Also pleasing is the lack of block noise, proving Toshiba didn't skimp on the MPEG-2 decoder. That said, there are some touches of grain and dot noise creeping around on some of the backgrounds, which an HDMI output may well have tidied up. But considering its limitations, this is actually a decent picture performance overall.
There aren't too many complaints with VHS playback either, as long as you adjust the expectations of your DVD-accustomed mind. Colour reproduction is almost as strong as DVD, and Toshiba deserves praise for not making tricky tones seem weak and washed-out, though patches of smeary flickering noise do sully its purity in places. And taking the format's inherent softness into consideration, the level of detail on show is more than acceptable.
Compressed media playback is fine, with DivX files being decoded with no glitches and MP3 files sounding terrific. The deck is at its most sonically impressive when feeding a Dolby Digital or DTS bitstream to a competent sound system - the big action scenes in Superman Returns are breathtaking - but this merely reveals a clean digital feed. CD playback is more telling of the deck's sound capabilities, and on this score it gets a clean bill of health without ever scaling the heady heights of a good standalone CD player. VHS sound is clear, undistorted and dynamic, with only a slight amount of hiss to worry about.
For people making the transition from tape to disc, the SD-38VB is a useful tool, enabling you to consolidate two boxes into one and give your tapes a stay of execution - all at a very reasonable price. But on the negative side it's not exactly slick to use, and a few more features would have made it a more worthwhile exercise. The lack of a digital tuner and HDMI output make it seem outdated, and the absence of the latter means that DVD picture quality isn't as good as it could have been.
If you are after a product like this, it might be worth splashing out on a DVD recorder/VCR combi like the Panasonic DMR-EZ47 or waiting to see what improvements Toshiba has in store when it launches its new DVD products later this month.