The Toshiba XD-E500 is the world's first DVD player to include Toshiba's revolutionary XDE (eXtended Detail Enhancement) technology, which now works in 'real-time'.

Suddenly DVD is looking very interesting again, despite the hullabaloo surround Blu-ray.

The price is right

After spending time with it, I now believe that Toshiba's deck could revolutionise how you watch DVD. Yet you wouldn't believe it to look at the machine.

A slimline player with a glossy-black finish and a sprinkling of basic front-panel controls, there's little to distinguish the XD-E500 from pretty much any budget player. Budget? Yes. Rather than introduce its new technology into something that only early adopters can afford, the XD-E500 sells for a mere £130.

The downside is the lightweight and plasticky build quality – it's more akin to a supermarket 'own-brand' toaster than a piece of high-tech home entertainment hardware.

Superb deck spec

Inside, the construction is neat. The XD-E500 employs one of the Zoran Vaddis chipsets, which are used to good effect by other brands including Arcam. There's also a chip I've never seen or heard of before, innocuously-marked 'TMU655 QR87171'. Toshiba confirms this is the VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) chip responsible for the XDE processing.

Bland and uninspiring out of the carton, but plug it in and a bright white LED-backlit Toshiba logo appears – together with similarly-backlit legends for the various output modes that the XD-E500 can deliver to your TV via HDMI. 480p/576p? Check. 1080i?

Check. 1080p? Check. 1080p24? Yes, but don't get too excited, for as it stands you'll probably never
see that particular LED glow. The 24p feature only works with film-derived NTSC footage, in order to get around the visibly-nasty motion artifacts introduced by the pulldown process. Although XD-E500s sold in the UK are NTSC-compatible, they're Region 2-only, and Toshiba did not even consider the 24p feature worth including here.

Connections include an SD component output and RGB Scart, but you can't enjoy the benefits of XDE through these and so you should always stick with HDMI.

The Magic button

Setup is a cinch, not least because the player is so basic. In the menus are options for video output, languages, parental controls and audio output configuration.

A couple of other options – JPEG slide-show and DivX VoD code entry – hint at the scant playback alternatives. In addition to CD-ROMs containing photos and DivX/XviD footage, the XD-E500 will also play CDs and MP3 audio files. Nothing, then, to distinguish it from countless other decks.

No other player, though, has the XD-E500's 'magic button'. You'll find this on the handset. Unexcitingly labelled 'pic mode', the button in question engages the all-important XDE processing. There are three XDE modes; the first switches in detail enhancement, while the next two combine this property with colour and contrast enhancement respectively. Another press of the button turns off XDE altogether.

Unfortunately, you can't tweak the degree of enhancement provided – they're fixed 'presets' designed by the Toshiba development team.

Any delay introduced by the video processing has been internally-compensated for in the audio. I certainly didn't experience any lip-sync issues, via either coaxial/HDMI digital or analogue audio outputs.

Finely detailed pictures

In its normal state, the XD-E500 turns in a creditable performance with DVDs. On a Full HD projector (ViewSonic's excellent Pro8100) fine detail is a perhaps a little on the subdued side.

This does help, however, to mask picture artifacts. Image depth and colour reproduction, though, are both excellent. In particular, saturated colours benefit from a beautifully life-like rendition.

Now, that's with XDE off. With its first setting – detail – engaged, DVDs are given an obvious boost.
But let's get one thing straight from the start. XD-E500-processed DVDs are no substitute for Blu-ray; no system can introduce detail that wasn't present in the first place. While Blu-ray stores video natively at a resolution of 1920 x 1080, PAL DVDs max out at 720 x 576.

Using XDE mode

What the mode does do, however, is bring out detail that you never knew was present on your DVDs. Even complex textures like woollen jackets and tree branches become a lot clearer. And this improvement in clarity isn't accompanied by an undue degree of edge-enhancement – the tell-tale sign of which is usually an obvious halo effect.

However, it would appear that XDE has some kind of selective edge enhancement. It seems to examine the picture and identify areas where there are lots of black/white transitions (areas of detail), and then apply some kind of sharpness filter to these. Whatever makes it tick, the important thing is that it works.

With well-encoded DVDs, that is; with poorly-encoded and self-recorded discs, detail may be improved but mosquito and block noise are exacerbated to the point where the picture is close to unwatchable on bigger screens. Old TV shows fare poorly, too – as do all but the best DivX files. Still, you can always turn XDE off here.

Enhancing pictures

The second XDE mode combines the detail enhancement with a slight contrast tweak. This can bring out more of the picture information that would otherwise be lost in the shadows. It proved to be effective with some scenes on the excellent Criterion version of Naked Lunch.

How could I possibly know this, given that it's a Region 1 NTSC release? Simple – I hacked the player into a multi-region one. The 24p front-panel LED was illuminated when playing this disc – although the projector reported a 1080p60 input.

Switching to a Toshiba HD-XE1 set to 1080p24, I found that the correct format was indicated, so It would appear that the XD-E500's 24p mode has indeed been disabled. NTSC playback is nevertheless of a high standard.

Finally, there's the 'colour' mode. In addition to enhancing detail, this seems to selectively increase saturation ever-so-slightly. Useful, I suppose, if you have a DVD with 'paler' colours.

Audio is good too, but what a pity that JPEG pictures cannot be displayed in all their multi-megapixel glory on a Full HD display. Instead, they're shown in upscaled SD.

DVD or Blu-ray?

The Toshiba XD-E500 is no substitute for a Blu-ray player and software. But you'll be waiting for ages for everything you have on DVD to make the transition to BD.

If you have an extensive movie collection and a good HD-Ready TV, you need this player – it's like Viagra for DVDs!