- Written by Brian Alvarez and Adrian Wittenberg
- Published on 20 February 2009
I can remember a time when Toshiba offered entry level DVD players and also high dollar flagship models like the SD-9200. As DVD players became a commodity Toshiba logically focused on mainstream consumer players much like the XD-E500 reviewed here.
The XD-E500 is a main stream DVD player priced at $99.99 and offering the features a player of this price offers. This includes the obvious DVD playback, the almost universal support amongst new DVD players for DivX playback, Mp3 and WMA. With the exception of the XDE processing the XD-E500 is just a standard run of the mil up-converting DVD player.
- Design: SD DVD Player
- Supported Formats: DVD-Video/DVD-R/DVD-RW/CD/CD-R/CD-RW/CD-DA DivX, Mp3, WMA
- Video Connections: Composite, S-Video, Component, HDMI (Version Not Specified)
- Audio Connections: Two-channel Analog, Toslink Optical, SPDIF Coaxial
- Dimensions: 2" H x 17" W x 7.8" D
- Weight: 3.5 Pounds
- MSRP: $99.99 USA
Toshiba has stayed out of the Blu-ray market and instead asserts the XD-E500 up-converting player can provide a near HD experience from standard DVDs using their XDE processing. Can a sub hundred dollar player really rival Blu-ray for picture quality? Will the XDE processing set it apart from other commodity DVD players at this price? Let’s find out how good the Toshiba XD-E500 is.
The XD-E500 is a fairly average DVD player in terms of design. The case is made of stamped metal, fairly thin and hollow feeling, it’s not flimsy but at the same time it doesn’t exude high build quality. Discs are placed on a thin tray on the left hand side of the player. Smack dab in the middle of the front face is a very large, and very bright XDE logo. Thankfully this can be turned off in the set up menu. A very simple LED display on the far right of the player shows chapter numbers, while another series of LED lights display the selected output resolution.
On the back, the connections are centered on the rear panel. All connectors are nickel plated and well labeled. The power cord is not detachable so thankfully it’s of a decent length.
The remote control also has a utilitarian appearance and average construction quality. None of the buttons are illuminated. The buttons are placed closely together and my large hands had a difficult time pressing the desired button without accidentally pressing a neighboring button. It’s not the best remote I’ve ever used, nor is it the worst, as you may have guessed, it’s fairly average.
Internally the player is very simple in design. The transport mechanism is physically separated from the main logic board. The logic board itself is incredibly compact and well laid out.
Video and Audio Decoding is handled by the Zoran Vaddis 966 processor. Toshiba also employs a Zoran HD Extreme 2 chip for scaling duties.
Next to the logic board is a well engineered switch mode power supply. This is a very elegantly engineered player and internal construction is much better than I expected for a player at this price.
Toshiba’s XD-E500 offers the usual up-conversion of DVDs to 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p60 and a very unique 1080p/24. 1080p 24 removes the 3:2 pull down used to convert film from 23.98 frames per second to the 29.97 frames used by NTSC video. Reconstructing the video back to 24fps from 29.97 should provide a smoother image, free from judder and motion artifacts. In order to take advantage of 1080p/24 you need a compatible display capable of displaying the signal at a scan rate that is a multiple of 24hz. These displays are becoming increasingly common, unfortunately for me my Panasonic plasma is not one of these displays. However, I was able to test the 1080p/24 mode on a Samsung LCD at my office and can confirm it works well. On well authored discs the 1080p/24 mode made slow pans smoother and more fluid.
The party piece of the XD-E500 is its XDE modes. XDE has three modes which offer distinctly different picture enhancements. The modes are: Sharp, Color, and Contrast.
According to Toshiba, the Sharp mode provides enhanced edge detail. Toshiba asserts the image is sharpened intelligently in areas that need it and it will not apply the processing to parts of the image that don’t call for it. They also suggest there will be a sharper image without the usual side effects of sharpening filters.
The Color mode enhances blues and greens in the picture to create a more vibrant image with greater saturation and depth.
Third we have Contrast mode for enhanced detail in darker scenes.
So how well do the XDE modes work? Can the XD-E500 rival a Blu-Ray source and is the XD-E500 competitive with other DVD players in its price range? Read on to find out.
Set up of the XD-E500 is extremely easy. The set-up menus are intuitive, well laid out, and also respond quickly to button commands. In general this is a very responsive and fast player. It turns on quickly, ejects quickly, plays quickly, it’s quick during layer breaks, etc. The Toshiba is just a snappy DVD player, and that’s nice in the era of sluggish Blu-Ray players.
