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SAMSUNG DVD-811, £300

 

Samsung has had mixed fortunes with its first generation of DVD players. It was one of the first manufacturers to market machines with easily disabled region code locks and in keeping with tradition, it set new low price benchmarks, making DVD available to a much wider audience, far quicker than most industry pundits originally predicted. Samsung was also hit harder than most by unexpected incompatibility problems last year with some types of disc experiencing erratic playback, notably titles like The Matrix, which had mixed DVD and PC content. However thatís all in the past. The smart-looking DVD-811 is around £80 cheaper than the model it replaces (DVD-909) though with a selling price in the region of £300 it seems cleat that the company is keeping well away from the unseemly fray that is taking place at the budget end of the market.

 

Although the general specification remains largely unchanged the control layout on the front panel has been redesigned from the DVD-909 but it retains the useful jog/shuttle dial and headphone socket (with level control). The main cosmetic changes are the use of a simpler display and it has swapped position with the disc-loading tray, which is now above the display panel. The feature list remains pretty much the same, in addition to the Dolby Digital decoder it has a useful set of trick play modes, 3D spatial sound, a two-stage picture zoom (2x and 4x), and the remote handset has a set of multi-brand TV control options.

 

One interesting feature is Audio Scan, which lets you continue to hear the soundtrack, in real time, whilst the machine is replaying at twice normal speed. This useful trick is a spin-off from a similar feature fitted to some VCRs. It works by reading soundtrack data into a memory buffer, and then it is read out, at normal speed whilst the machine is in fast play mode, the time discrepancy between the picture and soundtrack is overcome by reading the sound out in snatches. The advantage is twofold, it makes it a whole lot easier to find a selected scene by following the dialogue, and you can watch a naff movie in half the normal time, yet still follow the plot. As we mentioned earlier previous Samsung DVD players have had easily hackable region locks, out sample was resolutely fixed to Region 2 operation and none of the usual remote codes worked on this machine, we have every reason to suppose it can be disabled but details had not, at the time of writing, made it on to the net, so we would advise against buying this machine on the strength of that as yet unpublished feature just yet.

 

The initial setup is easy, once youíve got used to the operating systemís unusually sluggish response. If you press the setup button during replay nothing happens, not even a warning symbol telling you the feature is only accessible in stop mode. However when youíve figured that out and press the setup button still nothing happens, so you press it again, only to see the setup menu appear and disappear.  Once there moving around the menus is greatly assisted by a neat little joystick on the remote handset. The speaker setup section is very good, with a set of output level controls for each channel. During replay the on-screen displays comprise a row of icons along the top edge of the screen, changes to track/time, soundtrack language, subtitle, 3D sound and volume are made using the remote handset joystick.

 

Picture performance was not an issue on earlier Samsung players and the DVD-811 is equally uncontroversial. Resolution and colour accuracy in the middle of the range, the image is detailed with lively and lifelike colours, the picture is rock solid at all replay speeds and layer change is very quick. However we did manage to lock it up on a couple of occasions by repeatedly pressing the chapter skip buttons. The machine would respond by freezing the picture then going to Stop mode and displaying a message that ĎThe disc cannot be playedí. It would then return to normal operation. It only happened on a couple of discs and you had to be quite determined to get it to do it so we wonít count it as anything more than a very minor aberration.

 

Sound output from the Dolby Digital decoder is also satisfactory and comparable with competing mid-range players. The channels move easily between big dramatic effects and quieter sounds and effects, dialogue is very sharply focused and the sub woofer channel rumbles away nicely in the background. Mixed stereo soundtracks are well suited to Dolby Surround soundtracks and thereís a lower than average level of background hiss, that rarely makes its presence felt, unless youíre listening for it.

 

The DVD market has developed at a phenomenal pace and the sort of money Samsung is asking for the 811 now seems a bit optimistic, top-name Japanese and European manufacturers can get away with it, but in the absence of any killer features or devastatingly good AV performance the 811 looks a bit overpriced.

 

Contact             Samsung 0800 521652

 

BOX COPY 1 Ė REMOTE VIEWING

The handset is the same as the one supplied with the DVD-909, itís a fair size but the buttons are well spaced and easy to get at. The little joystick is a very good idea and we count the multi-brand TV functions as a definite bonus.

 

BOX COPY 3 Ė AROUND THE BACK 150

Itís always good to see two SCART sockets; the second one improves flexibility and makes connection to the TV and other AV components a lot simpler. The only thing to watch out for is not to connect a VCR between the player and the TV as most discs carry Macrovision protection and this will almost certainly cause problems with the picture. The AV1 socket carries composite video by default; it can also be switched between RGB and S-Video. A bank of twelve phono sockets is used for the 5.1 channel outputs, mixed stereo and composite video outputs. A separate phono socket is used for the coaxial bitstream output; the optical bitstream connection uses a standard TOSlink socket. The switched S-Video output is next to the twin composite video outputs and uses a standard 4-pin mini DIN socket.

 

THE HARD FACTS

SAMSUNG DVD-811

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    N

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   Y

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, Dolby Digital sound, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, Audio Scan, 3D sound, 3-scene marker, multi-brand TV remote, headphone output

 

GOOD POINTS

Reasonable picture and sound, solid specification

 

BAD POINTS

Ambitious price, occasional picture glitches

 

Ease of use            4

Picture  3

Sound              

Features            4

Overall  3

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £300

SCART 2

S-Video 1

Digital out            optical coaxial

Decoder            Dolby Digital

 

Good Points

Reasonable picture and sound, solid specification

 

Bad points

Ambitious price, occasional picture glitches

 

Rating

3

---end---

 

R. Maybury 2000, 0109

 

WHAT DVD                                                                                           TEXT 2Ö00

 

TOSHIBA SD-200, £350

Hereís something to really annoy anyone who bought a Toshiba SD-3109 DVD player in the past few months. When it first came out, earlier this year, this very attractive machine with its novel twin-tray deck mechanism had a ticket price of £500, which at the time we didnít think was too bad. The SD-3109 has gone now and in its place is the equally attractive SD-200, which will be selling for around £350. If you enjoy a challenging game of spot-the-difference the SD-3109 and SD-200 should ensure hours of fun because youíll need a magnifying glass to spot most of them. In fact the only differences of note are a new remote control handset, some minor cosmetic changes to the front panel and the rear panel has sprouted three extra sockets, for a YUV component video output.

