DVD players are getting cheaper by the day and you can now find big name brands stacked on supermarket shelves alongside more obscure names, often with little noticeable difference in price.
But even at bargain basement prices it’s better to go for a trusted name, and in the budget DVD player realm they don’t come more trustworthy than Toshiba.
Basic DVD player
Taking a look at the spec, the SD-280E is best suited to the bedroom or kitchen, as it lacks many of the latest features you’d look for in a main DVD player.
But despite its ultra low price, there are actually two players below it in the range hierarchy (the SD-180E and SD-185E), which offer an even more stripped-down feature list.
Thankfully, the SD-280E manages to disguise its budget genesis with a firmly constructed chassis, slimline dimensions and a sleek black finish that matches Toshiba’s LCD TVs and HD DVD players, while the minimal button arrangement and basic display panel on the fascia keep things nice and discreet.
Watch DiVX movies
The SD-280E isn’t exactly packed with features, which is perhaps inevitable for such an inexpensive deck.
In terms of connections, it lacks HDMI output and therefore lacks hi-def video upscaling, but progressive scan images are still available from the component video outputs and there’s a Scart output to get your RGB fix. Audio outputs include an electrical digital output and stereo audio output, but there’s no optical digital output for those that need it.
It is, however, pleasing to find DiVX playback at this price, which means internet downloaders can watch their content without a PC in sight. The deck will read DiVX files from recordable CDs or DVDs and it supports all versions up to and including 6.0 and Video-on- Demand.
It also decodes JPEG and MP3 files, but not WMA or WMV files, and the lack of a USB port means you can’t plug in MP3 players or flash drives. For this, you’ll need to stump up a little extra for the SD-580E.
Extensive disc support
As for disc support, the list isn’t exactly extensive but covers most bases. It’ll play DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD+R, but there’s no mention of dual-layer discs and you certainly won’t be able to play recordings made on DVD-RAM discs. What’s more, it will happily play your stash of old-school Video CD and SVCD discs.
Elsewhere there’s an unexpected range of tweaks, including a choice of picture presets (Vivid or Cool) and a selection of different view modes that make the picture fit your screen in various ways depending on its original aspect ratio.
Those of you wanting to watch action flicks at night without waking up the family might find the Night mode useful, as it trims the loud bits and boosts the quiet parts, and there’s a 3D Effect that’s designed to make stereo material sound like surround sound, but it doesn’t work very well.
Finally, there’s a decent range of playback tricks, including a threestage zoom, 16x search and three slow motion settings.
Technophiles and ’phobes alike will find this deck extremely easy to set up and use, thanks to the simple main menu and clearly legible onscreen displays.
The remote is smaller than most and, as a result, some of the buttons are on the fiddly side, but the clever arrangement of often-used controls makes it feel intuitive. If you’re buying this deck for the kids’ bedroom, we guarantee they’ll have little problem getting the hang of it.
Given the budget nature of this player and the lack of an all-digital HDMI output, we weren’t expecting miracles and didn’t get them. But on the whole the SD-280E produces generally pleasing pictures that are perfect for everyday movie viewing.
Good picture detail
Taking a ‘cruel to be kind’ approach, we shoved the nasty Se7en DVD into the disc tray to test its MPEG2 decoding capabilities and it does a great job at keeping block noise at bay, with shadows on the dingy background walls reproduced with minimal twitching and banding.
During the movie’s many dark scenes you can pick out detail quite easily, often with only Mills’ flashlight acting as the only source of light.
Colour reproduction also gets a clean bill of health. Through the RGB Scart or component outputs, the dazzling colours of Finding Nemo look deep and radiant, with tightly contained edges and only minimal noise.
On the downside, when we hooked this player up to screens of 42in or bigger a few artefacts such as the odd jagged line or patch of dot crawl were revealed, and we’ve no doubt that the image would have been even sharper with an HDMI connection, but overall there can be few complaints about the deck’s picture performance.
If you’re planning on playing CDs on this deck, you’ll find much to enjoy in its sprightly sound, but it’s not the most refined music player you’ll ever hear.
Movie soundtracks are clean and audible when played via the analogue stereo ports, but played on a home cinema system using the digital audio output the results sound fantastic.
Fantastic value from Toshiba
Those looking for a slick, reliable DVD player for the bedroom with a few tasty embellishments such as DiVX and MP3 playback will find the SD-280E an ideal choice.
It’s easy to use, well made and offers solid picture quality, which can’t be said for all players in this price range. HDMI upscaling or a USB port would have made it irresistible, but to be honest that’s unrealistic at this price.
As it stands, we’d happily pay £35 for this player.