Every major consumer-electronics manufacturer offers a slew of progressive-scan decks, and this year, the least expensive ones cost around $150 online. Among others, Toshiba's lineup includes the SD4800 and its little brother, the SD3800. The 3800 offers great progressive-scan video and plenty of features, lacking only the 4800's DVD-Audio playback capability and universal remote. If you own a progressive-scan set or plan to get one within a year or two, this modestly priced unit merits strong consideration.Every major consumer-electronics manufacturer offers a slew of progressive-scan decks, and this year, the least expensive ones cost around $150 online. Among others, Toshiba's lineup includes the SD4800 and its little brother, the SD3800. The 3800 offers great progressive-scan video and plenty of features, lacking only the 4800's DVD-Audio playback capability and universal remote. If you own a progressive-scan set or plan to get one within a year or two, this modestly priced unit merits strong consideration.
The SD3800's silver case isn't as flat as that of some other models, such as the Panasonic DVD-XP30, but it's shallower and should fit more easily atop a television. The understated face looks suitably futuristic, with a layer of transparent plastic surrounding the display below a centered disc drawer. The plastic accents a few front-panel buttons that you won't find on every player, the most notable of which are full DVD and setup-menu controls with a small button/joystick to operate the cursor.
The ergonomic remote deserves kudos for its well-arranged buttons. The keys aren't illuminated, but the thumb falls easily to the most important controls, so learning their placement by feel shouldn't take long.
The SD3800's principal claim to fame is a progressive-scan output, which Toshiba chooses to call ColorStream. It's important to note that if you want to take full advantage of its abilities, you'll need a TV with 480p-input capability.
Like many next-generation DVD players, the SD3800 can also handle CD-Rs but not CD-RWs, DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs (one of our tests discs skipped), DVD+RWs, MP3 CDs, and Kodak Picture CDs. According to an external sticker--and nothing else--the 4800 can also play discs containing JPEGs, but it didn't recognize any of the ones that we tried.
We weren't particularly impressed with the 3800's MP3 CD capabilities; it wasn't able to recognize one of our test discs, and the MP3 CDs that it did play seemed to make a good deal of noise while spinning. On the plus side, this Toshiba displays an MP3 song menu with the first six letters of the filename and was able to play the tracks at random.
Conveniences include a Navi menu that offers access to playback functions such as a strobe viewer that displays six frames in sequence; an angle viewer, which displays all available angles; a capture mode to customize the menu background; and three memory slots for picture parameters such as contrast, brightness, and so on. There's also a versatile zoom mode that can selectively target different parts of the picture.
Owners of certain wide-screen TVs that cannot control aspect with 480p sources will want to note the SD3800's aspect-ratio control. Unlike many progressive-scan players, the Toshiba can display a progressive-scan picture on those sets without horizontally stretching nonanamorphic DVDs. A separate setting makes 4:3 material appear with bars to either side, and nonanamorphic letterboxed material can be magnified to fill the width of the screen.
The SD3800 looks great when paired with a progressive-scan TV such as the Samsung TXM3098WHF that we used for testing. We watched scenes from E.T.--The Extra Terrestrial, and the image looked sharp but not edge-enhanced, with no visible motion artifacts. In one pan where the camera follows Elliot's bike speeding through the forest, the logs and branches in the foreground were solid and free of movement.
We caught some telltale moving lines in the same scene when we switched the 4800 to 4:3 interlaced mode for playback on a standard TV. That's a common problem among DVD players, however. Otherwise, the SD3800's video playback is top-notch.
At an online price of about $150, the 3800 competes well against the excellent Zenith DVB216, which doesn't have the aspect controls but includes a nicer remote. Unless MP3 CDs comprise a large part of your music library, we have no problem recommending the Toshiba SD3800.