- Review Price: £46.99
In the aftermath of HD DVD’s disappointing demise, Toshiba has shunned Blu-ray and focused its attention on DVD, launching a range of players designed to squeeze the best possible performance out of the SD format. Spearheading this new crusade is the forthcoming XD-E500 upscaling player, which features the company’s eXtended Detail Enhancement (XDE) technology designed to bring DVD pictures one step closer to hi-def by boosting sharpness, colour and contrast.
But while this player will undoubtedly hog the headlines, it’s worth remembering that Toshiba has a healthy range of other (and probably cheaper) upscaling DVD players in its line-up, including the SD-480E which we’ve got our hands on here. It’s currently the second-best specified player in the range, sitting below the SD-580E, which adds a USB port.
If you’re a fan of slimline players that don’t make demands on your space, then the SD-480E will be right up your street. It’s just 42mm high and dressed in Toshiba’s customary sleek black finish, with a silver line running through the fascia. Its wafer-thin dimensions do have a downside though – the display panel is so small that there’s only room for the current DVD chapter number, which means you’ll have to rely on the onscreen displays for the elapsed or remaining running times.
At just under £50, the SD-480E provides a cost effective means of boosting DVD pictures to match the resolution of a hi-def display, upscaling them to 720p, 1080i and 1080p. These signals are fed to a display using the HDMI socket found on the rear panel, which also supports Regza Link, making it possible to control the player using the remote from one of Toshiba’s HDMI-equipped TVs.
Alternative video connections include component video output (which supports progressive scan) and an RGB-capable SCART output, both of which are disabled when using the HDMI output, plus composite video output for people who like really bad picture quality. On the audio side, there are analogue stereo and coaxial digital outputs, the latter allowing you to send Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams to your AV receiver.
Like any DVD player worth its salt the SD-480E supports a variety of audio and video formats, including DivX, MP3 and JPEG. For DivX playback, it supports all versions up to 6 as well as video-on-demand using the registration code in the setup menu, but you can only play files from CD-R/-RW. The lack of WMA or WMV support is a shame but not the end of the world. It also spins every recordable DVD format except DVD-RAM.
The rest of the feature list is hardly revolutionary but includes all the stuff you’d expect. You can search through DVDs at up to 100x normal speed, play them frame by frame or in slow motion, or play chapters, titles or tracks at random or in a specific order. There’s also a three-stage zoom mode for getting up close and personal with movie minutiae, and you can rotate or magnify JPEGs.
The deck lacks the extensive image and sound tweaks found on your average Pioneer or Denon, but the Enhanced Picture Mode (EPM) affords more versatility than you might expect. Hit the dedicated button on the remote and up pops a box that enables you to change the levels of brightness and contrast in the picture, but unlike many similarly-priced players that offer only a few steps, the levels can be set anywhere between 1 and 32. We achieved some impressive results after a quick fiddle with these settings. EPM is joined by EAM (yes you’ve guessed it – Enhanced Audio Mode) which adds a virtual surround effect when listening through two speakers. It works with audio from the analogue outputs or PCM from the coaxial port.
We can’t fault the deck from an ease of use perspective, as it’s quick to respond to any command and the menu structure is straightforward. Onscreen displays use an attractive blue colour scheme and are consistently legible, plus the disc status display includes a bitrate count to keep video geeks happy. The remote won’t win any prizes for its looks but proves useable enough, with good button placement and labelling.
So onto picture quality and during movie playback the SD-480E delivers assured, fluid images, handling the beautiful cinematography of ”Apocalypto” with pleasing depth and clarity. Mel Gibson’s Mayan masterpiece is absolutely bursting with detail and the Toshiba lets very little slip through its grasp, while the varied colour palette looks rich and natural. Displayed in 1080p on a Full HD Toshiba LCD (set to Exact Scan), it’s hard to spot any artefacts caused by the upscaling process. We’re not saying the picture is free from noise completely – some twitchy fine detail and muddy edges are evidence to the contrary – but it’s kept within acceptable limits.
The scene that best demonstrates the deck’s capabilities is when the captured tribe reach the Mayan city and wait in line to be sacrificed – shots of the baying crowd below and the surrounding temples look sharp and focused, while the blood, tribal decorations and glittering trinkets are displayed with real vibrancy.
And as Jaguar Paw is being chased through the jungle, the deck tracks our hero with conviction and keeps motion artefacts like smearing and block noise at bay. Dark scenes aren’t completely free from noise but objects are discernable enough.
It’s only when you slip the Tosh some test patterns that cracks start to appear. High-frequency detail bars are steady and sharp and the colour swatch is smooth, but it goes haywire with the rotating bars of the jaggies test, juddering and stuttering uncomfortably and making the diagonal lines look like staircases. Fine patterns also twitch and fidget during the detail tests, which upsets the clarity of the overall picture.
As a CD player the SD-480E isn’t bad, offering a respectful rendition of Miles Davis’ ”Blue in Green” – the mere fact that his muted trumpet doesn’t put your teeth on edge means it must be doing something right. It doesn’t sparkle like the best players would but it’s enjoyable enough for unfussy tastes. Movie sound is also excellent – ”Apocalypto’s” DTS track is scintillating through an Onkyo TX-SR576, particularly during the high-octane escape scene as arrows whizz from the fronts to the rears.
The SD-480E certainly isn’t the last word in DVD picture quality, with some problems thrown up by test patterns, but despite this there’s still a lot to admire about its images, particularly when playing back movies. What’s more, there’s a decent range of connections, it’s easy to use and there are some useful features, all of which means you could do a lot worse for £50.
Score in detail
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