Instead of the black finish of the SD4700, this model has a silver exterior and a metal casing (as opposed to plastic). The front panel has clean lines and all of the necessary buttons, including a menu control, but we can't say that this is the slickest-looking player, and it won't measure up in the style department to Panasonic's upcoming slim progressive-scan decks.
The slightly bulky remote is the same as the one that's included with the SD4700, only it's gray instead of black. The remote has an annoying flip-up door and lacks backlighting but makes up for these problems 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 SD5700'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.
DVD-A and HDCD
If your music collection consists of a wall full of five-inch discs in every format imaginable, this audio Swiss Army knife should handle them all, including DVD-A and HDCD discs. The SD5700 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, the Toshiba 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 SD5700 had bass management, though to be fair, no current DVD-A-compatible player offers that feature.
As noted, the SD5700 also supports HDCD playback. The HDCD format, which is now owned by Microsoft, is encoded with 20 bits of musical information as compared to the 16 bits found on standard CDs. In practice, the sound quality difference is marginal, especially compared to DVD-A, but if you happen to own an HDCD or two, you may appreciate the feature. As with DVD-A the current selection of HDCD titles is fairly limited.
Strong video performer
The SD5700 is currently 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 SD5700 is one of the few that can.
As is the case with the SD4700, 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.
Though the SD5700 is undoubtedly a strong progressive-scan deck, the list price is off. At $399, the SD5700 is hardly a bargain, considering that the SD4700 goes for $299. When you start going by street prices, though, you'll see a much better deal. We found the SD5700 for closer to $240 online--only a few dollars more than the SD4700.
In the end, the real question is how much the HDCD support and minor cosmetic enhancements are worth to you. In our book, these don't count for much. We'd be willing to kick in a few extra bucks just in case the HDCD format actually catches on, but the choice is ultimately yours.