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ENCORE DV-450, £230

 

Any thoughts we may have had lately, that DVD technology might be getting just a bit predictable, has been quickly dispelled by the recently arrived Encore DV-450. It looks ordinary enough from the outside, in fact it is an unusually dull-looking black box, but the first sign that it’s a bit different comes when loading and unloading discs. When the flap opens you get a glimpse of cream-coloured plastic inside. Instead of the usual drive DVD mechanism inside the box there’s a fully encased 5.25-inch PC DVD-ROM drive. We haven’t seen one of those in a home deck DVD for quite a long time. One or two players in the very early days of DVD had them but we put that down to supply problems on purpose-built deck mechanisms. PC drives almost certainly cost more and requires non-standard interface circuitry, so it’s even more surprising to see one in such an apparently well-equipped and modestly priced player.

 

The headline features on this machine are an on-board Dolby Digital decoder and component video output, both of which were regarded as luxury fitments as recently as a year ago. Take a closer look at the features list and you’ll spot another very unusual addition and that’s MP3 replay. MP3, in case you haven’t heard is a data compression system that’s mainly used to send sound and music files around the Internet, for downloading onto PCs. From there MP3 files can be transferred to memory cards and downloaded into personal players or, and this is the salient point as far as we are concerned, copied to CD-R or CD-RW discs on PCs with a CD ‘burner’. If you are wondering where all this is going, CD-R/RW discs can be filled with up to 12 hours worth of music, which can be played on the DV-450. We’ll deal with the quality in a moment…

 

Back now to the home cinema oriented features. One unadvertised facility is the player’s easily changed or disabled region lock. It’s in the player’s ‘firmware’, so here’s no need to remove the lid and risk voiding the warranty. The exact procedure is as follows: put the deck in stop mode, select the Setup menu then General Setup, tap in 38883 and a menu called ‘Loopholes’ and a message ‘You should not be here’ appears with a listing of Regions and Bypass or all region playback. Use the cursor buttons to make your selection and the deed is done.

 

Connections and operation are both very good. The single SCART carries both RGB and S-Video (in addition to normal composite video), Separate S-Video and composite sockets are also provided and there are three component video outputs, for high-end TVs and video projectors. It’s worth having since it clearly doesn’t add anything to the price but be aware that Component video is the preferred video connection system for NTSC material, on PAL discs you’re better off using S-Video or RGB. On-screen displays show the usual time, chapter, subtitle and language info, everything else lives on the setup menu, which can be accessed during disc replay, without loosing your place when the picture freezes. 

 

If our sample is anything to go by the PC drive has no impact on picture or sound quality and the DV-450 looks and sounds as good as any ‘normal’ DVD player, better in fact than some we could mention. The image is filled with fine detail, colours are sharp and well-defined, skin tones look okay and the contrast balance is not too bad at all. Layer change is over in a couple of frames; blink and you’ll miss it. Trick play is very good but slomo access is a bit clumsy forcing the user to step through forward speeds to get to the three reverse slomo speeds.

 

The Dolby Digital decoder works very well with all channels clearly defined and effects tightly focused within the soundfield. The frequency response is wide and open and background noise is at a very low level. The mixed stereo output is also clean with no more than average noise levels. It’s fine for Dolby Surround soundtracks. The added ingredient on this machine is MP3 replay. MP3 sound quality is typical of what the format is capable of, which means it is okay for undemanding applications – personal stereos and party music – but even the most carefully coded files sound flat and uninvolving and it is not a substitute for CD or even good quality tape cassette.

 

From the outside the DV-450 doesn’t look very promising but AV performance is as good, if not a little better than many budget priced players but the fact that it has a built in Dolby Digital decoder and hackable region lock makes it an even more attractive proposition. MP3 replay is an interesting extra but don’t let it influence your buying decision, and the odd deck arrangement obviously isn’t a concern. Encore is one of a number of new and unfamiliar brands, we suspect many will fall by the wayside but if Encore can continue with this kind of value and quality it could be one of the survivors.

 

Contact Laser UK, (01895) 450450, www.laseruk.co.uk

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

The remote control handset looks pretty much like a standard issue item, similar to ones supplied with a wide range of AV components. DVD operation was clearly not its original intended function nor has it been given a particularly high priority. Important and frequently used controls, like Play and Stop are not defined by size or shape, in fact the transport buttons are mixed in with the rest of the keys so they’re not that easy to find by touch, if you’re watching movies in a darkened room.

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

It’s an impressive sight and there’s something for everyone here. The SCART socket can be configured for RGB or S-Video and there are individual sockets for composite video and S-Video signal outputs. The three video outputs on the far left carry component video, which is now becoming a familiar sight on top-end players. Component video works best with NTSC recordings, when shown on an NTSC or multi-standard TV or video projectors; most users will find little difference on PAL recordings. The audio outputs include separate connections for the mixed stereo and Dolby Digital channels. By the way, the DV-450 also has a front mounted headphone socket.

 

THE HARD FACTS

ENCORE DV-450

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    Y

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   Y

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 5-scene marker, front-mounted headphone socket and level control

 

GOOD POINTS

Price and performance, Dolby Digital, the loose region lock, and MP3, for them as wants it

 

BAD POINTS

Extra bland cosmetics and unhelpful remote control design

 

Ease of use            4

Picture  5

Sound               4

Features            5

Overall  5

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £230

SCART 1

S-Video 1

Digital out            optical & coaxial

Decoder            Dolby Digital

 

Good Points

Price and performance, Dolby Digital, the loose region lock, and MP3, for them as wants it

 

Bad points

Extra bland cosmetics and unhelpful remote control design

 

Rating

5

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 0207

 

 


 

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