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The HD-EP35 is a top-end HD DVD player, although it doesn't replace the HD-XE1, which Toshiba maintains as the top-of-the-range model, and features better upscaling and gold-plated output contacts.
The EP35 is, however, a very well-specified player and it's not as expensive as the XE1, so if you need many high-end features but want to pay a mid-range price, this is probably the player for you. It's available online for around £270, a snip compared to the XE1's eye-watering £450.
The EP35 looks the same as the slightly cheaper EP30, for the most part. There are only really two cosmetic differences, the first being an illuminated HD DVD logo that glows blue when you play a disc. This is pretty enough, but it's a very minor update. The second is some silver trim down the left and right sides.
If the blue HD DVD logo bothers you, it can be turned off by pressing the dimmer button on the remote control. Speaking of the remote, this is the same model that comes with the HD-E1, rather than the shorter one supplied with the EP30. It does its job nicely, and we have no complaints to make about it.
To the rear, there is one important addition -- analogue 5.1 surround-sound outputs. This is important for one main reason: getting the best surround-sound quality without having to buy a whole new surround-sound decoder. This is very important for people who bought high-end systems before HDMI became commonplace.
Out of the box the EP35 supports the 24p picture mode, which allows films to be played from HD DVDs at their native frame rate. This is a great feature, but it won't work with your standard DVD collection. Indeed, if you watch a PAL DVD in the EP35 with the 24p mode on, you'll see some rather unpleasant juddering take place. This is easy enough to sort through the picture menus, but we're baffled as to why the EP35 doesn't detect PAL DVDs automatically and switch the mode off.
We love having analogue 5.1 audio outputs -- it means everyone can hook their system up to a compatible amp without spending more money on a new sound system. This is a good feature, and one we'd like to see on all high-definition players.
We're going to have a grumble here about one feature we think should be included, namely DivX and Xvid playback. With both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 supporting playback of these formats, it seems utterly ridiculous that HD DVD players don't do what virtually every DVD player released in the last two years can manage. While we're moaning, how about giving up on this DVD region-coding nonsense too? Seriously, if HD DVD can manage to be region-free, is it really necessary to persecute those of us that have region 1 DVDs in our collections?
The first thing we want to say about the EP35 is that we're starting to become annoyed by the start-up time on these HD DVD players. We could forgive this sort of thing with the low-end HD-E1 or the first- and second-generation players, but now we really think they should be working to reduce the amount of time it takes to insert a disc. Indeed, we'd question why it takes more than 30 seconds to get the disc tray open anyway -- the load time we get, but just ejecting the tray, it makes no sense at all.
Setting up the EP35 is nice and easy, it takes no time at all. As long as you're familiar with terms such as 1080p/24, you shouldn't struggle to pick the settings that work best for you. One word of warning: the Internet setup can be tricky. If you want to access Web-enabled features, you'll need to get this working. If you're having trouble, remember to set the machine to get its IP address via DHCP and make sure it's got DNS enabled too.
The good news is there's nothing wrong with the performance of this player. The picture quality is nothing short of amazing. 1080p movies really look stunning and the colour, detail and sharpness of the picture are excellent.
Sound is similarly impressive too, offering a nice rich feel, although we thought the line-out levels were a little quiet, meaning we had to crank our stereo amp up to full to get much sound out. Not a massive issue, but likely to annoy people with low-powered amps or large TV rooms.
It's worth pointing out that at the time of publication, you get two free HD DVDs in the box and you can send a form to Toshiba, which will dispatch a further five discs to you in the post. The selection is decent, and this is a pretty good introduction to HD DVD. There are similar offers with some Blu-ray players, so it's worth having a scout around.
Overall we like the EP35 -- the picture and sound are both solid, and it's easy to use. We'd like to see some more advanced features appear on these players, such as support for DivX and Xvid, but that's a gripe for another day.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide