Sugg. Retail: $699.99 (CAN)
Distributor: Toshiba of Canada Ltd. Consumer Electronics Group,
191 McNabb S., Markham, Ontario.
FAX (905) 470-5410
Reprinted From the Winter/Spring 2000 Issue
This is the DVD player with both the kitchen sink and the dishwasher. A look at the feature list reveals a plethora of plenitude: 6-disc carousel play, built-in Dolby Digital decoding, 24/96 and HDCD play, Spatializer virtual surround, DTS digital output, and jitter reduction circuitry. And those are just the audio features. It also offers 10-bit DVD video processing, Video black level control, picture zoom, Colorstream component video outputs, and a bit rate display mode. Put in bread instead of a DVD, and you’ll get toast in two minutes.
Well, almost. And all this for a copper under $700. As the commercial said: “How do we do it? Volume!” Actually, after talking to a competitor whose company is not part of the original DVD cartel, and therefore pays hefty licensing fees, I found out that they do it by not paying hefty licensing fees.
The Toshiba SD4109 is an audiophile multiplay CD player with video, if you like, or a videophile DVD player with extra audio features. Let’s assess the video performance first. Looking at the Video Essentials disc’s test materials, I saw very good grey scale performance, pure and well separated, hue-accurate colour bars, and black that showed blacker than black. On resolution test patterns, the line count approached 500 horizontal, and the picture was as sharp as I have seen from a DVD player. Looking at moving pictures after the static displays showed a spectacular picture that was completely untroubled by motion artifacts of the sort seen on many earlier DVD players, the sort of twinkly shimmers on diagonal lines and complex backgrounds in motion.
I partnered the SD-4109 with the Fujitsu plasma set, and the result was a superbly detailed and richly coloured picture. Of course, the $13,000 Faroudja digital video processor kind of helped. I also watched and listened to the Toshiba through our standard reference video system and was very impressed. There are so many features, and I had to try them all. Yes, it does play 24/96 DVD audio discs, and very well. It does not decode DTS discs, though it does output the right bitstream to allow our Technics SH-AC500 to decode them from both CDs and DVDs. I could not verify the HDCD capability, since the indicator never came on when one was playing, as it says it should in the manual. The discs sounded great, a standout track The Vikings from HDCD Sampler Volume 2 (Reference RR-905CD), with its thundering organ and powerful brass. Depending on the output configuration (Analog 6 Ch), it will play CDs with Dolby Pro Logic, and, of course, automatically switches to Dolby Digital on DVDs.
The remote control is well laid out, but suffers from a sameness of button colour: they’re mostly grey on a grey background, small, and neatly arranged in rows to make it hard to find the right one even in full daylight. The markings are also small, and there’s no backlighting. To use this remote during play, you’ll really have to memorize the key ones’ locations.
Otherwise, the SD-4109 is quite easy to master and use, the menus for both initial setup and day-to-day operation simple to access and use. The onscreen features are also excellent, though not much use if you can’t find the right button in the dark. A couple that are unique to this player, are its Bit Rate display, and the ability to adjust black level. The former is fascinating, a second-by-second readout in Mbps, that is sure to appeal to technofools everywhere, while the black level is a simple two-stage setting in the setup menu that is much less useful than a good monitor’s adjustment.
The one feature that should be a part of all DVD players that have built-in Dolby Digital is a 6-channel volume control. Then you could hook it up directly to the 5-channel amplifier and subwoofer. It seems to me a logical extension to the idea of putting a volume control in a CD player. As yet, this notion hasn’t occurred to Toshiba’s engineers, or any other company’s, as far as I know.
Though the picture quality and many sound options make this a remarkable value as a DVD player, the 6-disc transport is somewhat slow between discs. I’ve never wanted a multidisc car CD player, either, and feel that a DVD transport should handle only one disc or a couple of hundred to be really of value. And if it must be a 6-disc player, why use a clunky carousel, when the option of the Music Bank transport exists? These single-disc-tray transports provide a much more elegant way of dealing with the way in which we watch movies most of the time: one disc at a time.
Having got all that out of my system, I can conclude by saying that this Toshiba DVD player is one of the better ones at any price, and a remarkable achievement in audio and video performance for under $1500, let alone for only $699.