WHAT DVD 2002

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PLAYERS OF THE MONTH

 

JVC TH-A5R, £400
Putting together a DVD home cinema system from scratch can be a daunting experience, especially if you’re not entirely sure about AV amplifiers, surround decoders, speakers and all of the other bit and bobs you need these days. One solution, and it’s proving increasingly popular, is the so-called ‘one-box’ system.

 

The box in question is the one the system is packed in; inside there are usually several smaller boxes, 7 of them in the case of the JVC TH-AR5 (8 if you count the remote…). These comprise the main unit, which houses the DVD player, Dolby Digital and dts surround sound decoders, a 6-channel amplifier plus an AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS. You also get four compact and magnetically shielded satellite speakers, a centre channel speaker and a meaty-looking sub-woofer.  

 

The silver-grey system unit is no larger than a VCR or DVD player. The styling is inoffensive and it looks quite interesting with a large volume knob on one side, the disc tray on the other and trendy blue panel lights.

 

One important benefit of a ‘one-box’ system is simplicity. There’s no need to worry about matching components everything is designed together and there’s only one remote hand. There are also fewer cables to plug in and it’s fairly obvious where they all go, so you can have it up and running in just a few minutes.

 

The downside of a packaged system -- especially on budget models – can be audio performance. Everything has been designed down to a price and that’s one of the AR5’s few shortcomings. The speakers are quite small and not especially well built, resulting in a fairly thin sound. The sub-woofer helps pump up the bass but there’s no escaping the fact that lively movie soundtracks lack the kind of drama and punch that you often get from more substantial speakers. Upgrading the speakers should bring about an instant improvement.

 

DVD performance on the other hand is very reasonable indeed. Picture quality is fine with lots of detail, even in darker scenes. Colours are rich and natural looking and it has a fair assortment of trick play facilities. There’s not much in the way of extras, it has a picture zoom and MP3 replay but not much else. Providing you’re not too critical about the sound and all you want to do is enjoy DVDs with a minimum of fuss and bother the AR5 is definitely worth considering.

 

JVC 020 8450 3282, www.jvc-europe.com

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB/

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 Dolby Digital & dts

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, amplifier with 5 x 35 watts & 1 x 60 watts, AM/FM tuner with RDS, supplied with speakers & sub-woofer

 

FOR

One box convenience, very respectable picture performance

 

AGAINST

Unimpressive speakers

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, a good all-round performer for those who like to keep things simple

 

RATING

4/5

 

 

CYBERHOME CH-DVD 302, £99

Watch out for this one when you’re checking specs! The box rather misleadingly implies the CH-DVD 302 has an on-board Dolby Digital decode. It doesn’t, it’s a fairly basic budget play and the headline features are MP3 replay, picture zoom, a 5-scene bookmark and a loose region lock. (On the remote handset press Stop + 1999 to bring up a service menu with region code selection, exit and switch off to store).

 

When it comes to DVD playback things start to look more promising, it can handle both DVD-R and DVD+RW discs (unusual on budget players) and picture quality is surprisingly good for a budget player. There’s a fair amount of texture and detail in darker scenes, colours are lifelike and it copes well with subtle shades and skin tones. The analogue stereo audio output is lively and full of detail, audio CD sound quality compares favourably with budget and mid-range players and systems.

 

Unfortunately the CH-DVD 502 is a touch bland, it doesn’t have any ‘killer’ features and it’s up against some stiff competition from several other sub-£100 players but apart from the dodgy wording on the box there’s nothing serious to worry about so keep it in mind. 

 

Contact Endre Lock 01243-530009, 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

All region playback, PAL/NTSC replay, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, picture zoom, 5-scene bookmark

 

FOR

Hackable region lock, fair value and performance

 

AGAINST

Misleading packaging – it doesn’t have a built-in surround sound decoder!

