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Sony DVP-S735D DVD player, £430

VERDICT *****

 

Whyís it here: Itís the quick and the dead in this businessÖ Sony has shoehorned the S735 into its already extensive range to fill in some newly created niches and help them to stay competitive with recent arrivals and new price points established by other leading brands. The 735 is now the best specified machine in the Sony range, at a price that would not look out of place on a mid-market player. You may also have noticed that itís a touch smaller than most of its contemporaries; a small flurry of compact or slim line designs recently suggests we could be witnessing the start of welcome trend away from VCR sized boxes for DVD players.

 

Any unique features: The narrower front panel does wonders for the cosmetics, the proportions are much neater and the curvy corners make it one of the best looking players on the market. Features of note include built-in Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 channel decoders. Sony has upgraded the onscreen display and control system and this model has a Chapter Viewer facility for generating thumbnail images from the start of each chapter. Thereís also a very good assortment of picture and sound adjustments (5-mode picture equaliser, digital picture enhancer and manual contrast, brightness, saturation and hue). It has a virtual surround sound system and it comes with a multi brand remote that operates the main functions on TVs and a selection of AV amplifiers. Thereís lot of little gadgets to play with as well, like the picture memory for creating your own backgrounds, discs can be given a title and the 735 will be able to use the jacket cover picture feature (for creating a disc index) as and when DVD manufacturers gets around to putting the necessary image files on discs.

 

Whatever you connection requirements the S735 has it covered. There are two SCART sockets, one of which can be configured for S-Video and RGB output; it has separate S-Video and composite video outputs, and component (Cr,Cb,Y) video output. So far component output has been mainly confined to players sold in the US, where it is the connection system of choice for NTSC video (RGB is the best option for PAL recordings), however, in the past few months weíve seen a few top end home cinema TVs appearing in the UK with component input, and thereís a few video projectors as with this kind of connection as well. If the S725 turns out to have a Ďlooseí region lock this could prove quite useful for those with the appropriate kit and a taste for Region 1 discs.

 

How does it perform:

The on-screen display system puts up an icon filled menu bar down the side of the screen, and very nice it looks too, but there are one or two little problemsÖ Firstly itís a swine to navigate using the miniscule joystick control in the middle of the jog dial; itís far too jumpy. Second, menus open to big brightly coloured submenus, which clutter up the screen making it really difficult to carry out picture adjustment.

 

The picture is outstanding; the 725ís ability to resolve fine detail must be getting close to the formatís upper limits. Itís not just sharp, itís clean too, but what really stands out are smoothly rendered colours and shades that look no natural and appear to have added depth. Itís a shame the trick play facilities are limited, and awkward to use, you only have to breath on the handsetís jog dial to change speed. Layer change is also rather ordinary with some discs taking a little over half a second to switch.

 

No complaints about sound performance though, the 5.1 channels are deep and crisp and even, pinpointing small sounds but delivering the big set-piece effects smoothly and without fuss.  Recordings with dts soundtracks sound even sharper and bass effects definitely have added grunt.

 

Our Verdict:

For once weíre not going to grumble about a Sony price premium, in fact the price is very reasonable (even more reasonable if you buy on the net, weíve seen it as low as £380Ö). If the S735 was housed in an old orange box it would still get an enthusiastic thumbs up, but the case design and styling really is the icing on a very tasty looking little cake.

 

Sony (0990) 111999, www.sony.co.uk

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features            Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital & dts 5.1 decoders, multi-speed replay, chapter viewer, strobe, 5-mode spatial sound, 3-mode noise reduction, 5-mode picture control & user presets (sharpness, colour, brightness hue), disc labelling, picture memory, multi-brand TV/AV remote with glow in the dark buttons

                       

Sockets             2 x SCART AV, S-Video out (mini DIN). Composite video, component video, coaxial digital, mixed stereo & 5.1 channels (phono), optical digital (TOSlink) Front: headphones (jack)

           

Rival Buys

JVC XV-D723, £500

Panasonic DVD-RV40, £350

Sharp DV-760 £500

 

 

HEAD

 

JVC XV-D723, £500,

VERDICT ***

 

