Toshiba's player is only worth the upgrade if you have a flat-screen TV or projector, because most of the features are intended to improve DVD playback on high-definition displays. Previously, DVD players featured RGB Scart as the best quality connection. It was fine for a CRT TV, but the analogue, interlaced signal doesn't bode well for digital, progressive-scan displays. Instead of delivering video in an interlaced format, which can produce noticeable flicker on a flat screen, the SD-350E sends progressive images. This means that every line of the display is updated simultaneously, so there's no flicker. Both component video and HDMI support progressive scan on Toshiba's player, and if you want another quality boost, you can make the HDMI output a high-resolution video signal as well.
Many flat-screen owners will have made the upgrade to pre-empt the arrival of high-definition video. This player will act as a stopgap until high definition arrives by upsampling your standard PAL 576-line DVDs to 720p and 1080i. Most current LCDs feature a 1,360x768-pixel resolution -- 768 lines, in other words, so by having a player upscale the video to fit, it will hopefully have fewer visual artefacts when it's displayed. True, many TVs already feature technology to help fill in the gaps automatically, but a player that processes the video before it's transmitted certainly can't do any harm.
The player supports the DivX format, which is great for people who have movies they've compressed for use on the move. DivX can compress DVD movies down to much smaller size, and the Dr DivX software can be used to make the process easier. Those who are really into this video compression technology will probably prefer to use the Xvid codec, which is like Apple to DivX's Microsoft. Unfortunately though, the Xvid we tested didn't play back on the SD-350E. It's worth noting that the player can also be made multiregion via a simple remote control hack -- open the tray, dial '2403960' on the remote, press the enter key repeatedly to go to region 9, and then close the tray.
The component video output offers an excellent quality picture, but the player will not upscale video over this connection. We didn't mind that overly -- the picture from Toshiba's player from component was superbly detailed. We'd say that it edges out Samsung's DVD-HD850 over component, providing colours that jump off the screen and a contrast depth that not even the darkness of Batman Begins could begin to challenge. It's a shame that the player won't upscale via component video though, as it would be useful for last-generation LCD owners who missed out on the jump to HDMI.
The component video performance was one of the reasons we were slightly nonplussed by HDMI upscaling from the Toshiba. Be under no illusions, upscaling will not completely remove the compression artefacts from standard definition video, but there wasn't a noticeable improvement over component at 720p. We'd even say that contrast levels aren't as good as they are through component, which could be a weakness of the player's Zoran 7 chipset or the HDMI connection itself. There was a noticeable difference with a high-quality Monster HDMI cable, but we suspect that the budget price of the player will encourage most users to buy cheap interconnects. If we were to use the SD-350E at home, we would be tempted to stick with component video.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Nick Hide