Technology moves at a staggering pace, particularly in the world of DVD players. Now available for less than the discs you put inside them, the DVD player has dropped in price far quicker than the VCR ever did. If you were an early adopter of DVD, you might have bought a player costing upwards of £350, and chances are it was big, ugly and not even as good as a unit that costs £60 these days.
One player that's chipping away at the lower end of the market is the Toshiba SD-150E, which offers progressive scan video and DivX playback for the very reasonable price of £45. It won't win any prizes for style, but as a bedroom or kitchen DVD player to accompany a flat screen, it's certainly a good value purchase.
The physical design of the SD-150E isn't exciting, but its slimline silver body will fit comfortably into any AV setup. At just under 50mm tall, this is under half the size of first-generation players. Like most other units at this price, you won't fool anyone that it's a premium model, but it's light and easy to carry from room to room. The remote control is also small and functional, allowing you to perform zooms, slow motion and even Picture in Picture.
The fascia is organised slightly differently to most players, with the DVD tray to the left, the LCD display in the centre and a few basic control buttons to the right. Around the back, connectivity is pretty standard, with RGB Scart out, composite for older televisions, and coaxial digital audio for transmission of Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. The most noteworthy inclusion has to be component video outputs, which are a real bonus at this price. Component offers a much more stable picture when using a compatible television, and in recognition of this, most of Toshiba's CRTs and rear projection TVs have component inputs. Only a year ago, a component DVD player would have cost you twice as much as this, as it was still a premium feature, and if you have a flat screen or projector you definitely owe it to yourself to make the upgrade.
There are not many features to speak of on this budget DVD player -- there are a few basic functions that can be accessed from the remote control (see above), but that's it. The player fully supports both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS playback, but you'll have to connect up to your amplifier or home cinema system via coaxial audio. There's also a 3D virtual surround sound mode, but we wouldn't recommend it -- these modes are never as good as real surround sound.
Aside from DVD-Video, there are a few other key formats that the SD-150E can cope with. It will read burned DVD-R discs, and if you've made a JPEG, MP3 or WMA disc the player will create a slideshow or playlist automatically. This is a really good feature for when friends come over and you want to show your holiday snaps, or if you're having a party and want to leave a selection of tracks on play. You can fit about eight to ten albums on one CD in a compressed audio format, which should be more than enough for an evening's entertainment.
Fast becoming a requirement for budget DVD players is DivX playback -- a compressed format that has become popular for sharing video across the Internet or using on portable devices such as the Archos AV480. Toshiba's support means that you can also watch this content on your TV, and thanks to high compression you can fit around five full-length movies on a DVD-R. There's a noticeable loss in image quality from DivX, but this player supported all our test content as well as clips downloaded from the DivX website.
We played Master & Commander through the Toshiba 36ZP48, which is one of the better CRT TVs out there because it also has component inputs. The movie is also one of our favourite test discs, because the bowels of the HMS Surprise throw up some extremely dark scenery while the mix of explosions and dialogue really tests the audio range.
The SD-150E had no trouble with either, its PAL Progressive Scan output giving a rock-solid picture and a clear, defined soundtrack. Obviously both are highly dependent on the quality of your display and speakers, but this DVD player will slot into most systems and cope with ease, at least until HD DVD comes along.
Edited by Nick Hide