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Toshiba SD-5109 DVD Player

Toshiba DVD Player Embraces the Future

480p output, Super Audio

By Jim Bray

Note: TechnoFILE's sample for this column was provided by K&W Audio of Calgary, Alberta.

It’s nice to see a piece of electronic equipment that won’t be out of date next year.

Toshiba’s twin disc SD-5109 DVD player isn’t only a nice unit for today, it’ll work even better when you upgrade your home theater to take advantage of new technologies.

Of course it’s going to cost you. The 5109 sells for $999, which is more than three times as expensive as some players.

The most important “future benefit” is the “progressive scan component video output,” which means that when you move from today’s TV to tomorrow’s (assuming you haven’t already, of course), the Toshiba’s rarin’ to go.

Progressive scan – as opposed to “interlaced” – is how computer monitors work. Fortunately, DVD titles are recorded onto the discs as “480p” signals, which most DVD players “dumb down” to the NTSC standard of today’s North American TV stations.

If you have a compatible progressive scan TV (and Toshiba – coincidentally, I’m sure – happens to make some), the progressive scan component output gives a better picture than NTSC (an acronym some wags have said stands for “Never Twice the Same Color!”).

Not that the DVD format’s any slouch to begin with, but the 480p (480 lines, progressively scanned), 60 frame per second picture should appear even more film-like.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a progressive scan TV with which to try the feature, so I can only say that it worked fine in a local store…

The deck can also play back HDCD (“high definition compact discs”) and stereo “DVD Audio” discs. Both of these are “high end” music formats (and are, naturally, incompatible with each other) that are supposed to sound even better than your garden variety compact discs.

It’s nice to see all of this audio flexibility, too, though there isn’t much software that’ll take advantage of it yet.

One bit of flexibility I’d like to have seen, but which isn’t included, is the ability to play back home made CD-R audio compact discs. This is a common oversight on many DVD players today and it really bugs me. It means that, if you’ve recorded your own CD on your computer, you’re out of luck if you want to play it back on the 5109.

Toshiba has also included Spatializer N-2-2 “virtual surround sound,” which is a way of fudging the stereo signal so your brain thinks it’s surround. This is meant for people who haven’t yet upgraded their audio systems to include Dolby Pro Logic, Digital and/or DTS. It works okay, but it’s hardly a substitute for the real thing.

Naturally, the player also handles Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS-encoded discs without breaking a sweat. It even has its own internal decoder, so if you only have a “digital ready” receiver you can plug in the Toshiba and it’ll do all the AC-3 decoding for you.

Audio outputs include coaxial and optical digital, as well as stereo and 5.1 channel analog.

The 5109 holds two discs, for those who want a multi-disc changer.

A nifty video feature is “zoom” which, as the name suggests, lets you expand an area of the picture to better fill the screen. This can be used to highlight a particular area of the screen and make it easier to see, which is kind of neat.

I liked using it to show my wife how much picture area is lost when you watch a widescreen movie in “Pan&Scan” mode. Unfortunately, she still isn’t convinced.

The 5109 has all the standard DVD player features, like multiple angle viewing (which is nice, though not many DVD’s give you multiple angles), variable audio tracks and various aspect ratios.

The weakest link in this otherwise fine player, as is often the case, is the remote control. It’s a “two level” design that hides the number keys behind a sliding panel that’s an accident waiting to happen. You have to remove the panel to stick the batteries in and it feels as if, over time, the panel would come off for good.

I wasn’t thrilled with the remote’s layout and functionality, either. It’s clean and fairly straightforward, but not particularly intuitive – and the buttons’ labels are small and hard to read.

Still, on the whole, this is a lovely player that works very well and has enough features to keep almost anyone happy – today and for many years to come.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006