The impact of the screen's low resolution and resultant downscaling becomes instantly apparent with the DVD version of Avatar – Pandora’s luscious rainforest detail is reduced to a mush of hazy jagged lines and indistinct swathes of green. You can still make out what’s going on, and because pictures stay on the right side of watchable, unfussy eyes won’t have much to grumble about, but we have seen portables with better looking pictures than this. On the plus side, colours are bright, radiant and as believable as bright blue aliens go plus motion tracking is smooth.
As for digital TV, automatic TV tuning fires up when you first turn the player on. However, it failed to pick up any channels on the first sweep while testing in the office at the bottom of the garden, and after moving to the house it failed to pick up any Freeview channels whatsoever after several attempts.
Despite trying various spots around the house and garden – even the age-old trick of holding it up in the air (as if the length of an arm will make a difference) – it still wouldn’t tune into any TV or radio channels. That’s a shame as we’re unable to test out the very thing that makes this player so special, but it does tell us something about the sensitivity of the built-in tuner and quality of the supplied aerial we suppose (I usually get a strong Freeview signal). In any case, it’s likely that DTV pictures will suffer similar problems to DVD on that low-res screen.
With sound it’s the same old story – the speakers produce thin, tinny audio that really doesn’t inspire much excitement, but when you plug in a pair of cans all suddenly becomes clear – MP3s are best enjoyed in this way too. Although lower-res DivX movies are better suited to the screen than DVD, they still look a bit hazy, and the same goes for JPEG images, which are also beset by jagged lines.
All in all the SDP94DT is a nice idea, offering DVD and Freeview in one handy device, and for the most part it’s well realised. It’s just a shame that the Freeview tuner wouldn’t play ball and that the low-res screen lets the side down, although it’s worth remembering that with portables, performance isn’t the be all and end all.