New Toshiba DVD Player: Blow Up?

Toshiba has announced their new XD-E500 DVD player, with a $149 list price. The product marks the debut of new “eXtended Detail Enhancement (XDE)” technology. The company claims that this player can give “near-HD” quality to standard DVDs. It not only upscales (like many other standard DVD players), but it adds processing for edge enhancement, color correction, and improved contrast for more detail in dark images. (Apparently you can only choose the color or contrast functions, but can’t have both at the same time.)

I don’t mean to pick on this specific product — in fact, I’ve never even seen one – but folks, a miss is as good as a mile here. There is absolutely no way that you can get HD content out of a standard DVD. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; only in Hollywood can you enlarge an image endlessly and see more detail. Those police and spy technicians who can take a blurry license plate and “enhance” the image to see it in sharp focus are miracle workers because you can’t reliably invent data that is not there in the image from the start.

High definition requires at least four times the data in standard DVDs. I’ll admit that clever electronics can guess at how to fill in the blanks between details, such as identifying a straight line running through an image, but it can’t invent details that aren’t there. It can’t draw individual blades of grass if all it has is a blurred green field.

The fact is that for many people, standard DVD resolution is good enough, even when viewed on an HDTV. This is probably because the digital content of a DVD is so much sharper than the analog broadcast TV that people are used to. It’s also probably because people tend to have HDTVs that are too small and they sit too far from them, so they can’t see the extra detail available in an HD image anyway. Keep in mind that studies have shown that half of the people with HDTVs but without any HDTV signal source still think that they’re watching HD content (and are very happy with it).

Here’s the bottom line: if you want to watch standard DVDs on an HDTV, that’s fine. I do it all the time, and I think it looks great. Just don’t think that it’s HD; a Blu-ray player with a Blu-ray disc should look much better. And remember than your HDTV should be able to take the standard definition image from a DVD and upscale it on its own. If you have a set with cheap or inferior electronics, then you may benefit by getting an upscaling DVD player, but my advice is to try it with a standard player first.