Costing less than £70, the SD-360E is one of the cheapest upscaling DVD players around. Using scaling and de-interlacing technology, the player can take a standard-resolution DVD picture and 'upconvert' it to 720p or 1080i, which it then outputs to an HD-ready TV via an HDMI cable. The idea is that you get a sharper picture with more detail -- not quite up to proper hi-def standards, but better than regular DVD images.
Like most new DVD players, this is also compatible with CDs, including those featuring MP3 audio, JPEG photos or DivX-encoded movies. It is surround-sound compatible too, but only when it outputs to an AV amp via its coaxial digital connection -- there are no built-in Dolby Digital or DTS decoders here.
You don't expect top class build quality for £80, and you don't get it here. The player feels slightly lightweight and tinny, and you get the impression it wouldn't react well to being dropped. The disc drawer is also flimsy. On the plus side, it's a very slim player measuring just 42mm in height, so you won't have too much trouble finding a spot for it in your living room.
There's a basic LED display at the front, including an indicator that tells you which upscaling mode you're using -- 576p, 720p or 1080i. You also get a blue power light, which doesn't really tell you anything but looks cool. Overall, the styling is reasonably attractive -- it doesn't look shamefully cheap and nasty, but it won't have you boasting to your buddies either.
Button layout is straightforward. There's nothing to confuse you on the player itself, just an on/off button and controls for basic playback.
Moving round to the back, the connection selection is pretty standard for a cheap DVD player, with the exception of the HDMI output. The other options are progressive-scan-compatible component video, an RGB Scart and standard composite video. Things are very basic on the audio side -- there's just analogue stereo phono and coaxial digital. Unfortunately, there's no sign of an optical digital output. The HDMI connection, which can carry both video and audio, is on paper by far the best on offer -- as long as you have the right input on your television or projector.
Like the player, the remote control is pleasingly compact -- in fact it's a lot smaller than most DVD remotes. The tiny buttons are well laid out, with the essentials playback and menu controls stuck right in the middle where you'd expect them.
Setting up the player is easy. At first, it must be hooked up to your display device via composite or Scart, then you simply tap the remote control's Setup button to bring up a menu. This menu allows you set your screen shape (4:3 or 16:9), as well as specify which video output you would prefer to use. If you select HDMI, then you can also choose one of 480/576p, 720p and 1080i as your preferred output resolution. 480/576p is standard definition, and changes depending on the source material -- if your DVD is PAL, it'll appear in 576p; if it's NTSC, 480p. That's it on the setup front -- the player is now ready to spin your DVDs.
There are a few other features and functions, though. First, the EPM -- this allows you to adjust the picture slightly, altering the brightness and sharpness of the image. It works reasonably effectively (particularly the brightness setting), is instantly accessible from the remote control and makes a welcome change from having to adjust from within your TV's menu.
There is also the EAM setting, which basically switches between normal sound and a 3D-surround mode. This doesn't make a huge difference to sound quality, but does give the effect of a slightly wider soundfield.
As with most DVD players, inserting a CD or an MP3/JPEG disc in the SD-360E's drawer brings up a browser menu that allows you to pick and choose the tracks/snaps/flicks you want to see or hear.
Other features include a zoom function, bit rate meter, step-by-step playback and 'multi-angle' mode.
Use an HDMI cable and the picture quality can be superb. We watched Mr & Mrs Smith on a Sharp LCD TV, flicking between 576p, 720p and the RGB Scart setting. The Scart provides a decent but rather washed-out picture, while both the HDMI modes delivered sharper edges and greater detail -- we could pick out lines on Brad Pitt's face, for instance.
In truth, there was very little difference between 576p and 720p -- both looked excellent, despite 720p's extra lines. This was on a 32-inch screen, though -- if you have a mammoth plasma or a projector the improvement would be more pronounced. The only criticism we have where the image is concerned is the appearance of some speckles of noise in smooth areas of colour (skies, for example) and, during movement, a tiny bit of flickering in areas with lots of detail, such as leaves on trees. Neither are show-stopping problems, especially on such an affordable upscaling player.
Sound quality is fine -- it reliably does its job.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield