- Review Price: £49.50
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.
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.
With the Silicon Optix Benchmark DVD the Toshiba delivers the sort of performance you’d expect from a more expensive player. The fine lines on the Colour Bars test are sharply defined and the colour swatch has no banding; it renders the rotating bars on the jaggies tests and the flapping flag stripes with absolutely no stepping whatsoever; fine detail on the sides of the buildings is sharply reproduced (if a little shaky at first) and it locks on to the 2:2 Telecine A cadence without any artefacts. However, with Telecine B there’s noticeable flickering and noise reduction could be better.
Rounding off this impressive performance is clear and punchy CD playback, which is a little lightweight by audiophile standards but should do the trick for less discerning tastes.
Although the SD-490E offers nothing new or original, it gets it right in the most important area – performance. This is a much more competent DVD player than you’d expect for the money and as such deserves more than bedroom-bound anonymity – its video processing is slick enough to cope with the demands of a bigger system. OK, build quality is puny and it lacks features like DivX HD/WMA playback and a USB port but if you overlook these the SD-490E is a top choice.
Score in detail
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