As a DVD player, the XD-E500 is visually not that impressive; it's a smallish unit, measuring in at 430mm x 50mm x 198mm, with connections ranging from composite all the way up to HDMI. Only HDMI will give you the upscaling facility, and with this in mind, Toshiba thoughtfully doesn't provide an HDMI cable... just composite ones. We don't get that either.
The XD-E500's remote is, in a word, busy. Buttons abound everywhere, and there's not a whole lot of differentiation between any of them. It's also a black remote with black buttons and white highlights but no backlighting — or, in other words, very difficult to see in a darkened home theatre setting.
One tiny design oddity we noticed when first unpacking the XD-E500 was that our review sample had a nasty rattle, as though there was a loose part inside the player. What's truly weird about this is that once we powered it up, the rattle vanished — we suspect it might have been a loose gear on the DVD tray assembly, but can't be sure.
Toshiba touts its upscaling engine under the name "XDE" for "eXtended Detail Enhancement"). It'll take the 480i/p detail from a standard DVD and upscale it, essentially by working out on the fly what the detail would "need" to be in order for it to be a higher resolution picture, all the way up to 1080p, depending on the specifications of the panel it's plugged in to. Interpolation engines vary, and while nobody — not even Toshiba — will claim that it's the same picture as a full 1080p Blu-Ray (or HD-DVD) disc — the results can often be pretty good. It's also worth bearing in mind that many people don't spot the difference between video sources unless they're side by side. Outside CNET.com.au labs, how many of you have two HD panels side by side?
Besides DVD playback, the XD-E500 also supports JPEG, WMA, MP3, MPEG-4 and DivX playback, although you'll have to burn discs for all of these formats; there's no USB or network connectivity on offer, which isn't surprising at this price point.
We tested the XD-E500 with a variety of DVD sources, ranging from fast action movies to discs we'd deliberately burnt at a low bit rate on a DVD recorder, and put it up against a standard DVD player on the same display. Predictably, the low bitrate material looked awful no matter which player we chose, but once we switched to commercial discs that were already mastered reasonably well, things got much better. Some of the improvements were a little on the small side — especially when fast action was involved — but the detail was sharper and clearer, which indicates that the XD-E500 generally does a good job of upscaling.
The XD-E500 supports three different upscaling profiles, labelled as "Sharp", "Colour" and "Contrast" mode. Visual tastes may vary, but we found in our testing that the Sharp setting had a tendency to overcompensate on some discs, leading to more obvious artefacts than in Colour or Contrast mode.
At the $199 price point, the XD-E500 does a good job of regular DVD playback and upscaling as well. It's very much a garbage in, garbage out type of arrangement though, and it won't make DVDs the equivalent of Blu-Ray any time soon.