Toshiba has announced launch dates and prices for the first stand-alone HD DVD players to reach Europe -- the HD-E1 and HD-XE1. This follows the US launch of the HD-A1 and HD-XA1 players back in April.
Speaking at a well-attended press conference at IFA 2006 in Berlin, Olivier Van Wynendaele, Toshiba Europe's deputy general manager for HD DVD products, described the HD-E1 and HD-XE1 as second-generation players. They are notably slimmer than the US players, which have been criticised for their boxy design. The HD-E1 will be available from mid-November, for around £470, while the higher-end HD-XE1 will go on sale in December and cost around £700. Toshiba is expecting to send 10,000 units to Europe in the initial shipment, with more to follow as required.
Both of the European players can output from HD DVD discs at 720p or 1080i, and the more expensive HD-XE1 can also output in 1080p. They are backwards-compatible with existing DVDs and CDs and will upscale DVD output to 720p or 1080i, and to 1080p in the case of the HD-XE1. Since the DVD Forum is still making up its mind about region coding for HD DVD, the first two players will be region-free.
HD DVD players aren't much use without discs, so IFA 2006 also saw several announcements from content producers. Warner Home Video, Universal Pictures International and Paramount Home Entertainment International all promised to have titles in the shops to coincide with the launch of the players. Action movies predominate, although Warner Home Video will offer romantic comedy Rumor Has It and the UK's 2 Entertain is releasing the BBC's natural history series Planet Earth.
HD DVD titles to be released include:
Warner Home Video
Constantine, Rumor Has It, Goodfellas, Troy, Lethal Weapon, Training Day, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Syriana
Univeral Pictures International
Serenity, Apollo 13, Jarhead, Bourne Supremacy, Van Helsing, Doom, The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious
Paramount Home Entertainment International
M:i:III (two discs), Mission Impossible Box Set (four discs)
Basic Instinct, The Pianist, La Haine, Total Recall, Fog, Rambo I, Rambo II, Rambo III, Elephant Man, King Kong (1976)
In addition to the high-resolution image and improved sound quality, HD DVD titles can offer several new interactive features. Menus can be overlaid on the video image, so you can change settings or jump to another chapter without pausing the playback. HD DVD also supports Picture in Picture, which can be used to superimpose the director's commentary or a 'making of' documentary. Instead of just listening to the director, for example, you could watch as they point out the important features of a scene.
Toshiba will also be launching a Web site for HD DVD at www.toshibahddvd.co.uk -ML
Update: We now have a full review of the Toshiba HD-E1 live in our Reviews channel.