WHAT DVD 2002

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PLAYERS OF THE MONTH

 

HITACHI DV-PF2E, £300

So far most of the combi VCR/DVD players we’ve looked at appear to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces lying around on manufacturer’s shelves. The new Hitachi DV-PF2 is no exception but at least this parts bin special uses good quality components and performance is not half bad.

 

For around £300 or so you get a decently specified DVD player and NICAM VCR. Video recorder features include auto installation and a Video Plus+ timer, there’s also NTSC replay and a set of front panel AV input sockets for camcorder connections. With the DVD player you get MP3 replay, SRS 3D sound and a picture zoom, all fairly standard stuff these days but what sets this one apart from most of the combis we’ve seen recently is some decent back panel socketry. Most importantly there’s an S-Video output for the DVD player, plus both coaxial and optical bitstream outputs, so you stand a better chance of getting good quality picture and sound from DVD. Not the absolute best quality picture though. Hitachi stopped short of giving it the DVD player an RGB video output as well but S-Video is definitely a step in the right direction. No region hack yet, but we’re quite hopeful.

 

It’s one step forward but two steps back when it comes to the controls and displays though and once again Hitachi has little to disguise the fact that under the skin there lurks two separate devices. Instead of the units sharing a common operating system you have to muck about with two sets of menus and two sets of buttons and a mixture of front panel and on-screen displays. Naturally enough this results in a somewhat bulky and button infested remote handset. The front panel display panel is devoted entirely to the DVD, the VCR relies on on-screen indicators and there’s no front panel clock, which seems like an oversight.

 

Pop in a DVD or tape and almost all is forgiven, picture quality in both cases is very good indeed. DVD replay reveals a lot of fine detail, even in dark scenes and shadows, colours are bright and lifelike and there’s a good assortment of replay speeds. Movies on tape look a little ragged besides DVD but the decks ability to render detail and colour is better than usual and noise levels are very low, resulting in a reasonably crisp, clean image, for VHS at least. The VCR and DVD soundtracks are at or close to the format’s respective limits with very little background noise on the video recorder’s hi-fi tracks. Dolby Digital surround is pin-sharp if you hook it up to an AV amp using one of the digital outputs.

 

Combis are starting to make sense, at least with this one you don’t have to make any serious compromises on performance or flexibility, apart from the cranky controls and displays, nor does it cost significantly more than a comparable VCR and DVD player so if the space-saving, and to a lesser extent, the convenience of a combi appeals, this one is definitely worth short listing.  

 

Contact Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        2

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 n/a

 

EXTRA FEATURES

DVD: Region 2 PAL & NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, MP3 replay, picture zoom, SRS 3D sound

VCR: VHS LP/SP, NICAM stereo hi-fi, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto tuning, NTSC replay, picture control

 

FOR

Top notch AV and sensible back panel connections

 

AGAINST

Daft VCR menu arrangements

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, one of the best combis we’ve seen so far

 

RATING

4/5

 

procSti5519 –R/+/R+RW

 

 

DENON DVD-900, £250

 

At just under £250 the DVD-900 is the cheapest Denon DVD player to date, and that’s quite something for a company responsible for players costing well over two grand. By current standards it’s fairly basic, no digital surround decoders or anything like that, but inside the sleek black (or gold) finished box there’s plenty of advanced decoding and processing circuitry and it’s very solidly built. Headline features include MP3 replay, it has a two-stage picture zoom, there’s SRS 3D sound and it can play all types of recordable DVD and CD discs. You’ll have no problems hooking it up to your TV or AV system either as it has a full set of analogue and digital connections. Only two gripes; the remote handset is a bit awkward and out of keeping with the rest of the machine and so far we haven’t managed to unearth a region code hack.

 

Denon has avoided any compromises on performance; images are crisp and packed with detail, colours are crisply rendered even in darker scenes, which a lot of players have problems with. Similarly audio quality is excellent and it’ll make an ideal partner for any up-market AV systems, including Denon’s own range of course. A touch pricey but dedicated Denon fans will reckon it’s a great deal…

 

Contact Denon (01234 741200), www.denon.co.uk

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 n/a

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 PAL & NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, MP3 replay, picture zoom, SRS 3D sound

 

FOR

AV performance and the undoubted Denon style and build quality

 

AGAINST

Expensive when compared with the competition

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, if you’re a Denon fan

 

RATING

4/5

 

procomegaSti5519 –R/+/R+RW

 

 

 

ARIA PDVD-2255, £88.13

Just when we thought the DVD market had begun to settle down along comes the Aria PDVD-2255. The price, at just under £90, is not that remarkable, but the specification and what you get for you money certainly is! This player has the lot, including several luxury features, like progressive scan, VGA and component video outputs plus built-in Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround decoders. It gets better it can play just about any type of disc, including recordable DVD and CD-R, with MP3 and JPEG picture files and there’s a slideshow mode for picture replay. It also has a zoom and you can croon along with your fave tunes using the machine’s Karaoke (with echo and pitch shift) facility. The machine is shipped with multi-region replay enabled and our sample appeared untroubled by RCE protected discs.

