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Using the SD-490E is a carefree experience thanks to the responsive software and straightforward onscreen displays. The Setup menu is a large blue box with tabs down the left, and these lead you to the crucial Video and Audio settings. Among the Video settings is a View Mode option that offers different ways of removing black bars depending on the source aspect ratio. It's also worth mentioning that if you're connecting the HDMI socket directly to your TV, make sure the HDMI output is set to PCM or you won't hear anything.
The remote is a good size, with sensibly positioned and clearly labelled buttons. Found among the cluster at the bottom is a Display button, which brings up a much-needed onscreen display showing the running time information missing from the front panel, plus the video bitrate and selected audio track.
Discs can be searched at x2, x8, x30 and x100 normal speed and there's a three-stage zoom mode. You can also activate the Enhanced Audio Mode (EAM) when listening through stereo speakers for a more expansive sound, while the Enhanced Picture Mode (EPM) lets you alter the levels of brightness and contrast in the picture.
We loaded up Fargo on DVD to check out the SD-490E's picture prowess and it does a marvellous job with this surprisingly tricky disc. Most striking is how solid and punchy the image looks, thanks to the good contrast levels. The juxtaposition of red blood on white snow is as dramatic and unsettling as the Coens intended, while shots of the black night sky look impenetrable.
Elsewhere there's a lot more to admire. Detail and edges are sharp and stable, colours look rich and skin tones are spot-on. It also tracks movement smoothly without judder and keeps block noise to a minimum. Some grubby noise and interference are visible in the vast expanses of snow as Marge investigates the murder scene, which is nothing disastrous but niggles slightly when viewed on a largescreen TV.