Several years ago, when Toshiba introduced the first DVD player, my staff and I (from my former publication) were among the first to review it. We pulled that player from its packaging and quickly moved it into our audition room, and placed it atop of one of the larger laser disc players. After hooking it up, we poked at it for a while, like cavemen around a fire. Indeed, it was the dawn of a new era...
Since the beginning of DVD technology, I have seen many features come and go. I have seen price points shoot up and hit rock bottom. And I have seen outrageous players perform miserably while entry-level players stick around to fight it out with the best.
The truth is I hate reviewing DVD players. Often times I am disappointed by the performance after being wowed by the press release and very rarely do I find myself surprised by an outstanding performance from an entry-level player. On the other hand, my expectations are often too high for the performance I seek from a higher-end player.
The Toshiba SD-3900 arrived on my doorstep just in time to make the cut for this
issue. And it sat anxiously in a stack of gear awaiting review until yesterday.
At $149, it didn't seem to have much of a chance next to my mountain of reference equipment, but seemed eager for the chance nonetheless.
Unique Features - There really isn't anything unique about the Toshiba SD-3900 except perhaps its wealth of features at an entry level price point.
In fact, it seems impossible to imagine that, for under one hundred and fifty bucks, I can buy a DVD player with MP3 playback, that decodes both Dolby Digital and DTS, and that offers progressive scan.
Let me retract for a moment. It seems impossible to find a quality player capable of the above for under one hundred and fifty bucks.
The Toshiba SD-3900 has built-in 3D Surround Sound--a simulated surround mode. This is ideal for those of you who don't quite have your systems together yet (particularly a speaker ensemble) or who plan to use the unit in a bedroom or other smaller location or for those of you who plan to connect the unit directly to your television. While this may not apply to many, it is a thoughtful and useful feature for those who will use it and I applaud Toshiba on the inclusion of this Surround mode.
The back panel of the SD-3900 features everything one can expect from a quality player: Component, composite and S-Video outputs, along with digital optical, coaxial and analog audio outputs.
Again, what may not be unique, except at this offering, is the inclusion of jpeg image playback via CD-ROM. This allows users to catalogue images onto a CD and share them on their television screen.
The SD-3900 may be designed for the entry-level system and budget minded, but certainly allows ample room to grow.
Click to Page 2 for Installation, Evaluation, and the Final Take.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - I found the SD-3900 to be a breath of fresh air compared to components I audition more often--extremely heavy and bulky amps and processors. The SD-3900 is very compact and lightweight--just over 5 pounds. It was out of the box and running in just minutes, connected via Monster Cable component video and Tributaries Toslink.
I ran the unit directly into my Integra Research RDC-7 pre/pro and then into a Runco PL-50HDX plasma display, bypassing the Runco ViViX video processor.
I was able to quickly navigate the setup menu using the supplied remote control. The menu is attractive and intuitive, with little room for error. And the remote control is easy to operate and ergonomically designed.
Final Take - I installed the SD-3900 in the berth just below my beloved Integra Research DPS 8.3 DVDA/SACD DVD player. While it is unfair to compare the two, due to the dramatic price difference, it is also impossible not to.
After inserting a reference DVD from Faroudja, I was able to quickly decipher the deinterlacing capabilities of the Toshiba SD-3900. Overall, it does a remarkable job of its own video processing. In fact, I had to go back and forth several times between my Integra Research to note subtle differences in video details. In the end, the Integra was the better unit, with clearer lines and more refined colors but, still, the Toshiba SD-3900 was very impressive.
I played several cuts from my favorite DVDs including Black Hawk Down and noted outstanding video quality in progressive scan mode. Black levels were good and brighter colors did not seem to bloom. Even the tiny dirt particles, with heavy contrasting backgrounds during explosion scenes, were clearly visible. Overall, video detail is the Toshiba SD-3900's strongest suit.
Audio quality was not nearly that of the Integra, but excellent nevertheless. Highs were pitched well with accuracy, and no brassy sounds were noticeable on the top end.
I particularly enjoyed the graphic user interface (GUI) in the jpeg picture playback. I have seen these features included before, but they did not offer the same graphic layovers. Here again, the Toshiba engineering team obviously went to work for the consumer, allowing for intuitive operation via the remote.
The GUI even allows users to flip or rotate images, and play slideshows at various speeds--bravo.
I simply cannot write about these extended functions without paying homage to the SD- 3900 remote control. The remote is worth mentioning because I have found that many entry-level players take the shortcut home when it comes to remotes. The Toshiba's is full-size and well thought out; with large main function buttons that glow in the dark for ease of navigation in dark cinema settings.
I like the fact that I could locate buttons readily, and easily understand the setup menu as it related to the remote. Here again, proof that Toshiba aims to deliver a quality component.
I was not able to use the 3D Surround Sound feature on the Toshiba (the Runco plasma does not have built-in speakers), however, I did like that the remote offers direct access to the sound settings.
The Toshiba SD-3900 represents the downward trickling factor from a company noted in the development of DVD technology.
At $149, quite frankly, I am amazed at how good the picture quality is. I consider the Toshiba SD-3900 DVD player to be a wise investment at any budget.
Warranty: 1 year
Dimensions: 16.9" W x 2.4" H x 9.5" D
Weight: 5.3 lbs.
JPeg Picture Playback
Dolby Digital/DTS Output
Component Output (1)
Composite Output (1)
S-Video Output (1)
Digital Optical Output (1)
Digital Coaxial Output (1)
Analog Output (pair)