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Toshiba SD-K610 DVD Player Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2003
ImageWith the Digital Versatile Disk (DVD) now firmly established as the most popular consumer electronics product in history, the economics of mass production have kicked in, with the result that an increasing number of players are available for absurd prices. I’ve already reviewed one of these players, the Sampo DVE-611, which is specifically notable for its ability to become a multi-standard, multi-region player, all for under $120. Some of the players that are around now are even cheaper, and you can pick one up for well under $100 – in fact, for close to half of that. The secret is manufacturing in the People’s Republic of China, where costs can be kept down. But are they any good? Some Chinese players have been of dubious quality, with unreliable hardware and buggy software. I took a look at the Toshiba SD-K610, with an unrealistic list price of $179.99. It is available new at national retailers such as Comp USA for under $80.

The SD-K610 makes a good first impression. It is a slim, black unit, just two-and-three-quarter inches high and a remarkable eight-and-seven-eighths inches deep, with a more usual width of 17 inches. The single-disc drawer transport sits above a red and white fluorescent alphanumeric display that scrolls information where necessary. A power button switches the unit between standby and on, while six other controls handle transport functions and the opening and closing of the disc tray. The rear panel is simplicity itself, with a set of features that were startling on such a low-cost unit. There are both optical and coax digital audio outputs, which will carry the standard surround formats for external decoding, as well as PCM. The two-channel audio output, apparently driven by 192 kHz, 24-bit converters (not really required for a DVD-Video player, where the maximum sample rate likely to be encountered is 96 kHz), also includes “Spatializer” virtual surround capability for simulating a surround effect with only two loudspeakers. On the video front, there is a composite video out, plus S-Video, and, surprisingly, a component video group of connectors. The power cord is a captive type. A full-featured remote is included, along with basic cables and a respectable multi-lingual manual.

On powering up the unit for the first time, you are taken to an initial setup menu that allows you to configure the fundamental settings – onscreen language, TV shape (4:3, 4:3 letterbox or 16:9) and audio output. The onscreen display is excellent, with color icons for picture, audio, language, display, operation and initial setup, each showing a pop-down menu when selected, with an easy to read sans-serif font.

The Music and The Movies
Following installation, hooking up both S-Video and component outputs for comparison, I played the James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough.” The first thing I noticed was that the digital audio out from the coax port was rather low-level, and I had to crank up the gain about 10 dB higher than usual. However, this was a minor concern. The optical output was the same, although the analog outs were standard level. However, the digital bitstream decoded perfectly and the sound was fine. The virtual surround effect on the analog two-channel output was better than nothing, but of course it isn’t a patch on the full surround that a decoder will deliver. However, if you were buying this as a player for the bedroom, say, it would be fine.

On the video front, there was strangely not a huge difference between the S-Video output and the component outputs. Note: the unit is non-progressive, so you should set your expectations accordingly. Overall, the image quality was good, and there were no more seriously visible artifacts than are usually found with the cheaper players, and the blacks were good though not great. On some occasions, it looked as though the contrast was a little low, but it was not of serious concern.

I next tried the Ron Fricke movie “Chronos,” with music by Michael Stearns, and the stunning images and time-lapse photography in this film were impressive in modes from x2 to x100, and three levels of slow motion plus step-frame. There is also a picture zoom facility, although I have yet to find a use for one.

An often untold problem with some cheaper DVD players is that they can sometimes overheat, leading to strange playback glitches around the changeover from one disc layer to the next, but playing several movies one after the other and watching carefully, especially at layer boundaries, I noticed no such problems.

The SD-K610 supports virtually every format except DVD-Audio (where of course it will play the DVD-Video area), including CD, Video CD (I don’t have any of these), DVD-R, CD-R and CD-RW (which I also wholly lack) and MP3. To check these different formats and the program material contained therein, I put on one of my own CD compilations on a gold CD-R disc. The CD played back perfectly, with no difficulties. Listening to both the digital and the analog outputs, I noticed that the built-in 192 kHz 24-bit D/A converters were doing their stuff. The audio sounded entirely respectable, although there was a noticeable difference between replaying the audio digitally into my Sunfire processor and the analog outs on the Toshiba: the Sunfire was better (gosh, I hope so). I tried the DVD-R of “Gawain and the Green Knight,” which I had made on a Panasonic DVD recorder, and this also played fine. This was useful to know, as there have been notorious inter-machine compatibility problems in this area (although this is not as much of a problem as it was when recordable DVD first arrived).

I tried a CD-R recorded in ISO 9660 format with MP3 audio files on it, and this also worked very well. The replay quality was as acceptable as an MP3 -- i.e., don’t kid yourself, this is not CD quality.

Playing back a DTS CD, Alan Parsons’ On Air, the machine was not able to work out that the disc was a DTS-encoded item, so it delivered white noise from the analog outputs. The digital output, on the other hand, delivered a pristine bitstream to the Sunfire’s DTS decoder, which had no problem playing the disc, and the sound was as good as I have come to expect from this record.

A DVD player of any kind will play a DVD-Audio disc if the latter has a DVD-Video area, which virtually all of them do. So I tried Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and watched the results. The player found the DVD-Video playlist and parked itself there, waiting for a track selection or the Play command. This is not unusual behavior, although in the case of a modern DVD-Audio player, the unit will automatically go into play with the first track like a CD player (which is important in the event that you don’t have a video monitor connected). With a DVD-video player like this, you are by definition going to have a TV of some sort connected.

The Downside
There really isn’t anything you can say regarding a downside. The machine is a very low-cost unit, and the fact that it appears to work well and reliably is more than you can expect for the money. Even the reduced-output digital audio feed is simply a matter of turning up the volume a bit on your receiver.

You might ask for a progressive output, but at $80, the salesman would have every right to throw you out of the store.

The old adage in consumer electronics is that you get what you pay for. However, the Toshiba SD-K610 is the exception – it’s an exceedingly good player for very little money. This machine is a perfect gift for the recipient who has not yet taken the plunge into the joys of DVD. The difference in moving from renting VHS tapes to renting DVDs will be such a revelation to most people that they will be overjoyed. It’s also ideal as a player for the bedroom, or as part of a budget system. The Toshiba SD-K610 offers very effective and acceptable performance, is extremely easy to use and is exceptionally compact.

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