We've been waiting for Toshiba to make a strong showing in the budget progressive-scan game, and it has finally done so with the SD4700, a sub-$300 deck that features top-flight progressive-scan video performance and DVD-Audio (DVD-A) support. And while competing manufacturers are sure to match this player's features, performance, and aesthetics in the coming months, today it arguably has a slight lead on the rest of the budget pack.
The numeric rating for this product has been changed since the review's original publication. The reason for this is simply the general improvement of technology over time. In order to keep our ratings fair and accurate, it's sometimes necessary to downgrade the ratings of older products relative to those of newer products.
All the basics covered
The SD4700's businesslike appearance carries through to its overall design. The front panel is an understated black with clean lines and all the necessary buttons, including a menu control. The slightly bulky remote, with its annoying flip-up door, lacks backlighting but makes up for the omission with a simple, easily memorized button layout and a responsive minijoystick to move the menu cursor. We also appreciated that the onscreen menus are clean and simple, although there aren't any text explanations of menu items, which would have made navigation even simpler. You also won't find many image-adjustment options, but the picture is so good that we didn't miss them (more on performance later).
Connectivitywise, the SD4700's back panel includes outputs for component video (you can switch between progressive and interlaced output via a button on the remote), S-Video, standard video, analog stereo audio, analog 5.1-channel audio, and digital audio via coaxial and optical connections. No problems there.
If your music collection consists of a wall full of 5-inch discs in every format imaginable, this audio Swiss Army knife should handle them all. It played three differently authored CD-Rs filled with MP3 files without a hitch, displaying the first eight digits of the filenames in an onscreen menu that allowed access to the entire disc. Unlike pretty much every MP3-capable player we've tested, it can also play entire MP3 CDs--which often contain hundreds of audio files--in random order, regardless of whether they're buried in individual folders.
For the uninitiated, higher-resolution DVD-A discs have 5.1 channels of sound instead of the normal 2 channels found in stereo recordings. To hear the benefits, you'll need a receiver with analog 5.1-channel inputs (DVD-A doesn't currently support digital outputs) and a nice surround-sound speaker setup. The only catch: the current selection of DVD-A titles is pretty limited, but you can expect the list to grow quickly as more affordable DVD-A-compatible decks find their way into people's homes.
We compared the CD and DVD-Audio versions of Bjork's Vespertine using a Pioneer VSX-D810S receiver (100 watts per channel) and a set of HTD Level Three speakers. Bjork's soaring voice on the song "Aurora" was clean and full; the CD version was harsher and one-dimensional by comparison. Subtle electronic atmospheric clicks and pops danced in the rear channels while the voice sang solidly from the center. The receiver clipped when we turned the volume too high, a problem that could be solved if the SD4700 had bass management. To be fair, no current DVD-A-compatible player offers bass management.
If you're looking for a progressive-scan player now, the SD4700 is one of the best performers available. Steven Soderbergh's The Limey looked spectacular, with full colors and razor-sharp detail. As the dripping-wet Amelia Heinle emerged from a pool and moved from sunlight under some eaves, her skin showed breathtaking detail in the sun, and there was very little noise in the shadows. In another scene where Terence Stamp gets beaten up, a brick warehouse in the background remained perfectly stable despite the jerky handheld camera movement.
Another great feature for progressive-scan TV owners is aspect-ratio control. Some DTVs lock into wide-screen mode when fed a progressive-scan signal, which makes nonwide-screen (anamorphic) DVDs look stretched. To make them appear correctly, the DVD player must be able to internally control the aspect ratio, and the SD4700 is one of the few that can.
The main chink in this player's armor is its performance in interlaced mode on a standard 4:3 TV. In the warehouse scene mentioned above, the bricks were rife with jumping lines and artifacts. If you want to buy a progressive-scan player but don't have a wide-screen DTV at the moment, you may want to choose a player with superior interlaced performance.
You can find the SD4700 for around $220 on the Web, which is a few bucks more than non-DVD-A-compatible units, such as Panasonic's and Sony's . Toshiba also makes the step-up , which offers HDCD support on top of DVD-A support in a more stylish shell for $100 more. If you don't care about DVD-A or are more partial to the competing Super Audio CD format from Philips and Sony, you may want to wait a few months to see what new players emerge from those companies, as well as from Panasonic. But as it stands, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better budget progressive-scan/DVD-A-compatible deck for the money.