WHAT DVD 2002

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PLAYERS OF THE MONTH

 

SONY DVP-NS305, £180

Sony has never been entirely comfortable with the concept of ‘budget’ priced AV products, and it showed with the rather bland DVP-NS300 but you’d be hard pressed to tell that the recently launched NS350 also cost just £180, just don’t expect too much in the way of toys or frills. On the other hand there’s no shortage of performance tweaks, including an advanced digital noise reduction system and Sony’s new ‘Precision 2’ deck mechanism. The slimline case is a real class act too, just 62mm high, and the NS350 looks for all the world like a piece of high-end kit.

 

Otherwise the spec is rather ordinary, there’s a routine set of trick play options, it has a 3D spatial sound mode and it can play MP3 files on CD-R/RW discs but strangely there’s no picture zoom, and Sony has saved a few more pennies by not fitting an optical bitstream socket or separate S-Video output, though the latter is available through the SCART connector. There is one unusual extra though, and that’s a 4-mode picture control (Dynamic 1 & 2 and Cinema 1 & 2), which varies brightness, black-level, colour and contrast levels to suite different types of movies, and for a change they mostly work quite well. 

 

Despite the low price (for Sony) there is no suggestion of any performance compromises, quite the opposite and picture quality is the best we’ve seen on a sub-£200 player to date. Colours are vibrant and it has no trouble rendering subtle shades like skin tones. Fine details are cleanly picked out and it’s an artefact free zone, even when thoroughly provoked with lots of movement and rapid changes in brightness. This makes it ideal for watching action blockbusters, but it handles gloomy scenes equally well, extracting every last morsel of texture from backgrounds and shadows. 

 

No complaints about sound quality either, even the 3D effect earns its keep, adding depth to stereo soundtracks and beefing up music CDs. The mixed stereo soundtrack has very low levels of background noise and the coaxial bitstream output is crystal clear, it will definitely benefit from being used with a decent quality AV amp and speakers, and it won’t hurt audio CD and MP3 replay either.

 

If you’ve baulked at the price of Sony AV gear now’s your chance to own a quality DVD player at an affordable price. What it lacks in gadgets it more than makes up for with superb AV performance and Sony build quality.

 

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

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial

5.1 decoders                 N/A

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 only, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, MP3 replay, 3D sound, 3-mode picture control, 

 

FOR

Sony performance, good looks and build quality

 

AGAINST

Basic spec and a rather mean selection of sockets

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

You bet; great AV quality and it looks like it costs a whole lot more!

 

RATING

5/5

 

 

 

JVC HR-XV1EK, £300
Before you get too excited, no the HR-XV1EK combi VHS/DVD player cannot copy discs to tape but it can do just about everything else a separate VCR and DVD player can do, including make time-shifted recordings, it has NICAM and hi-fi stereo sound and can replay NTSC and Super VHS recordings on tape. It even has a couple of basic editing/copy functions, for licking home video movies into shape. The DVD section has a typical entry-level spec with MP3 replay, 3D sound and it has a 3-stage zoom/shrink function.

 

The on-screen displays and slightly tinny construction suggests that it may be sourced from outside JVC but no matter, tape and disc picture quality are both good and more or less what you’d expect from JVC. DVD replay could with just a gnat’s wider contrast range and some details are lost in gloomy scenes and shadows but colours are always crisp and natural looking. Noise levels on VCR soundtracks are respectably low; surround effects on DVD are pin-sharp and very sharply focused.

 

Combis are very convenient and they do save space but the downside is that you’ve got to want both devices at the same time, and you do sacrifice some flexibility but on the whole, this one works quite well.

 

Contact: JVC UK 0870 330 5000, www.jvc.co.uk

 

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 only, PAL/NTSC replay, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, picture zoom/shrink, 3D sound. VCR:VHS NICAM Hi-Fi with NTSC & SQRB (quasi S-VHS) playback, Video Plus+ with PDC timer, auto installation, multi-speed replay

 

FOR

One-box convenience, AV performance and fair value

 

AGAINST

Unappealing looks and styling, slightly flimsy feel

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Possibly, if you’re short of space and in the market for both products

 

RATING

4/5

 

 

 

TOSHIBA SD-510, £400

DVD-Audio is one of two competing disc formats battling to take over from audio CD. The other is SACD but which one will prevail? That’s anyone’s guess, but the Toshiba SD-510, at around £400, makes gambling on DVD-Audio a little easier to swallow. The feature list is brim-full of high-end goodies, including an on-board Dolby Digital decoder, good trick play options, MP3 replay and a progressive scan ColourStream/Component video output, thought you’d need to have it ‘chipped’ or get an all region model to get any benefit out of it as it only works on NTSC recordings.

