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ALBA DVD-103, £150

VERDICT ****

 

Whyís it here:

Whatís the betting on a £100 DVD player in time for Christmas 2001? A year ago that would have seemed fanciful, to say the least, but then a year ago who would have predicted that an entry-level player would be selling for less than £150? The Alba DVD-103 is now officially the UKís cheapest DVD player -- this month at leastÖ It also happens to be surprisingly well specified, providing manufacturers of budget machines with a new target to aim for, and no doubt forcing others to re-think pricing and marketing strategies. Either way the DVD-103 marks a new milestone in the short but very eventful history of DVD

 

Any unique features:  Before you ask, yes, it is a multi-region player and no, there are no codes or hacks to mess about with, it plays Region one discs straight out of the box. Since this is an unadvertised feature we couldnít possibly mention it without the caveat that itís not guaranteed and donít blame us if your one doesnít work. However, thatís not the best bit and in any case there are now more than enough R2 discs to keep most people happy; the surprise feature is track digest, and if youíre wondering where youíve come across that before, itís the same feature youíll find on JVC and Hitachi players costing £300. Track digest produces a display of 9 frame grabs from the start of each chapter on the disc, creating a visual menu so you can jump quickly to any part of a recording. The rest of the feature list isnít quite so dramatic but again few other sub-£200 players are so well appointed. It has multi-speed replay (4 picture search and 3 slomo speeds), a 2-stage picture zoom (x2 & x4), thereís a volume control on the handset and a headphone socket with level control on the front panel. Other welcome little extras include unrestricted search and skip, so you donít have to sit through those interminable opening titles and copyright notices, the set-up menu is accessible from within play mode -- and we think this is a first Ė you can change the video output (PAL or NTSC) on the fly, whilst a disc is playing. For some reason it has two sets of mixed stereo outputs and two composite video outputs but the rest is fairly normal with a single SCART (composite, RGB or S-Video), S-Video and optical and coaxial bitstream outputs.

 

Needless to say itís not all sweetness and light. The remote handset is awful, itís got the lot, little buttons, bad labelling, awkward placement etc. Our sample locked solid a couple of times for no apparent reason, suggesting buggy software, thereís no on/standby control on the remote and the instruction book will make you laugh, or weep, depending on your grasp of Pidgin English.

 

How does it perform: It gets ten out of ten for layer change, itís over in a just a frame or so and you probably wonít even know it has happened on most discs. Picture quality is adequate, it looks a tiny bit soft and it has a tendency to over-emphasise highlights. Skin tones and subtle colour shades can look a little flat, especially in brightly-lit close-ups and it doesnít much like smudged or scratched discs, producing the odd artefact. Contrast is about average, which is to say some detail will be lost in shadows, but itís no worst than most other players in that respect.  Thereís the usual amount of hiss on the mixed stereo analogue soundtracks but itís not intrusive and Dolby Surround material comes through sounding bright and dynamic with a good bass content.

 

Our Verdict:

Okay, so itís not going to win any beauty contests and the designer of the remote control obviously had his/her mind on other things but consider the facts. This is the cheapest multi-region DVD player in the UK, thatís readily available in the high street. It has fancy features like chapter index and AV performance, despite one or two shortcomings, is still miles better than VHS. The only possible reason not to go out and buy one right now is to wait and see what the opposition comes up with. On the other hand, at that price why wait any longer DVD is now at pocket money prices?

 

Alba 020 8594 5533

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features            Multi region, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, chapter digest, volume and mute control, display dimmer/off, headphone out

           

Sockets             AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video out (mini DIN), coaxial bitstream, 2 x composite video & 2 x mixed stereo (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), Front: headphones (jack)

           

Dimensions            435 x 95 x 280mm     

 

Rival Buys        

Bush DVD 2002, £180

LG DVD-2330, £190

Wharfedale DVD-750. £180

 

---end---

R. Maybury 2000, 1206

 

 

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