Our positive impressions stem from the deck's very impressive handling of the notoriously tricky Se7en disc, which is full of dark, detail-heavy scenes that can really show up deficiencies in a dodgy deck's MPEG-2 decoding.
Thankfully the SD-280E avoided our trap, keeping artefacts at bay during scenes like the Gluttony investigation where Mills waves a torch around the dark room - colour banding on background walls is minimal and block noise is effectively masked. You can also pick out a surprising amount of detail during this scene, while others like the sloth victim's dingy apartment or the rain soaked city streets are clear and well-defined.
Switching to a more vibrant (and slightly less gruesome) disc like Toy Story reveals some really impressive handling of strongly saturated colours. They're vivid, untainted by noise and remain tightly contained at the edges. There are a couple of tell-tale signs of the deck's budget blueprint, such as a couple of slightly jagged diagonal lines and some over sharpening (indicated by a harsh white line round some edges) - plus the picture would have no doubt been sharper and cleaner with HDMI and upscaling - but generally it's a good show all round.
Audio performance is also solid, with warm, involving CD playback and a flawless transfer of Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams to an AV receiver. MP3 files sound fine too.
If you're in the market for an ultra low priced DVD player for the bedroom or kitchen, then Toshiba's SD-280E is a reliable bet. It's sturdily built, offers a decent level of picture quality from the SCART and component outputs, and most importantly of all it's very easy to use. Yes the lack of HDMI is disappointing, as even the smallest LCD TVs have HDMI inputs these days - to find it here really would have confirmed its world domination. You'll also have to get it chipped to play Region 1 discs, but otherwise it does everything you need a DVD player to do - and for this sort of money you can't ask for anything more.