During the initial configuration of the HDMI settings you can manually select the output resolution, or have the player automatically determine the highest resolution supported by the display. Having an auto set up is nice for those who are not video savvy. Strangely the XD-E500 in auto mode chose 720p as the output resolution. My Panasonic TH-50PX60U 50” plasma actually supports 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p60. Why the Toshiba defaulted to 720p is baffling.
This wouldn't be much of an issue if it weren’t for one simple fact; XDE processing only functions via HDMI and then only at 1080i, 1080p60 and 1080p24. Pressing the XDE mode button (labeled Pic Mode on the remote) while in 480p or 720p simply brings up a warning saying “Not Allowed At The Moment.” Not being able to use the XDE modes majorly cuts back on the feature set of the player. If the player gets the auto set-up wrong as in my case, I can imagine an user being frustrated that their DVD player refuses to engage one of the features they bought the XD-E500 for.
Hopefully this is explained in the manual. Having not received a manual with my review sample I can’t comment. Also, Toshiba does not have the manual as a download on their web site. In my opinion this is a huge limitation and one I hope Toshiba is working to rectify.
Another operational quirk of the XD-E500 is that if you set the output to 1080i/1080p60/1080p24, and one of the XDE modes is engaged, you can no longer select 480p or 720p as an output resolution. Again, this could be very confusing to a casual user. Also, XDE modes do not function over the analog component outputs in either 480i or 480p, which is understandable.
DivX playback on the XD-E500 was decent. The picture was much flatter and less involving from DivX files. When the same files were played on the PS3 (one of the best DivX players I have found) the PS3 was the clear winner. The Toshiba would also occasionally suffer from image tearing and playback could stutter in scene transitions and high levels of motion. It’s a nice feature to have but I would not rely on the XD-E500 if your main interest is to view DivX files on your TV.
One more interesting issue, the XD-E500 and my Oppo DV-981HD use exactly the same remote codes. I’m sure not many people are likely to run into this problem, still it’s worth mentioning. It could be a rude awakening if you brought home an XD-E500 and placed it atop your Oppo and magically both turned on at the same time, and so on.
After configuring the Toshiba the first thing I wanted to know was can it really deliver near HD levels of detail and picture quality. I synchronized the Toshiba XD-E500 and my PS3 using the Band Of Brothers episode Days of Days. Both the DVD and Blu-Ray are some of the best transfers I’ve ever seen on either format.
I sat down, and began watching the Toshiba with all XDE processing off at 1080p60. The picture produced was pleasing and rock solid with no major criticisms. Colors were natural, the picture was well resolved and generally quite sharp. Film grain looked as it should (some players tend to smear film grain which makes the picture look soft and pixelated) with a nice balance between detail and depth.
At this point I felt nothing was missing from not watching an HD source. I began to agree with Toshiba's press release statement. Upon comparison with my PS3 though, It was fairly easy to determine the difference in quality between up-converted DVD movies and Blu-ray discs. With Blu-ray disks, the picture took on a level of subtle realism and depth the up-converted DVD could not match. Details were not only sharper but also more three-dimensional. Colors were deeper and richer, the leafs of trees in the background were more clearly defined, character's faces exhibited laugh lines and pores. While good, The XD-E500 does not produce a picture that can rival a Blu-ray disc or even Toshiba’s own HD-DVD format. This is due to Blu-ray's more sophisticated video compression, wider color gamut and pixel structure which is four times greater than that of DVD. While the XD-E500 is outputting at 1080p, it's doing so by interpolating the missing pixels instead of displaying actual detail present on the media.
Instead, I judged the XD-E500 by its merits as an up-converting DVD player, and in this context the XD-E500 does quite well despite its modest price.
After playing several DVDs with XDE enhancements off, I re-watched the discs to test the three XDE modes. The first mode I tried was sharp. On some discs the XDE Sharp mode was not objectionable. It provided a bit more snap to the image. In general though, the Sharp mode made the picture look artificial and overly processed. Diagonal edges took on a stair stepped appearance and occasionally ringing and halos would surround light colored objects against a dark background. This was very evident in the night scenes from the Band Of Brothers Episode Day of Days dvd.
Next up was Almost Famous, with XDE in sharp mode the film grain was exaggerated and the image posessed an overly processed almost “video” appearance. After several more discs I came to the conclusion I prefer the performance of the player with XDE off. With Sharp engaged the picture took on a flatter and less involving picture. Additionally just turning up the sharpness control on my display performed the same function and introduced less ringing than the XDE sharp mode.
