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Panasonic DVD-RV20, £300

 

As one of the pioneers of the DVD format it behoves Panasonic to adhere strictly to the specification, so you can forget any notions of an easily disabled region locks on any of its machines. Fair enough, but there are plenty of other ways the company can demonstrate its undoubted expertise, especially on a player with a price tag that puts it slap-bang in the middle of one of the most fiercely contested sectors of the market, or so you would think…

 

Panasonic is going to have to trade heavily on its good reputation to get the DVD-R20 noticed. The price of basic entry level players now starts at £150, there are several machines with built-in Dolby Digital decoders for less than £200, so for £300 or thereabouts – which is what you can expect to pay for a DVD-R20 – you might be forgiven for expecting something a little more exciting. Don’t get us wrong, this is a fine little machine and as we’ll see in a moment, AV performance is beyond reproach but you would, have to be a very big Panasonic fan to include it on your shortlist when there are so many other better-equipped players available for the same sort of money, or less.

 

In terms of features it is very much in the entry-level mould; as we’ve already pointed out there’s no 5.1 decoding, but why has Panasonic left out basic and we presume relatively inexpensive features, like a coaxial digital bitstream output and an RGB output option on the SCART socket? Apart from the standard playback facilities there’s only a couple of extras, x100 picture search is one of them, the others are 2-mode ‘Virtual Surround Sound’ (VSS) and it has a separate sub-woofer output. Admittedly it is a very sleek looking machine with its compact case and neatly presented front panel, but other manufacturers are going for the slim-line look and DVD players don’t sell just on looks – at least they shouldn’t.

 

Okay, so it’s basic but surely it has other redeeming features? The fact that it uses the same tried and tested on-screen display system as most previous Panasonic players should count for something, but there again, even after all this time it’s not without its funny little ways. For example take the way the operating system handles picture format changes. On most other players it’s a single option on the set-up menu, allowing you to choose between 16:9 and 4:3 in letterbox or pan & scan mode. On the RV20 these options are split, on the first menu page there’s 16:9 and 4:3 mode switch, the pan & scan/letterbox option is on another menu page, under ‘other settings’, so instead of 3 or 4 button clicks to make the selection, it can take 20 or more actions to achieve the same result on the RV20.

 

If the feature list is disappointing then you’ll be glad to know that the RV20 makes up a lot of lost ground with the on-screen performance. In short it’s one of the best pictures we’ve seen on any player this year, and that includes some quite fancy mid-market and top-end models. Resolution is impeccable, the smallest details are crisply revealed and do not mush out, even when the video processing circuitry is working overtime with lots of movement and rapid variations in brightness and colour. Colours are accurate and lifelike and there’s none of the blotchiness in skin tones that spoil the picture on a lot of players, and we’re not just talking about budget models. The contrast balance is good, shadows and moody scenes are crisply rendered and the fact that is doesn’t have any user picture controls isn’t a problem, it doesn’t need them!

 

Trick play is fluid and you get to hear the soundtrack at x2 normal speed, though we can’t say it’s much use since it’s an unintelligible babble. There were no processing artefacts to speak of though our sample didn’t much care for scratched or dirty discs and layer change is only average, taking a quarter of a second or thereabouts.

 

Background noise on the analogue mixed stereo output is very low and it has a broad and flat response, Dolby Surround soundtracks have plenty of room for loud and bass-heavy dynamic effects – it’s well worth making use of that separate sub-woofer output -- but it carries low level effects equally well and does a pretty good job with audio CDs too, comparing favourably with mid-range decks and systems. The optical bitstream output is clean but we can’t help feeling that leaving off the coaxial digital output is a mistake since it is the more commonly used system.  

 

In the end picture and sound quality save the RV20 from mediocrity and when it comes down to it, this is, or should be the number one buying criteria. Obviously we would have liked to see a few more bells and whistles and in the end we suspect a lot of would-be purchasers will be lured away by extra knobs and buttons, and lower prices, but for loyal Panasonic fans those who put performance first, the RV20 has to be worth considering.

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

Panasonic has a bit of a chequered history with remote controls but the one supplied with the RV20 isn’t too bad at all. Good points include the large four-way cursor controls, sensible layout and clear labelling. However, several points are deducted for putting the picture search and chapter skip buttons so close together, this makes using the handset by ‘feel’ alone more difficult than it needs to be and until you get accustomed to it, you can find yourself skipping chapters, when trying to find the picture search buttons

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

Panasonic has been a bit mean with the output connections, which is a pity considering that it is capable of above average picture quality. The omission of an RGB connection on the SCART socket is regrettable, it doesn’t have S-Video either, though this is available on a separate mini DIN socket and it has a second composite video output. In addition to the standard analogue mixed stereo output there’s a line-level sub woofer output, just begging to be used with an active sub. There’s only one digital bitstream output, it’s an optical type, which is less common than coaxial bitstream connections and it’s possible this could cause problems on some set-ups.

 

Contact             Panasonic (08705) 357357, www.panasonic.co.uk

 

THE HARD FACTS

Panasonic DVD-RV20               

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        N

Component                    N

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            N

5.1 decoder                   N

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, dts compatible bitstream output, 2-mode Virtual Surround sound, sub-woofer output, 5-scene marker

 

GOOD POINTS

Outstanding AV performance, compact neat design

 

BAD POINTS

Meagre specification for the price, no coaxial bitstream or RGB outputs

 

Ease of use            4

Picture  4

Sound               4

Features            3

Overall  4

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £300

SCART 1

S-Video 1

Digital out            optical

Decoder            none

 

Good Points

Outstanding AV performance, compact neat design

 

Bad points

Meagre specification for the price, no coaxial bitstream or RGB outputs

 

Rating

4

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 0207

 

 


 

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