Toshiba BDX3300 £78.99
18th May 2012 | 08:45
Affordable Blu-ray player with smart TV features
Aside from the odd show-off product, such as the Toshiba Excite 13, Toshiba is a brand that's largely been focused on good value rather than breaking new ground, and the Toshiba BDX3300 Blu-ray player is a spectacular example of its signature 'everyman' efforts.
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Priced at £78.99 in the UK and $119.99 in the US, it's comfortably the cheapest 'big brand' Blu-ray player we've yet seen. So it's with some surprise that we discover that the Toshiba BDX3300 claims access to offer BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Picasa and Acetrax movies on the UK version, and content including Netflix, VUDU and YouTube on the US version, as well as playing HD discs.
We're not expecting the last word in navigation prowess - thankfully, as it turns out - but in terms of core features, someone at Toshiba has made some good decisions. The Toshiba BDX3300 can handle digital files, and even indulge in some DLNA-backed streaming from a PC or laptop sharing the same network.
The last part of the network jigsaw is an iPhone/iPad remote app or remote app for Android smartphones that gives gesture-controls and virtual representations of the overly small hard-button remote supplied in the box.
That's your clue that the Toshiba BDX3300 also acts as a flag-waver for the very thing we've been banging on about for the last few years - Blu-ray players and TVs with Wi-Fi.
It's no good offering fancy web gubbins on AV gear if they have to be placed within a cable's length of a broadband router - something that immediately rules out most bedrooms - so we're happy to find an integrated Wi-Fi module on the Toshiba BDX3300.
Other hardware includes a wired Ethernet LAN slot (for those who can use it), a single HDMI output, a coaxial digital audio output, and a USB slot. The latter, we're told, supports only MP3 music and JPEG photo files, but there are surprises in store.
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Audio-wise, if you do plan to use the Toshiba BDX3300 in a home cinema setup, rest easily with the knowledge that the Blu-ray deck outputs all the major Dolby and DTS codecs.
It may cost no more than a couple of Blu-ray boxsets, but the Toshiba BDX3300 is relatively pleasant to look at. Yes, it is a black box that uses gloss black plastic, and it's fairly flimsy, too, but at 360 x 200 x 36mm it's remarkably small and compact.
We're also a fan of the V-shaped aluminium flourish across its centre that's reminiscent of a squashed Sky+ HD box.
After a lengthy firmware upgrade process of about 10 minutes, we're ready to explore the Toshiba BDX3300's incredibly rudimentary user interface. It's actually quite an achievement to get smart TV services onto a box that just doesn't seem set up for such a dimension, but in practice such streaming services work well.
We're full of fear at first, with the home screen looking like something from a mid-1990s PC monitor. A basic settings menu is joined by a connection test and the usual tweaks and information, but in truth it's the bare bones presentation rather than the functionality that worries us.
A 'front-end update' then kicked in during our test, but didn't change anything.
The key interface, which is slightly separate from the main Setup screens, is called Media Center - accessed via the 'MC' button on the small remote. A basic list of sources is then presented, with USB (if connected) above BDMV (or whatever disc is in the tray), Connection and Media Server Search. Those last two are worth exploring.
The oddly named Connection link leads to a list of smart TV services: BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, YouTube and Picasa in the UK and Netflix, VUDU and YouTube in the US. The BBC iPlayer browser - the usual interface that will be familiar to any Brit who's used almost any brand of smart TV - loads quickly and is as stunningly useful as ever.
That's probably enough to convince any wavering potential buyer, although if we were being fussy it would be nice to have a shortcut on the remote for the iPlayer, to avoid time spent in those clunky menus.
YouTube on the Toshiba BDX3300 consists of new (to us) software that divides videos by genre, while both the Picasa and Acetrax apps are the standard, polished-looking versions as seen on far pricier platforms.
Media Server Search links with other DLNA-compatible gear, in this case a Samsung netbook running Windows 8 Consumer Preview.
In our test we managed to play JPEG photos and MP3 music, and in a shock revelation we also managed to play AVI and MP4 video files. Now that's something we didn't think would be on offer.
Just as surprisingly, we also managed to play some video files from a docked USB flash drive. AVC HD, AVI, MP4 and MPEG files all played without problems, complete with scan navigation controls, but MKV and MOV files weren't recognised.
Even more of a surprise was the Toshiba BDX3300's support of lossless FLAC audio files, as well as the usual MP3 support (protected M4A files are also played), although photographs are limited to JPEG, with which the Toshiba BDX3300 performs a decent slideshow.
All of this to and fro-ing between menus can sometimes be slow and a tad long-winded, which isn't helped by a remote control that's simply too small and crowded. But in terms of core functionality, we've got no complaints.
Colourful, bright and precise, the images delivered to our test screen from the Toshiba BDX3300 have plenty of finesse in contrast to its on-screen menus.
From our test disc Grand Canyon Adventure, the Toshiba BDX3300 delivers scene after scene of stunning visuals; a night-time camping scene sees a pin-sharp shot of a campfire illuminated against a completely black background, while another sequence of white water rafting is presented with plenty of detail of depth.
Slow panning shots around the canyon walls do reveal a smidgen of judder, but it's slight. Colours, too, could be pulled up for being a touch over-saturated (something's that's evident in skin tones), but this is something that for the most part works in the Toshiba BDX3300's favour. Again, for the money it's a cracking performance.
A lot of thought has gone into exactly what punters are after from smart AV gear, and the streamlined selection of smart TV services is wisely restricted to BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Acetrax and Picasa in the UK and Netflix, VUDU and YouTube in the US versions of the Toshiba BDX3300.
The flip-side is that everything on the Toshiba BDX3300 is accessed in a very manual way that won't be to a lot users' taste. However, judged purely as a standalone Blu-ray player, there's little to fault the Toshiba BDX3300.
The way the Toshiba BDX3300 doesn't bother to disguise its BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, YouTube and Picasa services as apps is somewhat refreshing, since the functionality is identical to much more expensive - and certainly more polished, usability-wise - smart TVs and Blu-ray players.
When it comes to pure Full HD picture quality, the Toshiba BDX3300 delivers, and we also like the fact that it can support an awful lot of digital files via USB and over a network.
The front end of the Toshiba BDX3300 is the most basic we've seen, and it can sometimes be slow, too, but the main pain is an overly small remote.
We'll avoid demanding the flavour of the month Netflix app, since the choice of movies on that platform isn't exactly extensive, but it would be nice to have that and LoveFilm to maximise choice beyond Acetrax. If we were being picky, MKV support via USB wouldn't go amiss either - it manages to play the rather niche lossless FLAC music files, after all.
It may lack finesse and at times appears a tad archaic, but we can't find it within us to criticise anything on a super-slim Blu-ray player that combines the best of the smart TV landscape with a price that hovers under £80/£120.
For a simple 2D Blu-ray upgrade with some YouTube goodness, we can't recommend the Toshiba BDX3300 highly enough.
At this cheaper end of the 2D Blu-ray market the main challengers are models from the likes of Philips and LG, although for a little more you can get 3D Blu-ray support, too.