The prices of full-featured DVD players have fallen so far that it makes sense to buy one now, even if your home-theater system can't take advantage of all its functions. Toshiba's SD4800, for example, requires a progressive-scan TV and a DVD-Audio- (DVD-A) capable surround-sound system to realize its full potential. But at a street price of around $200, this Toshiba doesn't cost too much more than a good entry-level deck. Sure it has flaws--namely spotty MP3 playback--but overall, this progressive performer is an extremely solid value that mates well with an HDTV, even if you don't own one yet.
The prices of full-featured DVD players have fallen so far that it makes sense to buy one now, even if your home-theater system can't take advantage of all its functions. Toshiba's SD4800, for example, requires a progressive-scan TV and a DVD-Audio (DVD-A) surround-sound system to realize its full potential. But at a street price of around $200, this Toshiba doesn't cost too much more than a good entry-level deck. Sure it has flaws--namely spotty MP3 playback--but overall, this progressive performer is an extremely solid value that mates well with an HDTV, even if you don't own one yet.
The SD4800 bucks the trend of silver, pancake-flat DVD players with a black case that's a little shallower--8.6 inches--than that of the 4700 but not nearly as slim as that of the Panasonic XP50. Subtly ridged plastic surrounds a pair of slightly raised panels that comprise the understated face, with a disc drawer above and an informative, dimmable LED display below. The 4800's face sprouts a few front-panel buttons that you won't find on every player, the most notable of which are full DVD and setup-menu controls with a small button/joystick to operate the cursor.
The substantial remote deserves kudos for its well-arranged buttons. The keys aren't illuminated, but the thumb falls easily to the most important controls, so learning their placement by feel shouldn't take long. The remote can be programmed to operate several brands of TVs, though it provides only channel up/down, volume, and power buttons.
The SD4800's standout feature is its ability to play DVD-A discs, but you'll need a receiver with analog 5.1-channel inputs and a surround speaker system to enjoy this multichannel music format. The 4800 is also a progressive-scan player, so if you want to take full advantage of its abilities, you'll need a TV with 480p-input capability.
Like many next-generation DVD players, the SD4800 can also handle CD-Rs but not CD-RWs; DVD-Rs; DVD+Rs, although one of our tests discs skipped; DVD+RWs; MP3 CDs; and Kodak Picture CDs. According to an external sticker--and nothing else--the 4800 can also play discs containing JPEGs, but it didn't recognize any of the ones that we tried.
We weren't particularly impressed with the 4800's MP3 CD capabilities; it wasn't able to recognize one of our test discs, and the MP3 CDs that it did play seemed to make a good deal of noise while spinning. On the plus side, this Toshiba did display an MP3 song menu with the first six letters of the filename and was able to play the tracks at random.
Conveniences include a nice Navi menu that offers access to playback functions such as a strobe viewer that displays six frames in sequence; an angle viewer, which displays all available angles; a capture mode to customize the menu background; and three memory slots for picture parameters such as contrast, brightness, and so on. There's also a versatile zoom mode that can selectively target different parts of the picture.
Owners of certain wide-screen TVs that cannot control aspect with 480p sources will want to note the SD4800's limited aspect-ratio control. The deck can display a progressive-scan picture on those sets without horizontal stretching but only for true 4:3 sources, such as DVDs of TV shows. Nonanamorphic, letterboxed movies must be viewed in interlaced mode.
The SD4800 looks great when paired with a progressive-scan TV such as the Samsung TXM3098WHF that we used for testing. We watched scenes from E.T.--The Extra Terrestrial, and the image looked sharp but not edge-enhanced, with no visible motion artifacts. In one pan where the camera follows Elliot's bike speeding through the forest, the foreground logs and branches were solid and free of movement.
We did catch some telltale moving lines in the same scene when we switched the 4800 to 4:3 interlaced mode for playback on a standard TV. That's a common problem among DVD players, however. Otherwise, the SD4800's video playback is top-notch.
DVD-A discs sounded excellent; when we popped in Neil Young's Road Rock, the crowd noise was enveloping in surround sound, and the instruments, as well as Young's voice, had unusual warmth and depth. Even on a relatively inexpensive deck such as the SD4800, DVD-A is a big improvement over CD.
Unless MP3 CDs comprise a large part of your music library, we have no problem recommending the Toshiba SD4800, which is also one of the least expensive DVD-A-capable decks out there. Panasonic's DVD-RP82 costs about the same ($199 online) but doesn't have the nice zoom mode or aspect control. If you have expensive tastes for progressive-scan video and DVD-A discs but lack the budget right now, the SD4800 belongs on your shopping list.