- Written by Brian Alvarez and Adrian Wittenberg
- Published on 20 February 2009
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.