, with its sleek black and sliver lines. The bright white LED display may appear a little dazzling at first, especially if you’ve dipped the lights for that movie theatre feel, but you can dim it or even turn it off if you find it distracting.
Looks-wise the EP30 could pass for a player costing twice the price
Like its predecessors, the EP30 has a USB port at the front hidden beneath a flap that is currently non-functional and reserved for future use – but it can use it to charge up your iPod if you don’t want to boot up your PC just to give it a boost. Round the back you’ll find the usual connectors for HDMI and component-video, plus standard-definition composite-video output. You won’t find a Scart connector. There’s also an Ethernet port, providing access to additional disc content and player updates over the internet, provided you wire it up to your broadband box, of course.
All in all, the EP30 is a bit of a steal – even if you’re just looking for a new DVD player then it’s worth considering since it’s not half bad at upscaling your existing movie collection. Put in a HD DVD disc, however, and the results are fantastic. If you’ve got an HD telly, then you’re really not doing it justice feeding it standard definition content. Add in the fact that you get seven discs included – worth around £75 at least – and it’s a bargain.