The DVD player section behaves just like you’d expect – you get all the usual trickplay functionality, such as zoom, slow-mo and subtitles, plus a 3D Virtual Surround Sound mode that purports to give stereo sound a rear-channel effect, but actually doesn’t. In terms of compatibility the deck plays DivX, MP3 and JPEG files stored on DVD or CD but sadly not WMA, and disc-wise you can play DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW CD-R and CD-RW.
Disappointingly, there’s no Freeview tuner on board for making VHS recordings of digital TV, which doesn’t make the product feel any less antiquated. Elsewhere, on the VCR side, there’s an eight-event one-month timer, auto tracking and long play recording.
We’ve often accused Toshiba’s DVD products of being slow and unresponsive, and sadly the SD-38VB’s operating system exhibits the same traits. Like some sort of electronic teenager, the deck refuses to do what it’s told straight away, preferring instead to dither annoyingly before it responds – we half expected it to shout, ‘it’s so unfair, I hate you!’. Our frustration is compounded by the small, fiddly buttons on the remote, which are packed into a small area and make it seem cluttered.
Meanwhile using the VCR setup menu is like stepping through a portal to the past, with the blue background and chunky white text making you feel like you’re playing with a museum exhibit called ‘How We Used To Record’. What’s more, there’s no automatic channel tuning, which means you have to search for each station manually. But on the plus side, VHS operation is smooth and accurate, with the deck stopping instantly when you press play while forwarding or rewinding.
Despite essentially being a budget DVD player, the SD-38VB’s performance is surprisingly impressive. Played through the component video output, the ”Superman Returns” DVD looks bright as a button, with the strong colour saturation giving the pictures the sort of richness and warmth that you hope for without giving skin tones a green or red tinge.
Meanwhile the crisp edge definition and forceful detail reproduction make the overall clarity very pleasing; virtues demonstrated by the scene in which Superman brings the plane down to land in a baseball stadium – the crowd is well resolved and colours are radiant.