When making the upgrade to high-definition flat-screen displays, pernickety home cinema users often find that standard DVD players no longer cut the mustard. The problem lies in screen resolutions -- most flat screens are much higher res than DVD. It's taken a while for manufacturers to address the issue, but Toshiba and Samsung have both recently released budget LCDs that feature HDMI connectivity, leading them to follow up with higher-spec DVD players.
Toshiba's SD-350 is attractively priced, especially as the player has been comprehensively overhauled since its predecessor, the SD-150E. There are a few curiosities that could deter you from making the upgrade -- picture quality is better through component video than it is from HDMI, for instance. Also, the player lacks an optical audio output, a standard that is much more popular than the coaxial output that's been chosen. The SD-350 is a funky looking piece of kit, with attractive features such as DivX playback and it's an adequate picture performer -- a perfect candidate if you've chosen something like the Toshiba 32WL56.
The SD-350E is a nice player to look at. It's extremely shallow from front to back and it's not very thick either -- it packs in modern technology while remaining the epitome of sleek player design. The front panel boasts a number of badges that should alert gadget lovers to the player's high-end features, including the HDMI logo, a DivX certification tag plus the usual DTS/Dolby Digital seal of approval. There are also three lights on the front panel that inform you of the video output mode, with indicators for 576p, 720p and 1080i resolution outputs. We like the blue light along the disc tray -- it gives the player a premium feel, but you may find it annoying in the dark of your home cinema.
The connections only take up 130mm of space and are bunched together on the left of the 430mm back panel. Most of our wishlist is covered, with RGB Scart, composite, component and HDMI video connectivity all present and correct. Having said that, there's inexplicably no S-video connector. It's not a complete loss, as you can buy a cheap Scart adaptor, but it's a shame to see it missing, as S-video connectors are still included on the front of many televisions, making them much easier to access than Scarts on the rear.
On the audio front, Toshiba's DVD player has one digital audio output of the coaxial variety. Most DVD players and home cinema systems offer optical audio outputs, so it's confusing to see it omitted here -- perhaps a sign of necessary cost-cutting on Toshiba's part. If your home-cinema system only has an optical input, then you'll need to buy an adaptor from somewhere like Maplin. HDMI also carries digital audio signals, although you'll need a very recent or high-end AV amp to have HDMI support.
The remote control is as diminutive as the player itself. It has a black fascia and a silver body -- something of a clash with the player, but stylish nonetheless. The size restricts the amount of space for the buttons, and everything feels too tightly packed together. Your thumb rests nicely on the Enter button though, and it can drop down to the main Play, Stop and other navigation buttons without straining.