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Recent rumours that Toshiba will finally start producing Blu-ray players is great news indeed, but until then the company has a wide range of upscaling DVD players to keep us entertained. We've already taken a look at the SD-590E, a generally decent deck that makes up for in dependable picture performance what it lacks in snazzy features, but on test here is the next model down in the range.
The SD-490E lacks the USB port found on the 590E's front panel, but otherwise it looks identical. With a height of just 42mm it's incredibly thin, to the point where there isn't even room for a proper display panel - our biggest criticism of the deck's design. All you get is a four digit panel that shows the chapter number during playback and a few words, which isn't helpful when it's dark and you want a quick glance at the running time.
Otherwise we're big fans of the deck's aesthetics. The gloss black finish and sliver stripe combine to alluring effect and the minimal selection of buttons blends inconspicuously into the front panel. Pick the player up and it's light as a feather but rightly or wrongly that's normal for a budget DVD deck these days.
On the back, the socket selection is depleted by the lack of component and optical digital outputs, but what's left should be enough to cover most needs. Of greatest importance is the HDMI output, which pipes digital video to your TV as well as digital audio (bitstream or PCM) to your amp if you like. For aging TVs there are RGB SCART and composite video outputs, plus a set of stereo outputs that sends downmixed analogue audio to a TV or receiver. Last but not least is a coaxial digital audio socket that outputs Dolby Digital or DTS bitstreams or PCM.
The player's budget price tag means there aren't many features on board, but a couple of functions might catch your eye. The deck can upscale DVDs to 1080p (or 720p/1080i if that suits your display better), which might be a preferable alternative to your TV's own upscaling circuitry. Helpfully, you can flick through the various resolutions using the dedicated 'HDMI' buttons on the remote and the front panel.
The SD-490E also supports MP3, DivX (up to version 6) and JPEG as most DVD decks do, but the lack of support for DivX HD and WMA keeps it a few steps behind Samsung and LG on the format support front, and of course the missing USB port makes it more of a hassle to play digital media. It is, however, nice to see that JPEGs can be played back in high resolution and disc support is decent - DVD+RW/+R, DVD-RW/-R, CD-RW/-R and Super Video CD/Video CD are accepted quicker than an MP's expenses claim, but DVD-RAM discs are unceremoniously rejected.