August 18, 2008
| by John R. Quain
What should you do after losing the high-definition DVD battle? Beef up your standard DVD players, of course.
Following Toshiba’s loss of the format war that pitted its HD DVD format against the Sony-supported Blu-ray standard, rumors had swirled that the company would take the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach and come out with its own Blu-ray player. And then when word leaked that Toshiba was going to be releasing a new super-secret player with something called XDE technology, many assumed that it would be a Blu-ray player.
No such plans, says Toshiba, and instead unveiled its $150 XD-E500 player for us last week ahead of this week’s introduction. The DVD player not only upconverts standard discs to 1080p, but also employs a technology Toshiba calls eXtended Detail Enhancement or XDE that is intended to boost the sharpness, contrast, and colors of standard definition DVDs.
XDE offers three modes. The sharp mode looks for edges in scenes and only boosts details in areas where it judges it’s necessary. For example, the outlines of tree leaves, blades of grass and whisps of hair appear much crisper in sharp mode, without creating buzzing image artifacts that can appear if one pushes the sharpness controls on a TV too high.
In contrast mode, sharpness is coupled with technology that looks for the hidden details in shadows. Watching some darker scenes in “The Last Samurai,” we found obscured patterns on some dark clothing were sharpened and boosted without making other portions of the picture too bright or washed out.
In addition to sharpness, the final color mode attempts to improve the look of blues and greens in the picture. In practice, it gives outdoor scenes a punch that can sometimes look preternaturally vivid. Blue skies look crystal clear, while trees and pastures look almost too green, as if they were made of plastic.
It’s a largely subjective matter whether this will appeal to viewers. Toshiba is correct that the XDE modes generally accomplish what they were designed to do. Indeed, owners of LCD HD TVs in particular may appreciate the XDE effects because they address specific weaknesses of LCDs, namely the lack of contrast and difficulty reproducing accurate greens.
One could tweak all the various color saturation, hue, brightness and sharpness controls on a TV and achieve some of the same picture improvements. However, making such adjustments would affect the entire picture and every scene, rendering some brighter scenes darker and some redder scenes greener, for example. So Toshiba’s approach is not merely one of convenience, since it works to actively analyze each scene and only adjust the appropriate portions of each image, according to the company.
So does it improve the picture or not? The short answer is yes, with the caveat that some viewers may prefer the more muted yet more natural appearance of unadulterated DVDs. One also has to be careful not to use it in conjunction with some presets on some TVs, such as “sports mode.” Using that setting, which boosts color saturation, brightness and sharpness on a TV, and then turning on an XDE mode will create jumping artifacts and picture noise. So one has to leave a television’s settings in standard or default mode in order to appreciated the positive effects of the XDE enhancements.
Ultimately, XDE is another point of differentiation in a world where DVD players have become a $70 commodity. Toshiba argues that most people aren’t moving to the Blu-ray high-definition disc format yet because of the high cost of the players and the software. So the company believes there’s room in the middle of the market for a better DVD player that costs half the price of Blu-Ray machine. But the question is, will consumers even notice?
Click here to read the entire press release.