Finding a product that performs better than its price would lead you to expect is always a pleasure for a reviewer. Toshiba's SD-4800 is just such a product-a relatively inexpensive DVD player that's packed with all the latest features.
For example, it plays DVD-Audio discs through its multichannel analog outputs, which also serve for Dolby Digital playback. It also plays CDs recorded with MP3 files and will put on a customizable slide show for you if you insert a CD filled with JPEG-format images. (Kodak Picture CDs and other image formats are also supported.) Besides setting image-viewing time, you can zoom, rotate, and pan the photos.
The front panel includes all the controls needed to get around a DVD, a highly desirable feature, and an unusual one, especially in a low-price player. The rear panel, on the other hand, is absolutely conventional for a player with multichannel-audio decoding and a component-video output, which can be set for interlaced or progressive-scan operation. Unlike some players, the SD-4800 is designed so that all of its video outputs are on simultaneously, which lets you send video to multiple rooms without having to use a video-distribution amplifier.
The remote control is sensibly laid out, with nicely spaced buttons. But some of the less prominent controls may be hard to find in a dimly lit room since the remote is not backlit, nor do any of its buttons or their labels glow in the dark.
Among the features unique to Toshiba DVD players is the NAVI graphical user interface, a fancy name for a special control menu that pops up onscreen around a smaller window for the video from the disc you're playing. Among other things, the NAVI menu system lets you activate multi-image strobe playback, preview the first images of titles or chapters, and capture a video frame to use as a background image (careful how you use this one!). The menu also provides access to the various picture controls (brightness, contrast, color, tint, digital noise reduction, and edge enhancement). A curious aspect of the NAVI features, as well as of some of the player's basic setup menus, is that sometimes you have to click on the word "return" or "exit" to get out of a menu, while other times you click on a graphic symbol of what looks like an exit door.
Setup itself was absolutely straightforward and typical of DVD players with multichannel audio and progressive-scan video outputs. Unfortunately, the bass-management setup menu does not permit switching the front left and right speakers to "small," so if you have small "satellite" speakers you'll want to use the player's digital outputs for Dolby Digital playback-your receiver is likely to have more versatile bass management anyway. (You must use the digital output for DTS soundtracks and DTS CDs, since there's no built-in DTS decoder.)
Of course, for DVD-Audio playback you must use the multichannel analog output, and this does not receive bass-management processing at all. If you have small satellite speakers and are also "addicted to bass," as the song goes, you'll probably want to use an external bass-management accessory (like Outlaw Audio's ICBM) to ensure that you're hearing all the bass on DVD-Audio titles.
Set up in our listening room with a suite of all large speakers, the SD-4800 sounded just fine. Stereo playback of CDs was extremely clean, as were DVD-Audio and Dolby Digital playback. I had great fun comparing the DVD-Audio remake of Philip Glass's music from Godfrey Reggio's visually compelling Powaqqatsi with the multichannel Dolby Digital remix of the original soundtrack provided on the recently released DVD of the movie. I actually liked the movie soundtrack better, mainly because it was less aggressively recorded. However, I was probably biased by the excellent image quality from the player's progressive-scan output.
Powqqatsi is a live-action film, even though much of it is in such achingly protracted-and beautiful-slow motion as to be almost static in effect (it's Glass's music that keeps the dynamism going). It and most other live-action films fortunately do not contain the highly saturated colors that set off the SD-4800's relatively mild case of the so-called "chroma-upsampling bug." With animated productions like the Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc., scan-line effects were visible on color borders in some scenes. Of course, if you don't have a progressive-scan monitor and are not planning to buy one in the near future, this problem-which is by no means unique to this player-is irrelevant.
Live-action films without highly saturated colors, like Powaqqatsi, looked great over the Toshiba SD-4800's progressive-scan output.
Using the S-video or even the component-video output switched to interlaced mode, Toshiba's SD-4800 DVD player will provide about as good a picture as those signal formats will allow. Add to this fine audio performance, especially for CD and DVD-Audio playback, and you have a solid-performing, easy-to-use player that can be had for a very reasonable price.
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