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TOSHIBA SD-100, £300, ****

 

Why’s it here:  The SD-100 is first and foremost an attempt by Toshiba to keep up with the Joneses -- and the Japanese and Chinese equivalents. The point is DVD player prices continue to tumble and Toshiba’s previous entry-level machine, the SD-3109, was starting to look a bit pricey at £500. The SD-100 gets Toshiba close to the budget sector action but this machine has other talents that could help it to stay competitive in other ways…

 

Any unique features: This is the first Toshiba player to have upgradeable firmware, by disc. Ostensibly it allows the machine’s operating system to be easily upgraded if we have another incident like the mixed-media disc compatibility debacle that affected some brands (not Toshiba, though…), when titles with PC content, like The Matrix, wouldn’t play properly on some machines. However, there is speculation that things like region locks could also be changed or disabled by popping in a special disc, though if true it is highly unlikely such a disc would be made available by Toshiba. We’ll just have to wait and see…

 

Unsurprisingly the rest of the feature list makes fairly sparse reading. Needless to say there are no on-board 5.1 surround sound decoders (not that this is a budget feature any longer…), but the one rather glaring omission is a decent on-screen display system. There’s a proper set-up menu, but when a disc is playing all you get is a basic set of time/chapter and status displays. The knock-on effect of not having any on-screen menu controls is a nasty little button-infested remote handset that looks like it belongs to a cheapo hi-fi system. The remote has many faults – too many tiny buttons for starters -- but the worst one is the miniscule Enter button in the middle of the cluster of four cursor keys, it’s simply too small and incredibly difficult to use, without pressing one of the other buttons. 

 

So far it has all been a touch negative, but there are some good points worth mentioning, they include a useful array of replay speeds (2x, 8x, & 30x normal speed in both directions, plus forward slomo & still), there’s a 3D spatial or pseudo surround mode, it also has 3-stage picture zoom and a display dimmer. The bitstream outputs (coaxial and optical) are both dts compatible and there’s a Karaoke mode, which filters out vocals, so you can annoy the neighbours with strange noises as you sing along with your favourite CDs.

 

The cosmetics are quite smart, the silver/grey casework is very trendy and the slim line box is a little smaller than most of its rivals. Connectivity is adequate, there’s a single SCART socket that can be configured for RGB output, in addition to separate S-Video and composite video outputs.

 

How does it perform:  Toshiba players have never been found wanting when it comes to the really important bits. The picture on our review sample was very clean with no processing artefacts and certainly no problems with mixed media discs. Layer change is quite relaxed though, taking a little over half a second. Although not excessive it is quite slow by current standards, indeed several machines (including one or two bargain basement models) manage it with almost no interruption to the picture whatsoever. Colours are bright, crisp and natural looking and resolution is very good indeed; the dynamic range is a little wider that usual, revealing plenty of detail in dark corners and shadows. The mixed stereo soundtracks give full reign to Dolby Surround soundtracks and effects, producing a very lively soundfield packed with movement and punchy bass sounds. Dolby Digital tracks pass smoothly through the bitstream output; again bass effects have plenty of impact and if you have gone to the trouble and expense of buying an external decoder and AV amp it is well worth budgeting for a meaty sub woofer as well, to get the full value out of discs with 5.1 soundtracks.

 

Our Verdict: Of course the SD-100 is a worthwhile addition t the Toshiba DVD range and they have obviously tried very hard to get the price down, without impinging upon its well-earned reputation for as one of the top names in home cinema.  However, with so many well-specified budget players selling for between £200 and  £250 the SD-100 is inevitably up against some very stiff competition. It scores well in terms of AV performance and looks but it lacks any killer features, though if our suspicions are correct upgradeable firmware could turn out to be a quite interesting development. However, as we said earlier any changes to the regional lock is pure speculation, in the absence of such a feature we have to say that there are one or two other players we’d rather spend our £300 on, that deliver comparable picture and sound quality, plus a few extra bells and whistles.

 

Toshiba (01276) 62222

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features            Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, DTS compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 3D spatial sound, 3 stage picture zoom, display dimmer, disc upgradeable firmware

                       

Sockets             1 x SCART AV, composite video, mixed stereo and coaxial digital out (phono), S0Video out (mini DIN), optical digital out (TOSlink)    

Dimensions                  

 

Rival Buys

Hitachi DVP-250 £300, JVC XV-515 £300, Sony DVP-S325 £330

 

CAPTIONS

Simple fuss-free styling and the case is a little thinner than usual

 

All of the connections you’re likely to need, including a SCART socket that can be configured for RGB output

 

An uncharacteristically nasty little remote handset, the Enter button in the middle of the four-war cursor cluster is way too small

 

 

 

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