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TAKING THE MICO

 

COPY

Bizarre just about sums up the Mico DVD-A980. Hardly anything about this machine is conventional, from the way it is sold, to the way it works, so let’s kick off with the marketing. The only way you’re going to get hold of one is via the Internet, from Unbeatable.co.uk, which is selling the A980 exclusively for just £179.98. That puts it in the budget category, but the feature list reads more like a mid-range machine. It has an on-board Dolby Digital decoder, a good selection of replay facilities, all region playback out of the box (it can be set to a single region should you so desire…), there’s handy extras such as 2-stage picture zoom and audio digital sound processing and one (so far) unique feature, it can play MP3 files.

 

That last one requires a brief explanation. MP3 or Motion Picture Experts Group Layer 3 is an audio compression scheme that allows music to be distributed via the Internet. Music files from literally thousands of sites around the web can be downloaded onto a PC, where they can be replayed through the PCs speaker, or transferred to pocket-size MP3 players, for music on the move. The Mico A980 provides a third option, it can play MP3 files on CD-R or CR-RW discs, made on a PC with a CD ROM writer or ‘burner’. Because the files are compressed a standard 640Mb disc can hold up to 12 hours of music. Needless to say there’s no such thing as a free lunch and there is a catch, but we’ll come to that later.

 

Back to the player and more strangeness, this time on the front panel. As you can see it’s a good deal busier than most other DVDs, with lots of buttons and some unusual sockets. The two big jacks to the left of the disc-loading tray are microphone sockets; they’re for a karaoke facility, so two of you can make prats of yourselves simultaneously, and there’s variable echo control to make you sound even more ghastly... There’s no voice-cut filter however, so you’ll have to get hold of some karaoke discs to make full use of this fun feature. Above the disc hatch there are two rows of numbered buttons, they replicate the numeric buttons on the handset, but all they seem to be good for is CD track changing, which you can do anyway with the skip track buttons.

 

Now for something really odd, there’s no standby mode, just a front-panel on-off switch. The set-up display contains several mystery items, like Colour Scheme, which doesn’t seem to do anything, and there’s a TV output system called ‘Switch’ that we haven’t yet managed to fathom.  However we’ve saved the weirdest one for last, and that’s the player’s control system. It seems to disobey some rules of disc playback, and impose a few of its own. This is the only player we can recall that allows you to skip or whiz through opening logos and copyright warning notices, normally you have to sit through them; that’s definitely a feature we approve of. However, the system is riddled with quirks, like not allowing you to jump from picture search to reverse slow play, then there’s the Enter button in the middle of the cluster of cursor control keys. What’s it for? You would think it’s for the choosing items on disc menus, but no, it’s for entering track numbers, what would normally be called OK or Confirm (or Enter) is actually the little Select button off to the right of the cursor keys, it also seem to be the only way to get rid of the Equaliser/DSP menus. It drives you mad until eventually you get used to it.

 

Video playback is generally okay, the Hitachi deck and pickup is less tolerant than usual of dirty or scratched discs and it locked up on a couple of our deliberately manky test discs (that most other players can handle). Contrast is set a little low and colours can appear a bit flat but that can usually be resolved with the TVs picture controls. Resolution is fine though, and layer change is quite quick, taking under a quarter of a second on most discs.  

 

The Dolby Digital decoder works well, channels are crisp and cleanly defined, so too is Dolby Surround soundtracks on the mixed stereo output, but don’t get too excited by MP3 playback. It is comparable with cheapo audio cassette, without the hiss. It’s tinny with a fair amount of treble distortion and very little bass. A lot depends on the quality of the original files and how they were processed, it’s okay for parties and such but the bottom line is that you wouldn’t want to use it for serious listening.

 

There’s no denying it’s a bargain and DVD performance is satisfactory, Dolby Digital is a definite bonus as is all region playback. MP3 playback is an interesting extra but the quality is disappointing. It has got a few peculiar habits but they’re liveable and as a first step on the DVD ladder it has a lot going for it.

 

 

MICO DVD-A980, £179.98

Contact: www.unbeatable.co.uk

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

Apart from the lack of a standby function and the control system it’s not too bad, most of the buttons are where you expect to find them and the important ones are a good size.

 

THE HARD FACTS

MICO DVD-A980                

OUTPUTS

SCART             1

S-Video             1

RGB out                        no

Optical digital            yes

Coaxial digital            yes

5.1 decoder                   yes

 

EXTRA FEATURES

All Region, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 7-mode DSP, 6-mode equaliser with user preset, MP3 playback, karaoke facility with echo, repeat and A/B repeat play

 

GOOD POINTS

The price and all those extras, plus hassle-free all region playback

 

BAD POINTS

No standby function and flaky operating system

 

Ease of use            3

Picture  4

Sound               4

Features            5

Overall  4

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £179.98

SCART 1

S-Video 1

Digital out            coaxial, optical

Decoder            Dolby Digital

 

Good Points

The price and all those extras, plus hassle-free all region playback

 

Bad points

No standby function and flaky operating system

 

Rating

4

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 2004

 

 


 

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