Although Blu-ray players are starting to fall in price, they're still a good deal more expensive than DVD players. With the SD-490, which can be picked up for under £50, Toshiba is targeting those who aren't yet interested in Blu-ray but are looking for a stylish player with good 1080p-upscaling capabilities to help them make the most of their existing DVD collection.
Slim and sexy
As DVD decks go, the SD-490 is something of a looker. At a mere 42mm tall, it's one of the slimmest players currently on the market. Its short stature does, however, mean there's only room for a tiny, one-line, four-digit display, which can't show very much information. In fact, it can't even show 'no disc' when there's nothing in the drive -- just 'no' appears on the display. Nevertheless, the SD-490's slim dimensions, along with the tasteful black and silver finish, mean it looks quite sleek and sexy, and that's saying something for a deck that costs less than £50.
The SD-490's budget nature is evident when it comes to the remote, though. It feels rather plasticky, and the matte finish isn't exactly classy. But it's small enough to fit comfortably in the hand; the button layout is good, so your thumb rests above all the important controls; and we like the way there's a dedicated HDMI button that lets you cycle through the output options, from standard definition all the way up to upscaled 1080p.
Around the back, the SD-490 isn't exactly laden with outputs, but it has enough to get the job done. You'll find an RGB Scart socket and composite video out, along with a pair of analogue stereo phono plugs and a coaxial digital audio output for hooking the player up to a surround-sound amp. There are no component sockets, so, if you're connecting it to an HD Ready flat-screen TV, your only option is the HDMI port. As the HDMI port produces better-quality output anyway, it's hardly a major limitation.
Short on features
This isn't a player that's packed with features. For example, it doesn't have a USB port -- for that you'll need to go for Toshiba's slightly higher-end SD-590. It can still be used to play digital video and pictures -- you just have to go to the inconvenience of burning them to discs first. The deck supports DivX video, MP3 music and JPEG picture files. Unfortunately, high-definition formats like DivX HD aren't supported, so you'll have to look at rival players if you want to be able to play such file formats.
What's really important is picture performance, and the SD-490 puts in a good showing. Colours are strong and vibrant, but the player always keeps a rein on them so they don't look artificial. Its contrast performance is also first-rate. Edge detail is impressive, too, and there's little, if any, discernable judder.
The SD-490's upscaling processing is very impressive. It manages to get slightly more detail from your discs without introducing nasty artefacts or too much digital noise. Upscaling is no substitute for true high-definition output, however.
If you're not ready to make the leap to a Blu-ray player just yet, but want a DVD player that can eke more detail out of your existing DVD collection, the Toshiba SD-490 is a good option. It looks stylish, offers great picture quality and doesn't cost the earth. Those who use their DVD deck for DivX playback, though, will probably find Toshiba's USB-shod SD-590 a more convenient option.
Edited by Charles Kloet