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ALBA DVD-103, £150

 

Whoops, someone seems to have forgotten to enable the regional coding lock on our sample of the Alba DVD-103 since it played R1 discs straight out of the box, and the word on the street is that they’re all like it… Even if that wasn’t the case and it only played Region 2 discs this machine still looks like an incredible bargain. It’ll set you back just £150, setting yet another low price benchmark for entry-level players without on-board 5.1 decoders, but if you’re expecting a boring feature-stripped machine with indifferent AV performance the you are in for a bit of a surprise, and a very pleasant one at that. The bottom line is the DVD-103 has the kind of specification and picture quality that wouldn’t look out of place on a player costing another £100 or so.

 

True, it’s not much to look at and the styling is a wee bit unimaginative but at that price it would be churlish to complain. It has 4-mode picture search and 3-mode slomo (forward only), a 2-stage zoom and here’s the really good bit, chapter digest. This is almost identical to a headline feature on JVC and Hitachi players; it creates a visual menu of stills from the start of each chapter by splitting the picture into 9 sub-screens. The next cheapest machine to be able to do this very impressive and useful trick will set you back £300. There’s lots of little extras too, like the fact that you can skip through title and copyright screens without having to watch them and the set-up menu is accessible from play mode, so you can change picture format, video output (PAL & NTSC) and switch audio settings without having to exit playback. It has volume and mute controls on the remote handset, and a headphone socket on the front panel, with a level control.

 

Sooner or later we had to get around to the DVD-103’s shortcomings, and yes, there are a few, but there’s nothing you can’t live with. The most annoying one was our sample’s tendency to lock up for no apparent reason, usually after issuing a series of commands in quick succession. There seems to be a bug in the control software somewhere but if you are patient and try not to confuse it, it usually behaves itself. The clanky menu system can be quite irritating and it is compounded by the careless layout of the remote handset. Once again it is something you can get used to it but it may take a while, thanks to the poorly presented instructions and Pidgin English translations. Some of them are quite funny and we suspect most people will be able to work out what ‘Press number buttons orderly according to title’ and ‘Set the following functions for the player to obtain the best playing status’ actually means… There’s no on/standby function on the remote – just an on/off switch on the front panel – and occasional howlers from the on-screen display like ‘Next Pag’, but they’re all liveable.   

 

Rear panel connections are adequate, it has a single SCART socket configurable for composite, RGB and S-Video outputs, there’s a separate S-Video out socket, two composite video outputs and two sets of mixed stereo output for some reason, plus optical and coaxial digital outputs for good measure.

 

Layer change is remarkably fast, typically it drops just one frame, in fact it is so quick that you barely notice it on most discs, and that is something very few other players – even top end models – can manage. Video quality is mostly satisfactory. The amount of fine detail in the picture is just a little down on mid-market players and a lot of fast movement can sometimes appear a little smeared or jerky, especially on in bright areas of the image. Error correction is fairly relaxed and dirty finger marks and scratches on the disc produce the odd processing artefact but the picture is generally clean. Colours look sharp and well defined and whilst most shades are faithfully rendered skin tones can seem a little harsh in close-ups, especially in the highlights. Contrast balance is okay and dark areas contain a fair amount of information though deep shadows tend to be quite murky. The trick play modes are reasonably steady, though with a top-speed of only 8x normal play it can take a while to get where you want to go.

 

Background noise on the mixed stereo output is at a low level and the response is wide and flat; Dolby Surround soundtracks are very lively, effects are focused and there’s a good bass content.

 

Forget the dull cosmetics, iffy remote and occasional picture hiccup when playing grubby discs, in fact we’re inclined to regard that as a positive feature as it will force owners to look after their discs... Focus on the fact that the DVD-150 has the kind of features that were previously only available on players costing twice as much. Video performance isn’t going to set any new records but it’s still twice as good as VHS with potentially ten times better sound, and what’s more it will play Region 1 discs without any hacks or modifications (though we didn’t tell you that), and it also just happens to be the cheapest DVD player on the market, and you can take it as read that we’re rather impressed with it!

 

Alba 020 8594 5533

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

Too many small and similarly sized buttons spoil an otherwise neat looking remote handset. The main problem areas are the four-way cursor control buttons, which are bunched in with other functions and the awkward menu control arrangement which requires the user to press the play button to access selections. The placement of the picture search, slomo and pause/step keys is rather haphazard since they’re a couple of rows up from the main stop/play and chapter skip cluster. Not having an on/standby function is also a bit of a nuisance.

 

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

Rear panel connections are a favourite place for manufacturers of budget DVD players to save a few bob but that hasn’t happened on the DVD-105. The single SCART socket can be configured from the menu to output composite video, S-Video or RGB. S-Video is also available on a 4-pin mini DIN socket and there are two additional composite video outputs on phono sockets. Two pairs of phono sockets carry two sets of analogue mixed stereo outputs, for no good reason that we can see, though it does give users the option of routing the audio output into a tape deck for recording from CD audio discs, without disrupting the connection to an AV amplifier. Bitstream outputs are handled by standard TOSlink (optical) and coaxial (phono) connectors.

 

HE HARD FACTS

ALBA DVD-103             

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    N

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   N

 

EXTRA FEATURES 20/30

Multi region, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, chapter digest, volume and mute control, display dimmer/off, headphone out

 

GOOD POINTS

Features, performance, value for money

 

BAD POINTS

Remote handset, quirky control system

 

Ease of use            3

Picture  4

Sound               4

Features            5

Overall  4

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £150

SCART 1

S-Video 1

Digital out            coaxial, optical

Decoder            none

 

Good Points

Features, performance, value for money

 

Bad points

Remote handset, quirky control system

 

Rating

4

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1206

 

 


 

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