Flying in the face of current inflationary trends Toshiba's entry-level HD DVD deck has recently had its price cut. A step-up model, the HD-EP10, which adds 1080p output to the HD-E1 will soon be on sale for £450, the original price of this deck when it first appeared a few months ago.
The HD-E1 remains cheaper than the current rival Blu-ray decks, and that is a considerable advantage. The lack of 1080p output shouldn't really bother you unless you're using a display with a screen size in excess of around 42in.
As for connectivity we don't really mourn the absence of an RGB Scart, which is irrelevant but without 5.1 analogue outputs you're relying on using an amp with an HDMI to hear Dolby TrueHD sound, which means waiting for HDMI-equipped amps to appear later this year.
Using the digital optical audio outputs gives access to Dolby Digital Plus, albeit only a 5.1-channel rather than 7.1 version as well as DTS HD core, which is also 5.1 in nature.
Hitting back, the HD-E1 deck offers an Ethernet port for downloading firmware upgrades and for accessing online material from HD DVDs, although we've yet to see any discs that offer this feature.
Setup is easy and the deck takes around 30 seconds to spin up a disc, which isn't bad at all. The design is a little on the drab side, though, and the remote control really is poor, winning no awards for beauty and a bit of a plastic monstrosity.
Niggling doubts are, however, largely swept aside when the HD-E1 is switched on. Pictures at 720p and 1080i levels are often quite superb.
In fact, HD DVD software seems to be a little more robust than early Blu-ray offerings. Our test discs, including King Kong, are more reliably impressive with less variation in quality.
When on form, an HD DVD picture is every bit as good as a top-notch Blu-ray one. Detail steps smoothly into another dimension and colour rendition is just glorious.
The picture is best during brightly lit scenes (just as it is with Blu-ray) and it is true that some scenes (and indeed, certain discs as a whole) do not look much better than DVD.
Upscaling is quite effective in adding a touch more sharpness to a DVD, but without coming close to the depth of an HD image, although it still matches most standard definition DVD decks as far as upscaling ability goes.
Fed through a conventional 5.1-channel sound system the HD-E1 does a very solid job, with effective delivery of sound effects and a dynamic, enveloping soundstage. Adding an HDMI amp at a later date will take the audio experience to another level.
Overall, the HD-E1 is a seriously enticing prospect at this price. There are one or two cut corners and rough edges, but this a much more palatable risk to take in the format war against Blu-ray.