 

The twin disc deck mechanism is a great idea, especially if getting up off your bum every couple of hours to change discs seems like a lot of hard work. Even if youíre not congenitally lazy itís still a jolly handy thing to have, and you can change one disc whilst another is playing, though we do feel Toshiba could have made a bit more out of it. For example, if you switch between discs you loose your place and have to start from the beginning again and some form of position memory would have been welcome. A continuous play mode would also have been useful as well, especially when playing back audio CDs.

 

This machineís other claim to fame is that it has High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) playback. HDCD is another pretender to the audio CD throne, though this time, unlike the competing Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio format, discs can be played on existing audio CD players, with the higher sound quality obtainable on HDCD players like the SD-200. However, this isnít yet a selling point since HDCD discs are still few and far between, moreover SACD and DVD-Audio are likely to steal its thunder --once the ensuing format battle is over and done with -- because of their much greater capacities and multi-channel capabilities.

 

Back to more mundane things, like the fact that this machine has an on-board Dolby Digital decoder, thereís a 3-stage picture zoom facility and 3D sound. Like the SD-3109 before it the SD-200 has easily upgradeable firmware. The idea is that this player is effectively future-proofed against unforeseen developments in disc production and mastering. If we get another episode like the one that made movies like The Matrix and Youíve got Mail unplayable or erratic on some decks (not Toshiba models we hasten to add) because of non standard disc content, instead of recalling the machines Ė as some manufacturers had to do -- all Toshiba has to do is issue an upgrade disc with new firmware.

 

Surprisingly the twin disc deck mechanism doesnít make the player any harder to use. Thatís still the job of the remote handset, which although it is different to the one that came with the SD-3109 is, if anything, even more awkward because of the size and layout of the buttons. There are two on-screen displays during playback. Thereís an austere but easy to digest set of information displays concerning track, disc and soundtrack status, and you can also call up the first level set-up menus, which consist of a set of icons along the top of the picture. Quite a few options are disabled whilst a disc is playing but itís easy enough put the machine into Stop mode, make any necessary changes and resume playback.   

 

Toshiba appears to have left the picture and sound processing systems alone and the SD-200 delivers the same outstanding video performance as the 3109. Colours are crisply defined and it handles tricky stuff, like flesh tones, with ease. The contrast balance is good and thereís always plenty of detail on the screen, even in shadows and gloomy scenes. The only slight throwback is the somewhat relaxed layer change, which can take just under half a second on some discs, and these days that seems like an age.

 

Audio setup is straightforward and with the 5.1 channels on full song youíre immersed in a big dynamic soundfield that will keep your ears twitching as you pick out quiet little sounds, and ducking for cover with loud explosions and bass effects blasting out of the sub-woofer channel. The mixed stereo output has no more than average amounts of background noise; the response is wide and flat, breathing extra life into Dolby Surround material. Audio CDs also benefit from the highly efficient processing and this player wouldnít sound out of place as a source component in a quality hi-fi system.

 

Apart from the nasty little remote handset and sluggish layer change the SD-200 is a delight to use. Whilst the twin-tray deck mechanism isnít going to change your life it is nevertheless a very welcome feature, more so now as the price of this very desirable machine is in line with other mid-market players from top-name manufacturers.

 

Contact             Toshiba (01276) 62222, www.toshiba.co.uk

 

BOX COPY 1 Ė REMOTE VIEWING

We thought that the remote supplied with the SD-3109 was pretty dire but this one is even worse! It looks like it belongs to a cheapo hi-fi system, the buttons are far too small, they are hard to identify, bunched too closely together and carelessly laid out

 

BOX COPY 3 Ė AROUND THE BACK

The single SCART looks a bit lost and lonely but it is put to good use and can be switched between composite, RGB and S-Video outputs. To the right of the SCART is a bank of gold plated phonos for the 5.1 channel outputs. Thereís a separate pair of sockets for mixed stereo and next to that is another phono for coaxial bitstream, and a TOSlink optical bitstream output connector. All of the video outputs are grouped together on the left side of the SCART socket. Composite video is piped through a phono socket and S-Video comes out on a mini DIN connector. The three extra phono sockets are for the YUV or component video output, which until recently has only been seen on imported high-end models. However Toshiba is starting to fit component video inputs on its top-end home cinema TVs and itís possible other manufacturers may follow suit.

 

THE HARD FACTS

TOSHIBA SD200

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, PAL/NTSC, twin tray deck mechanism, Dolby Digital sound, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, picture zoom, HDCD compatible, component video output

 

GOOD POINTS

AV performance, twin-tray deck mechanism

 

BAD POINTS

Small and fiddly remote control handset

 

Ease of use            5

Picture  5

Sound               5

Features            5

Overall  5

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £350

SCART 1

S-Video 1

Digital out            optical coaxial

Decoder            Dolby Digital

 

Good Points

AV performance, twin-tray deck mechanism

 

Bad points

Small and fiddly remote control handset

 

Rating

5

---end---

 

R. Maybury 2000, 0109

 

 


 

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