Next I rewatched the same scenes and discs with XDE Color mode on. In general Color mode didn’t do much with most discs. The effects on picture quality could be just as easily replicated by using the saturation setting on my display. The only DVD with which I preferred Color mode was Gunbuster, Aim For The Top a favourite anime title of mine. With Gunbuster the XDE Color mode did help to give the animation a bit of extra pop and vibrancy, making the animation seem hyper real.
For me Contrast mode was puzzling. All it seemed to do was raise the black level and maybe the gamma curve from 0-30 IRE. It made the air-drop scenes from Band Of Brothers look overly bright. The scenes take place in near darkness with muted colors and details. With Contrast mode on, the scenes looked as if someone began to shine a flashlight on areas of high contrast. For me, Contrast mode never improved the picture with any of the discs I watched. I found it the least useful mode and in all cases it made the picture worse.
As noted in the benchmark performance, the technical Achilles heel of the Toshiba’s video performance resolves around the component outputs and its de-interlacing performance. To be fair, this player should not be used with the analog component outputs as it also defeats the entire purpose of the XDE processing. Aside from these deficiencies, the picture quality from the component outputs was very good for a 480p analog signal. It was very comparable to the HDMI connection at 480p with just some additional picture noise.
The Toshiba passed DTS and Dolby Digital via HDMI, Toslink, and Coax with no issues. I particularly like that all three outputs are simultaneously active.
Having the HDMI, Toslink and Coax outputs simultaneously active provides a high degree of installation flexibility, and is most welcome.
I did not test the analog outputs on the Toshiba as my receiver’s Analog-To-Digital converters do harsh things to analog signals. Connections tested were HDMI and coaxial. In general I found the sound of the Toshiba XD-E500 to be exceptional for it’s price. It easily beat the internal decoding and bitstream performance of the PS3 over an HDMI connection. I also compared the HDMI and Coaxial outputs against my Oppo DV-981HD.
The Toshiba was more transparent and with a bigger sound field than both the PS3 and the Oppo. Sound from the Toshiba emanated well beyond the physical placement of each speaker. The XD-E500 also excelled at localizing individual sounds or actors in a specific spot in space. Tonally, the Toshiba sounded a tad leaner than the Oppo, with the Oppo being a bit warmer in the mid range while lacking the depth and enveloping sound field of the Toshiba. The only area the Toshiba lost out to the Oppo was for CD and Mp3/WMA playback. In general the Oppo's extra warmth made for a more musical and enjoyable listen. The Oppo also had a greater ability to resolve small details.
This player shines when it comes to usability. It has snappy chapter skips and overall is extremely responsive. The XD-E500 had a near seamless layer change that is the fastest player I (Adrian) have ever come across.
The XD-E500 had good performance in our core video tests. The player passed all of the Chroma tests, our Y/C delay test, and showed no issues with pixel cropping at standard and high def resolutions. The player's white level tested at a slightly hot but respectable 102 IRE and the XD-E500 does pass a below black signal. The frequency response showed a fairly even distribution with a gradual declining slope in the highest frequencies.
In our de-interlacing tests the XDE-500 exhibited drastically different results when outputting from the HDMI and component video outputs. When outputting from the HDMI outputs the XD-E500 passed all of the Secrets Benchmark tests and received a perfect score for that section of the benchmark. The player can correctly decode all 3-2 cadences, has a snappy recovery time, and is also motion adaptive. While I did observe some minor delays while locking onto the cadences it wasn't enough to fail the tests. Video based performance was equally good and the player passed all of tests.
When outputting from component video outputs the results were far from good and I couldn't get the player to lock onto any film or video cadences whatsoever. This will translate to a loss of detail when watching material that is not authored well. If your display or AV system doesn't have HDMI inputs then this player is not a recommended choice.
The Toshiba XD-E500 is an exceptionally good low cost up-converting DVD player when used via HDMI and it received a perfect score under the HDMI section of the Secrets benchmark. In stark contrast was its de-interlacing performance using component video outputs which was some of the worst performance we have seen. With XDE modes engaged, the picture always possessed a hyper real look. Picture can be very subjective and there may be some who find the almost hyper real image appealing. For those individuals this player is a great fit. For those of us that seek a film like, deep, three dimensional image, present in Blu-ray media, the Toshiba falls a bit short. If your budget is 100 dollars then this up-converting DVD player is a great choice. The Toshiba is only outclassed by players like the Oppo DV-981HD that cost nearly three times more. Fine praise indeed.
Receiver: Denon AVR-3808CI
Main Speakers: B&W 805s
Center Channel: B&W HTM4S
Surround Speakers: B&W DS6 Dipole
Subwoofer: Rel R-305
DVD PLayer: OPPO DV-981HD
HD Player: Sony Playstation 3
HD Display: Panasonic TH-50PX60U 50" Plasma