- Review Price: £117.63
If you’re looking to pick up a portable disc spinner in time for the summer holidays, Toshiba is a great place to start your search. Our recent positive reviews of the SD-P91S and SD-P71S demonstrate that its players can deliver decent DVD pictures (with one or two reservations over screen resolution) and put plenty of features at your disposal for a reasonable price.
Despite being overshadowed by flashy new technology like the Net Player and Cell TV at Toshiba’s product showcase last month, the latest range of portable DVD players looks pretty impressive too. The SD-P73S on test here is a completely new design for 2009, sitting above the entry-level SD-P63 (which replaces the SD-P71S) and comes with all the features that made last year’s models so appealing, but sports a fetching new slimline design and colour scheme.
The glossy white exterior and black interior gives it the sort of cool desirability you want from a portable DVD player, but once you flip up the screen there’s more to admire, like the mirrored circular disc flap and menu buttons. Down the right hand side of the base are buttons covering all of the key functions, and the 16:9, 7in screen is set into the top half of the player with the stereo speakers just below it. On the whole build quality is solid and it’s delightfully slim, even with the supplied battery pack clipped on to the bottom, although it’s a shame Toshiba didn’t use the kid-proof rubberised finish of the SD-P71S.
Although everything you need is built-in, the range of connections on the side lets you hook the player up to an external screen and sound system. You’ll find an AV minijack output, which delivers composite video and stereo audio to a TV via the supplied adapter cable, as well as an input for watching external video sources on the screen. Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams can be passed to an AV receiver from the coaxial digital minijack output, and there are two headphones ports for shared listening.
On the opposite side is an SD card slot that supports DivX, MP3, MPEG-1, XviD and JPEG files, but sadly you can’t play DivX HD videos (only files up to 720 x 576 are supported) and it doesn’t like SDHC cards either. It also plays the above file types from recordable CDs and DVDs (everything except RAM is supported) and the onscreen menus for file playback are clear and easy to follow.
The player’s standout feature is the five-hour battery life, which is excellent and only matched in Toshiba’s range by the top-end SD-P93SWE. But for car journeys it’s not an issue, as you get a cigarette outlet power adapter in the box, while other supplied accessories include a black carrying case, a pair of cheapo headphones and a credit card sized remote. The latter sports fiddly buttons and the dreaded shift key for certain functions, plus the play button isn’t nearly prominent enough, but the menu controls are well positioned.
So far so good, but the screen resolution doesn’t bode well for performance – like the SD-P71S it’s 480 x 234, which is lower than the typical PAL DVD-Video resolution of 720 x 576 and will probably lead to the same sort of picture shortcomings seen on previous players. The screen’s brightness and contrast ratio figures are quoted at 250cd/m2 and 400:1 respectively.
Rummaging around in the menus we find all the same features found on previous Toshiba portables, such as Enhanced Audio Mode (which expands the stereo soundstage a bit) and a range of basic picture tweaks like brightness and colour adjustments, plus the ability to invert the screen and select either 4:3 or 16:9 modes.
On an even more basic level, the deck offers x2, x4, x8, and x16 search speeds, slow-motion playback and a three-stage zoom. The setup menu is bright and clear enough to prevent eyestrain when making adjustments and it skips around the options quickly.
Onto performance and let’s get the bad news out of the way first – as expected the low screen resolution means you can see the pixel structure of the screen, giving the image a distracting ‘chicken wire’ effect that doesn’t help with fine detail resolution, plus edges look serrated.
While a higher-res screen would have helped the player to convey detail more convincingly, picture sharpness isn’t too bad on the whole – it’s certainly not soft or hazy. With Easter just gone we loaded up The Passion Of The Christ – gruelling yes, but a brilliant test disc – and the Toshiba reproduces the astonishing detail of the period costumes and scenery with admirable stability, although on long shots of crowds it struggles to resolve faces.
The colour palette is superb. Skin tones are free from the reddish or greenish tinge that occur with many low-grade LCD screens, while the wide contrast range and solid blacks give the image surprising depth and make dark scenes easy to watch, even when viewed under bright room lighting.
Naturally we’re looking at the unit’s pictures with a critical eye (that’s our job after all) but despite its detail shortcomings, the Toshiba’s picture quality is perfectly adequate for knockabout movie viewing on the train or in the back of the car.
As for sound, you can just about get away with watching a movie through the built-in speakers (particularly ones with lots of dialogue) without your ears getting fatigued, but it doesn’t get particularly loud and when the action intensifies the speakers start to struggle – best stick with headphones.
Finally, DivX files are well suited to the 7in screen, looking bold and vivid with no motion glitches, while MP3 music is clear and dynamic though good quality headphones (which sadly, the supplied pair are not).
The SD-P73S is yet another solid portable DVD player from the Toshiba stable that offers useful features and groovy looks. Performance could be bettered by a higher resolution screen, but otherwise you’ll have few complaints with its pictures – particularly at this price.
Score in detail
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