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Product Review - Toshiba SD-2108 DVD Player - February, 1999

Brian Florian

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Toshiba SD-2108 DVD Player

10 Bit - 27 MHz Video DAC

24/96 Audio DAC

DD and DTS Digital Out

Composite Video, Component Video, and S-Video Outputs

Coaxial and Optical Digital Audio and Two-Channel Coaxial Analog Audio Outputs

Size: 3 1/4"H x 17"W x 12"D

Weight: 7 1/4 Pounds

MSRP: $599 USA

Toshiba America, Inc., 1251 Sixth Avenue, Suite 4100, New York, New York 10020; Phone 212-596-0600; Web http://www.toshiba.com.

Introduction

The SD-2108 is one of three "third generation" players currently being offered by Toshiba (the SD-2008 and 3108 are the other two). Though the company has announced its fourth generation line-up, including the SD-2109, the 2108 should not be considered passé even when the new units are a reality (one of them is indefinitely held up due to complaints regarding progressive scan output and copyrights). The 2108 will continue to be a good value, considering that it will undoubtedly go on sale. Not wanting to watch another film on tape, I forked over the cash for a 2108 and went home like a kid from a candy store.

The unit has a fresh, unimposing look. A definite relief from Toshiba's first models which had a Sci-Fi/Giegeresque look to them. Front panel controls consist of only the basic transport functions, which is fine, as 99% of the time you'd be working from the remote. The rear panel is plainly laid out with one each of component video, S-Video, and composite video output jacks. Toshiba SD-2108 Rear PanelA double set of left/right analog audio jacks and one each of coax and optical digital audio outs give it nice flexibility. Just right!

Remember when VCRs weighed a ton? When metal was still the primary material in audio hardware? Well, we're not quite back to the retro look in DVD players yet, but this unit does have a nice solid feel to it. A peek at its underside reveals that it is based on a large, embossed (and therefore rigid) sheet of steel. Nice touch in a plastic age. I wasn't comfortable opening the lid and voiding the warranty (yet), so for now I'll take Toshiba's word on the fact that they use a heavy, solid brass spindle. I can't say how many manufacturers are doing this, but again: nice touch. A heavier spindle means more inertia and more stable playback speeds.

The remote is comfortable. My favorite one to handle to date. Anyone who has watched a lot of DVD movies can tell you you'll be spending more time with the cursor (direction) and enter/return keys than you will with the transport ones (play, rewind etc.) The principal keys then consist of the large "+" shaped key in the middle and the enter and return keys tucked nicely under the bottom left and right of the big "+". It's just the right size and place for my thumb. Under this cluster are three big green keys for Angle, Subtitle, and Audio. The audio key is handy as it lets you rotate through available soundtracks (disc permitting, some won't let you). So for example you can flip flop between regular soundtrack and directors comments without getting into submenus. A "door" at the bottom opens up to expose less used functions including a numeric keypad.

Set up is a breeze. There are only three main menus: Audio, Operation (or I like to think of it as "preferences") and Display (or "how your TV looks"). One option I immediately got rid of was "remote confirm" whereby the player beeps with each button press on the remote. Imagine if your PC beeped each time you clicked with the mouse. There are now three choices for TV shape: 4:3 letterbox, 4:3 standard, and 16x9. So far I have not found a movie for which the two 4:3 settings make any difference . . . . I'll just keep trying.

Sight

What can I tell you that you haven't already heard? The S-Video hookup to my Sony 27" Trinitron has made this TV look like an SVGA monitor. Having previously been calibrated with Video Essentials and an earlier Toshiba, I was watching the liveliest visuals I've ever seen on this tube right from the get-go. Despite not having the video noise filter found in its more expensive brother, the 2108 did a superb job, with no hiccups or video abnormalities to date. "Ghost in the Shell", a Japanese Anime film I am very familiar with, was wild! The large areas of animated color were smooth, smooth, smooth, with no edginess at all. The average time to load a movie is about 10 seconds. Whether you go straight to the film or the main menu is up to the disc publisher. Once loaded though, track access is very fast, and I estimate layer changes to be 0.5 seconds. Another nice improvement from early models: pressing stop is a two press process. The first press lets the player remember where you were in the movie, which is handy if you need to stop before the end of the film. Hitting play right away takes you back to where you left off. Pressing stop a second time in sequence clears it out altogether. The first player I rented was frustrating as I would get interrupted by the phone or doorbell, not want to leave a paused image on screen, and then have to shuttle to find my place.