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, a fair deal but not terribly exciting

 

RATING

4/5

 

 

 

MUSTEK DVD-560, £80
A DVD player with a built-in Dolby Digital decoder for eighty quid, it hardly seems possible but Mustek – better known for its range of computer peripherals – has done it. What’s more the DVD-560 has MP3 replay, picture zoom, AV controls, component video output, a twin laser pickup and an easily hackable region lock. (
Press Setup, Next, Previous, Next, Previous, use cursor buttons to select region number or 255 for All-Region)

 

It’s a fairly plain-looking box, the remote handset is no great shakes (too many small, closely packed buttons) and the controls are a bit slow to respond as well, but the real disappointment is picture quality. It probably won’t look too bad on a modestly-sized TV – less than 28-inches, say -- but on a bigger screen the flaws start to show and they include blocky colours – especially in darker scenes – a narrow contrast range and this tends to obscure fine detail. The soundtrack’s a bit hissy too, even on audio CDs and there was some high-pitched whine in the background on our sample.

 

Ultimately you get what you pay for, as far as features are concerned the DVD-560 looks like amazing value but it’s at the expense of performance

 

Contact Time Xtra 0800 027 7777, www.mustek.com

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue 5.1 & mixed stereo/coaxial/optical, headphone

5.1 decoders                 Dolby Digital

 

EXTRA FEATURES

All region, PAL/NTSC replay, MP3 replay, Dolby Digital decoder, multi-speed replay, picture zoom, volume control, brightness and contrast adjustment, headphone output & level control

 

FOR

Very low price and impressive-looking spec

 

AGAINST

Disappointing performance

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Maybe, providing you’re not expecting too much

 

RATING

3/5

 

 

MAKE/MODEL

LG DVD-4950, £250

A £250 price tag is an unusual sight on a DVD player these days, especially one made by LG. Even more surprising is the fairly brief list of features, it has an on-board Dolby Digital decoder, 3D spatial sound, MP3 replay, zoom, bookmark and you can easily change the region code. (Press Pause 314159, enter region code, press Pause, switch off, count 5, switch on). LG have given the 4950 a very fancy case with mirrored front panel and that’s undoubtedly helped bump up the price a bit.

 

LG hasn’t skimped on the internals either, playback performance isn’t going to set any records but the picture does look very crisp and contrast balance is good, enabling it to pick out a fair amount of fine detail in darker scenes and shadows. It sounds fine too, the analogue stereo and 5.1 channel outputs are very busy with lots of high and low level effects and audio CD playback wouldn’t sound out of place on some mid-range hi-fi systems.

 

You’re paying a bit extra for the flashy cosmetics and it’s a tad basic but picture and sound quality are both a little above average so in the end it’s probably not such a bad deal.

 

Contact: LG Electronics 01753 50047. www.lge.co.uk

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite/S-Video/RGB

SCARTs                        2

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo/coaxial/optical

5.1 decoders                 Dolby Digital

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts output, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, MP3 replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 5-scene bookmark

 

FOR

Solid spec and good performance

 

AGAINST

Pricey and a bit dull

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes-ish, but it’s still a touch expensive for what it is

 

RATING

4/5

 

 

THOMSON DIGITAL STATION, £350

Portable TV/DVD combis are nothing new but to date most of them look like a 14-inch TV perched on a small DVD player. Thomson’s Digital Station, part of its new ‘Life’ range, is far removed from the traditional boxy styling of TV combis and there’s some interesting additions to the feature list too. These include a mike input for it’s VCD/CD karaoke function, ‘Dub Assist, which aids CD to Tape/MiniDisc copying and virtual Dolby 3D spatial effect to help puff up the sound from the two built-in speakers. That’s in addition to the usual assortment of DVD/combi facilities like picture zoom, trick play, Fastext and a sleep timer. Sadly no news of a region code hack at the time of going to press but we’re hopeful.

 

Picture performance is excellent, as it should be on a 14-inch screen. It’s pin--sharp, colours are vibrant and there’s bags of contrast. The sound is not too bad at all, considering the size and location of the speakers, just don’t expect too much in the way of bass, or a stereo, let alone surround soundstage.

 

It’s ideal for a spot of home entertainment in the bedroom and the kids will definitely want one, worth considering.

 

Contact Thomson 020 8344 4444, www.thomson-europe.com

 

SPECS

Video output                  composite

SCARTs                        1

Audio output                  analogue mixed stereo

5.1 decoders                 n/a

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2 PAL & NTSC replay, multi-speed trick play, 3D sound,

 

FOR

Smart looks all-in-one convenience

 

AGAINST

No region hack yet

 

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes but only in the kitchen or kids/bedroom, don’t even think of using it as your main player…

 

RATING

4/5

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2002, 1107

 

 

 

 

 


 

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