 

Picture quality gets a big thumbs-up, colours are bright, lively and natural looking, it’s crisp and detailed, even in dull scenes where on lesser players background can end up looking flat. DVD sound is excellent as is DVD-Audio, though the choice of material is somewhat limited a the moment – so make sure there’s enough of what you want to hear, just in case… Regular audio CDs also sound very good, comparable with a mid-range component hi-fi deck.

 

If you’re at all interested in DVD-Audio and fancy a punt the SD-510 is one of the least expensive options and even if the format goes belly up you’re left with a very decent DVD player.

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB/Component

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 Dolby Digital/dts

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 only, multi-speed trick play, MP3 replay, picture zoom, 3D spatial sound, DVD Audio

 

FOR

DVD-Audio, good all-round AV performance

 

AGAINST

Highish price and limited catalogue of DVD-Audio recordings

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, if you’re into DVD-Audio but make sure there’s enough software to keep you entertained

 

RATING

4/5

 

 

 

AIWA XD-V480, £180

Although it’s fairly obvious this machine is made by LG there are enough unique design touches to avoid it being labelled a total clone. Nevertheless, for the price the spec is a bit ordinary, there’s the usual array of entry-level widgets including MP3 replay, 3D sound, picture zoom and there’s a bonus feature in the shape of a 5-scene bookmark, but that’s about it. The remote handset earns extra brownie points for being a good size and easy to use, but they’re swiftly deducted for the lack of a hackable region lock (normal on most LG players; we’ll reinstate them if one turns up…).

 

On screen performance is generally good, rendition of colour and fine detail are okay, and it handles rapid changes in brightness – like explosions – without a murmur. Contrast balance is not too bad either coping well with dimly lit scenes and shadows. The stereo soundtrack is very clean with only average amounts of background hiss. Audio CD performance is in the same league as budget and mid-range hi-fi, though MP3 tracks sound a tad flat.

 

It’s okay, picture and sound quality are both good, but there’s nothing particularly distinctive about this machine, certainly not the price, which is on the high side for what these days amounts to a basic entry-level player.

 

Contact: Aiwa (0990) 902902 www.aiwa.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 only, multi-speed trick play, MP3 replay, 3D sound, 2-mode picture zoom, 5-scene bookmark

 

FOR

Solid AV performance

 

AGAINST

A wee bit expensive

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Maybe, if you’re a big Aiwa fan

 

RATING

3/5

 

 

 

HITACHI DV-P315, £180

Normally the DV-P315 would rate a respectful nod, it’s an averagely well-specified entry-level machine from an A-brand manufacturer selling for an unremarkable price but one thing sets it apart, the region lock is hackable! It’s the Hitachi name that makes this unusual, normally the big boys toe the line when it comes to regional coding but on this one just cold start the player (press Play and Stop together), select English language and press Menu, Repeat, 38767 and 9 and it’s all region enabled.

 

Other items of interest include some fancy trick play modes, 3D sound, 2-step zoom and Disc Navigation, which displays a visual menu of stills, grabbed from the start of each chapter on a disc. There’s plenty of fine detail in the picture and colours vivid and lifelike – as the occasion demands – and it handles dark and gloomy scenes well, indicating that contrast balance is bang on. Noise levels on the stereo output are low and surround effects are very lively. Audio CD replay is average but pipe it through a hi-fi amp and speakers and it won’t disgrace itself.

 

It looks good, the price is just about okay but the loose region lock and A-brand pedigree marks it out as a very good deal.

 

Contact: Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

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 (hackable) multi-speed trick play, Disc Navigation, picture zoom, 3D sound

 

FOR

AV performance, hackable region lock

 

AGAINST

Fairly basic features

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, a good solid deck and the hackable region lock is a bonus

 

RATING

4/5

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2002, 1605

 

 

 

 

 


 

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