- Review Price: £27.83
The SD-280E is the first new DVD player to roll off Toshiba’s 2008 production line, and we were first in line to take a look. It’s a distinctly entry-level affair, with a stripped down spec and ultra-low price, making it a perfect player to accompany a second TV in the bedroom or the kitchen.
Despite its simple spec, there are actually two players beneath it in the pecking order – the SD-180E (which only boasts a JPEG viewer) and SD-185E (with DivX and JPEG playback). The SD-280E goes one step further by adding MP3 to the compatibility list.
The unit itself is very light; no doubt a symptom of some serious cost-cutting, but hides its budget origins behind an attractive exterior and slimline shape. The look harks back to the halcyon days of HD DVD, with its all-black finish and silver details, while its minimal aesthetic is preserved by the inclusion of just three buttons on the fascia and a compact display panel that only shows the chapter number during playback. Don’t expect a USB port at this price either – that feature is reserved for the top-end SD-580E.
Swing it round 180 degrees and you’ll find a very sparse rear panel, with only a few outputs – confirmation that this isn’t designed to be the centrepiece of a serious home cinema system. For instance there’s no HDMI output, which means no upscaling or all-digital video transfer, but there are component, composite and RGB SCART outputs that carry high-quality analogue signals. The component outputs offer progressive scan too, which will benefit those with flatpanel TVs and projectors.
You’ll also find a coaxial digital audio output for piping audio bitstreams to your amp – but unlike its SD-270E predecessor it’s not joined by an optical output. The digital port is accompanied by stereo audio output for more basic sound setups.
Onto the deck’s features, and it’s pleasing to see full DivX compatibility at this price. Files can be played from CD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW or DVD-R/RW and it supports all versions up to 6.0, plus Video on Demand (there’s a code in the setup menu for the latter). Playback of these files is smooth and problem free, with the deck making some quite scruffily encoded files look half decent on a 42in plasma. You can also view JPEG photos on your TV and play MP3 files, but it won’t accept WMA.
The setup menu reveals a couple more features you may not have expected: a choice of four picture presets that either make the image brighter (Vivid) or softer (Cool) and a choice of view modes, which make the picture fit your screen in a variety of different ways depending on the aspect ratio of the source material. On the audio side you’ll find a night mode, which boosts the quiet bits and dampens the noisy bits so you can watch late night movies without waking anyone up. There’s also a pointless ‘3D Effect’ virtual surround mode from the analogue output.
There are plenty of DVD playback tricks like a three-stage zoom mode; up to 16x search speeds; 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 slow motion modes; repeat A-B; and subtitles.
As you’d expect from a player at the budget end of the market, it’s easy to use. The remote is small and compact with sensibly placed (and separately coloured) menu and playback controls. You could argue that the size of the remote makes the rest of the buttons too small and fiddly, but on the whole this is a decent zapper.
The onscreen menus are charming, with a bright and breezy colour scheme, large text and a structure that’s very simple to follow. DVD novices and youngsters should have absolutely no trouble installing and operating this player.
Despite its bargain basement price, the SD-280E turns in a very competent performance, producing pictures that look equally at home on a 42in plasma and a 20in LCD. We’re not talking about world beating, ultra-refined images that’ll have Pioneer or Denon heading for the hills – just bright, colourful and mostly noise-free pictures that should suffice for everyday DVD playback.
Our positive impressions stem from the deck’s very impressive handling of the notoriously tricky ”Se7en” disc, which is full of dark, detail-heavy scenes that can really show up deficiencies in a dodgy deck’s MPEG-2 decoding.
Thankfully the SD-280E avoided our trap, keeping artefacts at bay during scenes like the Gluttony investigation where Mills waves a torch around the dark room – colour banding on background walls is minimal and block noise is effectively masked. You can also pick out a surprising amount of detail during this scene, while others like the sloth victim’s dingy apartment or the rain soaked city streets are clear and well-defined.
Switching to a more vibrant (and slightly less gruesome) disc like ”Toy Story” reveals some really impressive handling of strongly saturated colours. They’re vivid, untainted by noise and remain tightly contained at the edges. There are a couple of tell-tale signs of the deck’s budget blueprint, such as a couple of slightly jagged diagonal lines and some over sharpening (indicated by a harsh white line round some edges) – plus the picture would have no doubt been sharper and cleaner with HDMI and upscaling – but generally it’s a good show all round.
Audio performance is also solid, with warm, involving CD playback and a flawless transfer of Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams to an AV receiver. MP3 files sound fine too.
If you’re in the market for an ultra low priced DVD player for the bedroom or kitchen, then Toshiba’s SD-280E is a reliable bet. It’s sturdily built, offers a decent level of picture quality from the SCART and component outputs, and most importantly of all it’s very easy to use. Yes the lack of HDMI is disappointing, as even the smallest LCD TVs have HDMI inputs these days – to find it here really would have confirmed its world domination. You’ll also have to get it chipped to play Region 1 discs, but otherwise it does everything you need a DVD player to do – and for this sort of money you can’t ask for anything more.
Score in detail