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Controlling the unit is a piece of cake thanks to the agreeable remote. The core playback and menu navigation controls are laid out in a logical manner and everything else is clearly labelled, although the group of similar-looking buttons at the bottom is a bit cluttered.
The user interface is visually unremarkable but easy to follow and satisfyingly responsive. The setup menu is a big blue box with ZX Spectrum quality graphics down the side and there are no further picture adjustments to play with, although this simplicity will probably be a blessing in disguise for the deck's target audience. You do get the usual aspect ratio, HDMI resolution and DivX settings though, plus a choice of bitstream or PCM from the digital output.
Despite showing the occasional sign of its budget DNA, the SD-580E generally delivers solid, enjoyable pictures for the money - as demonstrated by its handling of Apocalypto's sumptuous visuals. Upscaling the movie to 1080p draws plenty of detail out of the forest surroundings, such as tree bark and the strands of straw on the village huts, and much of this detail is retained in dark scenes - for example, there's a reasonable amount of texture on the walls inside the hole where Jaguar Paw's wife and son are trapped.
Excellent contrast and colour reproduction make the image look deep and vibrant, not pale or pasty. The verdant hues of the forest trees and bushes are delivered in lush, believable shades of green, while the bronzed skin of the Mayan tribesmen boasts fantastic richness and tonal fidelity. Other plus points include smooth motion tracking and well-defined edges with no evidence of over-zealous video sharpening.
However, the deck can't hide some smudgy video noise, clearly visible as the camera pans up to the sky or fixes on large, clear patches of colour. You can also make out some mosquito noise around certain edges, which becomes particularly bothersome when viewed on a large-screen TV.
When you feed the deck something a bit more challenging, further cracks start to appear. The Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark test DVD highlights flaws that aren't immediately apparent with movie fare - it fails the jaggies test miserably, with the rotating bars flickering and shuddering uncomfortably when they reach even the shallowest angle. But strangely it copes admirably with the tricky flapping flag video clip, showing no real signs of jaggies along the edges of the flag's red stripes.
The disc also reveals poor fine detail retrieval, making the small bricks on the sides of the buildings during the detail test clips look soft and indistinct - and it's not helped by more of that twitchy video noise that makes the image seem unstable. We've seen better performance from budget rivals like the Onkyo DV-SP406 and the Samsung DVD-F1080.
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