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WHARFEDALE DVD-750, £180, ****

 

Why’s it here: in fact the only place you're going to find a DVD-750 is at your local branch of Tescos where it will be selling for the impressively low price of just £179.99. Wharfedale is branching out and the DVD-750 is the first in a series of newly developed home entertainment products not normally associated with the Cambridgeshire based speaker maker. If this one is anything to go by it is going to make a big impression!

 

Any unique features: the sub £200 price ticket would normally be enough to grab our attention and get the DVD-750 noticed, but that's just for starters. Wharfedale is quick to point out that it is not just another badge-engineered box or clone but the feature that is going to really make your wallet itch is the player's remarkably loose regional coding. Ostensibly the 750 will only playback Region 2 discs, and indeed if you pop in a Region 1 title it dutifully flashes up a not playable icon on the screen. However, tap in a simple code (01) on the handset during the loading sequence and it enters what is quaintly called the 'auto' mode whereupon it will play R1 titles without any further ado. From that point on it seems happy to play any type of disc with no further intervention on the user's part.

 

The rest of the feature list is a bit of an anti-climax by comparison but to be fair it's more or less what you we expect to see on a budget DVD player. There's a picture zoom option, a fairly basic assortment of replay speeds (2 mode picture search, still and forward slomo). The deck mechanism is slightly unusual. Sanyo manufactures it and very compact it is too, not unlike a PC DVD-ROM drive in design and layout but apart from being a bit clattery when closing it looks and performs like any other deck. There's a useful assortment of socketry on the rear panel with a single SCART socket – configurable for RGB output – composite and S-Video output sockets, two sets of mixed stereo outputs plus coaxial and TOSlink optical digital audio outputs.       

 

How does it perform: Considering the price you might be forgiven for thinking that the DVD-750 has one or two rough edges; if it has they are well hidden, certainly as far as on-screen performance is concerned. The only obvious signs of penny pinching is the blocky on-screen displays, which look as though they might be generated by the graphics chip from a Sinclair Spectrum. The operating system is fairly crude when compared with the fancy interactive graphical user interfaces used by other manufacturers but it's not a problem and really only concerns infrequently used set-up and language functions. Trick play facilities are a bit thin on the ground but again it's something you can easily live with. Picture quality is generally good, the image contains a lot of crisp detail and we couldn't see any significant processing artefacts on any of our test discs. Colours are clean and natural looking, noise levels are so low as to be insignificant but the contrast range isn't terribly wide and some detail tends to be lost in shadows and darker scenes. Layer change is very quick and the switchover usually occurred in just one or two frames, even on troublesome movies like Godzilla. Background hiss on the analogue mixed stereo output is at a low level and there's plenty of headroom for Dolby Surround soundtracks, which sound lively and detailed.

 

Verdict: The DVD-750 is the latest in a series of DVD players with easily hackable -- or completely non-existent -- regional coding systems. It's starting to make a nonsense of the whole system and doubtless irritating a lot of the companies that have been making a good living 'chipping' players or fitting all-region modifications. From a performance point of view the 750 and the picture and sound are nothing special but even average DVD AV quality wipes the floor with noisy, jittery VHS. It's a competent enough machine, in an ideal world we would have liked a few more replay options and the layout of the remote handset is clumsy but these are mere detail. In the end it comes down to the fact that this is one of, if not the cheapest DVD player on the market and it can play Region 1 discs without any hassle. Tescos are now selling two kinds of hot cakes…   

 

Wharfedale International, telephone (01480) 447700

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features

Region 2 PAL/NTSC (see text), picture zoom, dynamic range compression, PIN coded parental lock

           

Sockets           

AV output (1 x SCART), composite video mixed stereo outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical)

 

Dimensions                  

430 x 85 x 300mm

 

Rival Buys

Bush DVD2000,  £200, LG DVD-2330 £200, Matsui XXX, £200

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1999, 0712

 

 

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