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DVD has been around for just over a decade, and most of us have built up a pretty impressive collection of discs. But the introduction of HD Ready TVs, Blu-ray and HD DVD has presented us with a dilemma – should we upgrade to a high-definition player and start our collections from scratch, or should we make the most of our existing standard-def discs?
For most people the latter is the only option, given how expensive the former would be, and that’s where upscaling DVD players come in. They take the 576 lines of picture information stored on a DVD and boost the pixel count up to 1,280 x 720 or 1,920 x 1,080 using clever interpolation techniques, more closely matching the resolutions of HD Ready flatpanel TVs and projectors.
But the best part is that this feature is no longer reserved for high-end players. You can now pick up an upscaling DVD deck for peanuts, even ones from big name brands as this £60 player from Toshiba demonstrates. The SD-370E boasts upscaling to 720p and 1080i (but not 1080p, which would have been remarkable for the money) and also boasts DivX playback, including v6 and video-on-demand (with a registration code).
At just 40mm high, the player is the dictionary definition of slim, which makes it ideal for slotting into tight spaces under your TV or in the bedroom. The seductive black styling with a dashing silver stripe is designed to complement Toshiba’s HD DVD decks and Regza LCD TVs, and confirms that when it comes to home entertainment kit, black is definitely the new silver. We were initially concerned by how light the deck is, but this is pretty much par of the course with sub-£100 DVD decks these days, thanks to the use of smaller and more efficient internal components.
Scoot round the back and you’ll find a decent but fairly uninspiring set of sockets. The undoubted highlight is HDMI output, which is the connection you’ll need to get those upscaled pictures. It’s joined by progressive-scan capable component video phonos, a single Scart socket offering RGB and composite video output, plus composite video and a pair of phonos for analogue stereo audio output.
HDMI upscaling may head the bill when it comes to features, but there are plenty of other tricks that make day-to-day movie viewing a slick experience. There’s a 100x search mode, which comes in very handy for skipping the irritating ‘piracy is a crime’ trailer, plus a decent-quality three stage zoom for getting up close and personal with your favourite scenes.
Next up is the Enhanced Picture Mode (EPM), which allows you to adjust the brightness and sharpness of the image. Increasing the latter introduces a fairly severe white line around edges, so keep it at a low level. This is joined by Enhanced Audio Mode (EAM), which lends a ‘3D effect’ to stereo sound. The deck will also play JPEG and MP3 files but curiously not WMA, and it plays every type of recordable DVD except DVD-RAM. Dolby Digital and DTS bitstream output complete the feature line-up.
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