- Review Price: £49.99
With Toshiba still stubbornly refusing to launch a Blu-ray player, its upscaling DVD decks are the nearest you’ll get to hi-def movie playback from the company – for the time being anyway. Thankfully, its DVD disc spinners are pretty impressive, mixing solid feature sets with tempting price tags and strong picture quality, a combination that’s proving very popular with the British public – more than five million players and recorders were sold in 2008, of which Toshiba had an eight per cent share, making it the number two brand in the UK
The 2009 range is still spearheaded by the detail-boosting XDE-500, but in terms of ‘regular’ upscaling players the SD-590E is the best specified model in the range. It replaces last year’s SD-580E and the spec sheet looks remarkably similar, as does the price tag.
The design isn’t a radical departure either, although there are some subtle cosmetic changes on the fascia – the circular standby button on the far right is gone, the logos and labels have been moved around and it’s more angular than the 580E.
Sure it’s light and has budget build quality but its wafer thin shape and sleek gloss-black finish will make it a very welcome addition to any home cinema system. Our only wish is that the display panel could be extended beyond the basic four-digit arrangement.
Around the back the changes are a little more radical. The component video outputs found on the 580E have been jettisoned, probably because they’re used less and less in these HDMI-dominated times. But otherwise the roster is the same and includes HDMI, composite, RGB SCART, analogue stereo and coaxial digital audio outputs.
On the front you’ll find a USB port, which would previously have been reserved for the top-end model but this year you’ll also find it on the cheaper SD-290E. It allows you to liberate digital content trapped on your PC without the hassle of burning them onto CD or DVD first – it’s a simple plug and play procedure. The deck supports MP3, DivX, hi-res JPEG and m4a, but not DivX HD, WMV or WMA. We’re particularly pleased by how quickly it recognises the USB flash drive and loads up content.
Elsewhere you’ll find a very familiar-looking feature list, which includes Dolby Digital and DTS bitstream output, 720p, 1080i and 1080p upscaling via the HDMI output together with Toshiba stalwarts like Regza Link and the Enhanced Audio Mode (EAM), which adds a ‘3D’ virtual surround effect when listening through two speakers. The Enhanced Picture Mode (EPM) lets you alter elements of the picture, but don’t expect enthusiast levels of tweaking – you get brightness and contrast settings and that’s it.
The player’s setup menu is smart and functional, using big blue boxes and clear white text. Like last year’s model it’s quick to respond to remote commands and requires no brain power to work out what’s what. There’s a smaller banner that can be called up during disc playback containing various details about the disc, which makes up for the poor front panel display.
The remote also remains the same as the 580E, and therefore shares its logical button layout for the core controls and decent labelling. But it all gets a bit busy towards the bottom and all the buttons are the same colour – some attempt to separate them out would have been welcome.
But what matters most is picture quality, and on that score the SD-590E delivers a performance that belies its price tag. With Peter Jackson’s ”King Kong”, images are generally sharp, vivid and stand up to scrutiny on a bigscreen TV – it’s almost impossible to discern any unwanted upscaling artefacts. There’s some noise crawling around on certain backgrounds but no major problems.
Skin tones are eminently natural and subtly shaded, punchy blacks permeate the picture and edges are drawn definitively. We also love the strength and fidelity of colours – everything from the yellow New York cabs at the start to the neon lights at the end have real depth and character.
The deck also dredges up loads of detail, reproducing Kong’s strands of fur and the cracks and crevices on Skull Island’s rocks with effortless poise and focus. On the whole, a great effort for the money.
Audio performance is also hugely entertaining. Digitally-piped Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are of course the highlight, but reveal nothing of the decks’ own audio chops – a better indication is the smooth and well-balanced analogue stereo playback from the phono outputs with films and CDs.
The SD-590E feels a bit like a middle-aged footballer approaching retirement, doing a solid, workmanlike job but unable to dazzle and excite like it did in the good old days. The lack of any radical design changes or new, dynamic additions to the previous generation’s feature list makes it feel like Toshiba is resting on its laurels, happy that it has pushed DVD technology as far as it can. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so they say.
Perhaps Toshiba is treading water until the Net Player comes along, but at least one new trick would have been nice, just to give people an incentive to upgrade – DivX HD playback perhaps or a daring new design concept à la LG and Samsung.
But this lack of progression doesn’t detract from the deck’s inherent quality – the SD-590E is a superb little DVD player. The USB port and HDMI output bring it bang up to date with today’s connection requirements, and the picture and sound quality is among the best you’ll see at this sort of price. It’s good enough to use as your main movie source in the living room, but would be equally at home in the bedroom thanks to its remarkably slim design. We just wish it played Blu-ray but let’s not get bogged down in that again…
Score in detail
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