Portable DVD players are falling out of favour now that hard-drive based models are appearing and they've now dropped well below £100 on the high street. However, most are poorly designed and have tiny screens. In contrast, the Toshiba SD-P1600, at £200, has a relatively large 7-inch screen. The previous model, the SD-P1400, was our travel companion of choice, offering features such as two headphone sockets, DTS output and a remote control. Unfortunately, this follow-up doesn't offer anything new, other than a slightly more attractive chassis and an AV input.
What you're left with is a DVD player that still offers some useful features, such as the ability to use the player as a stand-alone device and connect up to a TV, but it's a shame the picture quality on the new version has dropped noticeably. It's a face-lift that the product didn't really need. Although it feels a little retro next to the SD-P1600, we'd recommend picking up the SD-P1400 cheaply if you can, because it's still superior.
The SD-P1600 is a curvy little player with a thin chassis. It looks particularly nice when it's closed -- the screen locks into the main part of the player and it's sturdy enough to go into a bag without needing a soft protector. The screen itself has a very small bezel around it, with a speaker panel underneath. The previous model had big speakers that stuck out like a sore thumb, but for the SD-P1600, Toshiba has flattened them and placed them below the main display. It's an elegant touch that's somewhat spoiled by the battery pack that you have to fix to the rear. It's a large and lumpy addition to the main body, but if you're close to a power source (such as a mains socket on a train, or a cigarette lighter in a car) you can remove it and save its power for later.
The connectivity on Toshiba's mini marvel is very good. Two headphone sockets mean you can share the display with a friend in a car, or even a complete stranger on a train. The viewing angle is limited, though, so you'll need to huddle round the player to get the most enjoyable picture. Along the side of the player, there are AV outputs for connecting it to a television, which could be very handy if you stay in hotels regularly -- just take your movies with you and hook it up to the TV in the room. It's also good to see that the unit can send a digital audio signal to your receiver, in Dolby Digital or DTS formats. There is also an AV input on the side, which is a new addition. It means you can use the device as an external display.
If you are going to be connecting the DVD player to an external display, you'll appreciate the extremely thin infrared remote control. You can use it to control all the basic functions on the player, as well as some more advanced ones like zoom and A-B repeat. Strangely, you can't alter the volume level.
The features list on the SD-P1600 is limited, which is not surprising for a small portable player. The player will happily play discs recorded in +R or -R format, as well as accepting discs with MP3 files and JPEGs. The player will read the files from a CD or DVD, and you can browse folders that were created when the disc was burned. If you create a DVD full of your favourite albums or holiday snaps, you'l have a big library that you can browse when you run out of movies.
The AV input is a new addition to Toshiba's portable DVD player. It will be handy if you or your children want to play videogames in the back of the car, or if you're on the move and want to preview your camcorder movies on a slightly bigger screen. You could even use it in a caravan and plug in a Freeview box.
The Dolby Digital output is something else for Toshiba to boast about, but it seems unlikely you would ever want to use it. After all, who has a surround sound speaker system without a DVD player in the first place? Also, you can only output to a television on the SD-P1600 using a composite video cable, so while you may be able to get great audio, the accompanying video will be terrible.
The only options for tweaking the picture are in terms of brightness and colour. You can change the screen format from 16:9 to 4:3 through a confusingly named Enhanced setting. On the audio front, there are presets that you can use to tweak the audio, but again, the choices are not very well named. Jazz, Hall and Stadium are the only modes on offer -- we'd prefer audio tweaks more suited to the player's main functions as a movie playback device. Speaking of omissions, you could reasonably expect DivX playback on a modern DVD player. The lower resolution of most DivX movies would make them perfect for the Toshiba screen. However, it isn't supported.
While the design and features lists on the SD-P1600 are satisfactory, more criticism can be levelled at the performance. There are a lot of things to be picky about in terms of the SD-P1600's picture quality. Using Star Wars Episode II as a benchmark -- a movie that was filmed and mastered digitally -- we were shocked by how bad it looked. The image was noisy around edges, and it lacked any sort of contrast detail. You couldn't tell where the creases were on Obi-Wan Kenobi's jacket, which doesn't bode well for the majority of movies. The viewing angle is also extremely limited, with very little margin for change once you find an optimum position.
The speakers are merely average, too. They're certainly not capable of any bass, although this is to be expected from a portable player. Things improve greatly when you plug in a pair of headphones, particularly decent ones, and there's no loss of quality when you use both outputs. AV output performance was poor too, but this isn't helped by the inclusion of a composite-only video cable, which is the lowest quality connection available.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Tom Espiner