Sound

The performance of full blow Dolby Digital is largely on the shoulders of the processor, so I will concentrate on the analog outputs. Downmixed 5.1 soundtracks came out as some of the best Pro Logic I have ever heard. The dynamic range is largely intact, bass is very clean, and the surrounds are more pronounced and defined as compared to, say, the same film on Hi-Fi VHS. The player even has its own dynamic range compression which can be invoked for late night/low-level sessions. CD performance was commendable given that it is not the player's primary job. Typical "load" time for an audio CD is around 5 seconds, but again, once the TOC is loaded, track to track access is fast. And the sound is surprisingly good. Only slightly sibilant and edgy, much less than say a mass market CD player. Not as lively a sound though. Again bass was as good (maybe better) as most entry level CD players, producing a fully resolved "thawump" from a double bass being plucked.

Gripes

The fluorescent front display is a little small but very readable at normal distances. It's also extremely bright. Good thing you can turn it off from the remote . . . BUT it won't stay off from one use to the next. This means everytime it's turned on, one has to flip open the door on the remote and kill the light. Also the owners manual is quite possibly the worst I have ever read. It is so oversimplified that even a casual user might be left wanting more detail. Example: The book tells you how to turn black-level from "normal" to "enhanced" but does nothing to tell the user what it is or does. As a savy video head, I can figure it out, but newbies might be left scratching their chins.

Special Note:

In early production runs of the 2108, there was a problem with audio dropouts in the digital outputs. It is only with certain receivers/processors AND certain movies (something of an "incompatibility"). Toshiba corrected this difficulty in later 2108s, but they don't yet have a database of serial numbers that would indicate which units did and did not get it. If someone has a player/receiver combination which has the problem, Toshiba will perform the modification within the warranty period. Following is a reply from Toshiba regarding our inquiry into this problem:

Thank you for your query regarding the Toshiba SD-2108 DVD player. I welcome the opportunity to answer your questions, which Frank Doris forwarded to my attention.

First of all, the new SD-2109 DVD player recently announced at CES is not a replacement for the SD-2108. The SD-2109 is a new, fourth-generation Toshiba player designed to set a new benchmark in high-performance, high-value DVD players and is a completely new model.

Regarding the audio dropout problems: we researched this issue after receiving reports last fall that an audio glitch was occurring on an extremely infrequent basis. Approximately once during every 20 hours of playback, the problem occurred when the SD-2108 was used with a small number of mostly newer, lower-priced Dolby Digital receivers. The glitch only occurred when the SD-2108 was connected to a receiver via its coaxial or optical outputs and did not occur through the analog audio outputs. The problem did not occur with the majority of Dolby Digital receivers tested.

Although minor in severity and frequency, in order to eliminate any possibility of the problem occurring at all, Toshiba instituted a running change to SD-2108 DVD player production, modifying the code of the players to make them fully compatible with all A/V receivers available at retail. This change has been in effect since last fall. For consumers who do experience an incompatibility with their receivers, Toshiba offers a free upgrade in accordance with established company warranty policy, with a 24-hour turnaround time.

We thank you for your interest in Toshiba DVD players and for the opportunity to clarify these concerns.

Respectfully Yours,

Craig Eggers
Director of Product Planning and Home Theater Audio
Toshiba America Consumer Products

Conclusion

It is clear that the "third generation" players are not just face lifts on their predecessors but improvements in usability and compatibility. If you were waiting for the hardware to get ironed out, we're there. If you were waiting for a significant number of titles, we're there. If you we're waiting for discs to be rentable, well . . . if I can rent them in a town with a population of 60,000 surely you can too. In short, go out there and start shopping for your player! Just be sure to check out the 2108 (or the new 2109) before you decide. You might just like its no-nonsense approach as much as I did.

Brian Florian


© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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