 

There had to be a catch, picture quality is mostly okay but the contrast range could certainly have done with being a bit wider as it masks details and colours in darker scenes. Ironically it’s a lot better on R1 discs, suggesting that it may have originally been designed for the US market and progressive scan TVs. Audio performance is good and provided you’re not ultra picky about the picture it’s a real bargain!

 

Contact Aria, 0870 7444448, www.aria.co.uk

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB/component/VGA

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/ analogue 5.1surround, coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 Dolby Digital & dts

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Multi-region, PAL & NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, MP3 & JPEG replay, karaoke, picture zoom, VGA & component video outputs, volume & mute controls, SCART & AV leads supplied

 

FOR

Exceptionally well featured, smart styling

 

AGAINST

Fairly average picture performance on regular TVs

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Definitely, a real bargain

 

RATING

4/5

 

process

 

 

CYBERHOME CH-DVD 402, £80

We’ve been quietly impressed by the Cyberhome DVD players we’ve seen over the past couple of years but the new 402 sets a new benchmark for performance and features and at just under £90 it’s not going to upset the bank manager. The spec is mostly familiar territory for a budget machine; it has the usual assortment of playback features though the top speed of 16x is a bit weedy; there’s MP3 replay, some sound and picture controls plus a picture zoom and the increasingly popular JPEG replay with a slideshow mode. The only small disappointment is the handset, which is covered, in small cramped buttons. The 402 is shipped set to Region 2 but by pressing Open/Close, Setup, 1369, left cursor (3 times) and right cursor once you can change the Region code from a new ‘Version’ menu that appears on the setup page.

 

Picture quality is surprisingly good for a sub £100 machine in fact it puts several players costing twice as much to shame. Colours are bright and natural, contrast balance is good and there’s plenty of detail and texture, even in gloomy scenes. The analogue stereo output is crisp and it gives a good account of itself when connected to a 5.1 channel surround amp/decoder. Definitely worth considering.

 

Contact Cyberhome http://www.cyberhome-europe.de/

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 n/a

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2  (see text) PAL & NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, MP3 & JPEG replay, slide show, picture & sound controls, mute, 2-mode zoom, 12-scene bookmark, glow in the dark buttons, SCART & AV leads supplied

 

FOR

Affordable price, good spec and very respectable performance

 

AGAINST

Nasty remote

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, a solid little player at a very fair price

 

RATING

4/5

 

 

 

SONY DVP-NS705, £250

Super Audio CD or SACD is one of two formats vying to replace CD – the other one is DVD-Audio – and Sony as the main backers of SACD are pushing the format hard with affordably priced players like the DVP-NS705. At the moment SACD titles are a bit thin on the ground and there’s no guarantee the format will flourish so we’ll focus on the DVD side of things. The spec looks quite good, you get a 5.1 surround decoder and a few extras like a 40-disc ‘resume’ memory which remembers where you left off if you like to dip in and out of movies. There’s some picture adjustments and the remote will control the main functions on Sony TVs. Needless to say the region lock is rock solid but multi-region models are available if you shop around.

 

No complaints whatsoever about picture quality, it looks great with bags of detail, rich colours and it does an excellent job whatever you feed it with, from fasted paced action movies with lots of flashes and explosions to darker and more sedate material. Soundtracks and effects are lively and sharply focused and for the record SACD sounds really good through a top-end hi-fi system.

 

Contact Sony 08705 111999, www.sony.co.uk

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo, 5.1 surround/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 Dolby Digital

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 PAL & NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, Dolby Digital decoder, SACD replay, MP3 replay, multi-disc resume, picture controls

 

FOR

Sleek and stylish, good AV performance, SACD a possible bonus

 

AGAINST

SACD still a bit of a gamble

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Maybe, if you fancy SACD’s chances

 

RATING

4/5

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2002, 0210

 

 

 

 

 


 

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