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So far DVD has been mostly about picture quality and playback facilities, with multi-channel digital sound and audio CD compatibility getting very honourable mentions. The Panasonic DVD-A7 marks a turning point, for the first time audio gets top billing, and not just any old audio, itís multi-channel DVD-Audio, one of the two formats tipped to succeed CD (the other one is Super Audio CD or SACD). The DVD-A7 is not the first DVD-Audio compatible player weíve looked at Ė the JVC XV-D723 beat the A7 into the shops by a good couple of months -- but whereas on the JVC machine DVD-Audio was treaded pretty much as an add-on, on the DVD-A7 thereís a sense that itís a key feature, aimed at audio enthusiasts, who maybe want to watch the odd movieÖ


It looks like a high-end audio component, the styling is laid back with soft blue up-lit panels and gold on black trim; and then thereís the price. At £700, all but, itís well outside the DVD mainstream, even for a player with on-board Dolby Digital and dts surround sound decoders. Itís fairly obvious where the money is going and thatís on advanced proprietary signal processing and digital to analogue (DAC) circuitry, a very smooth deck mechanism, high-grade power supply components and heavily damped chassis. For good measure it also has a front-mounted headphone jack with level control and for movie playback thereís a virtual surround sound option for beefing up stereo soundtracks or for when the player is connected to a stereo TV.


Video features are very similar to Panasonicís other mid-range and top-end players, in other words nothing too radical, few if any toys or gadgets, just a solid set of picture replay speeds, easy to understand on-screen displays, RGB output, NTSC playback (Region 0 and 2 discs only) and it comes with a multi brand TV/AV amp remote control. The picture performance is little changed to several other Panasonic players weíve seen lately, resolution and colour fidelity are both excellent and it has a wide dynamic range, revealing lots of hidden detail in dark corners and shadowy sequences.


All well and good but the real question is how does it sound? The trouble is DVD-Audio discs are still very thin on the ground and for the most part confined to manufacturerís demos and a handful of Japanese imports. Our sister magazine HiFi Choice has also reported that some demo tracks are actually re-mastered CDs, so bearing all that in mind, lets just say that on the evidence so far, it sounds bloody fantastic! Thereís noticeable warmth and extra depth to the sound, that you donít need trained ears to hear, multi-channel surround heightens the sensation of being there, without being distracting or adding anything to the performance.



The DVD-A7 is a most convincing argument for DVD-Audio; all we need now is a decent selection of discs to make it worthwhile!


Rating 5


Panasonic (08705) 357357, www.panasonic.co.uk



Warm involving sound and itís a pretty slick video player as well



The highish price and lack of discs is a problem


Rival Buys

JVC XD-723, £500



ĎThereís noticeable warmth and extra depth to the sound, that you donít need trained ears to hear and multi-channel surround heightens the sensation of being thereÖí



R. Maybury 2000, 2809



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