Whyís it here                 Until quite recently JVC appears to have had a fairly laid back attitude towards DVD. In the past three years it has produced a relatively small number of models but the recent flurry of launches suggests that it is determined to catch up. The XV-D723 is destined to replace the XV-D701, which has served the company well since the middle of last year, but lately Ė in the face of some very enticing and keenly priced models machines from other A and B brand manufacturers  -- it has begun to look a little long in the tooth. The new machine is certainly better looking and better specified than its predecessor, the key new feature being an on-board DVD-Audio decoder but the real question is, will super quality hi-fi and a set of uprated convenience features be enough to distract would be home cinema component buyers from the street price, which is likely to be at or around the £500 mark?

 

Any unique features: DVD-Audio could turn out to be a major advance in home hi-fi but at the moment, apart from a few demo discs, thereís nothing much to play on it, at least nothing that makes full use of the systemís undoubted potential, or that would make you want to rush out and buy one for that particular feature. So, for the time being at least we must assess this player on its DVD video playing abilities. At first glance it all looks rather conventional but closer inspection reveals some unexpected twists. The most bizarre feature has to be the picture zoom, which has no less than 14-modes. In fact it reduces as well as magnifies the image and no, we donít know why anyone should want to watch a smaller picture but the option is there if you need it. For the record the zoom/reduction levels are as follows: 1/16x, 1/8x, 1/4x, & 1/2x normal size and 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x, 64x, 126x, 256x, 512x & 1024x magnification. Picture control is handled by something called VFP or video fine processing. This has two basic presets (normal and cinema) plus a very good assortment of manual adjustments including colour, brightness, contrast, tint, sharpness, Y-Delay and Gamma.  Y-Delay shifts the picture horizontally and Gamma correction tweaks the contrast range, to bring out details that would otherwise be lost in shadows and dark or moody scenes.

 

Digest is a familiar feature on JVC players but in addition to creating a multi-screen index of whatís on the disc it has been combined with a strobe mode Ė for analysing movement Ė and angle list, which shows multiple camera angle views, though we canít say thereís much to use it with at the moment.  JVCís 3D Phonic virtual surround system has been upgraded for this machine and now has 3 preset modes (drama, action, theatre) and manual effects level. Trick play options are four slomo speeds (1/32x, 1/16x, 1/4x and 1/2x in both directions) and four search speeds 2x, 5x, 20x and 60x

 

Another carry-over from previous models is the unique JVC on-screen display system, a quarter screen size picture appears inset in a full page menu and status display; it is effective and simple to use, which is more than can be said for the remote handset. JVC used to be good at remote boxes but this one is dreadful with 40 tiny, almost identically shaped buttons and a microscopic mode switch, the only saving graces are the fact that it has multi-brand TV control functions, and the largish jog dial, for changing replay speed and direction.

 

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It would be too much to expect JVC to have gone with the flow and designed a Ďnormalí back panel, and true to form it has defied convention and gone its own way. The solitary SCART socket can be configured for either RGB or S-Video output (in addition to composite video). Thereís nothing particularly strange about that except that changing the setting uses two switches instead of a single 3-way switch which, -- to us at least -- seems like a simpler, cheaper and more logical method. Eight gold plated phonos carry the mixed stereo, 5.1 channel outputs, coaxial bitstream and composite video outputs. It has a TOSLink optical bitstream output and S-Video via a standard mini DIN socket. A pair of mini jacks are used for JVCís own-brand ĎCompulinkí remote control system, enabling this player to be integrated with and controlled via the IR receptors on other JVC products.

 

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How does it perform:  Weíve had nothing but praise for the picture quality on JVC DVD players in the past but whilst thereís nothing technically wrong with the D723, it lacks some of the sparkle of its predecessors. Colours donít have the same sort of depth or graduation of shades and whilst definition is satisfactory thereís not the same pin-sharp clarity. Trick play is a disappointment; fast picture search is just a succession of skip-frames, even on 2x fast play, which should be as smooth as normal speed replay. On a more positive note the picture controls are a bonus, especially gamma correction, which reveals a surprising amount of detail in shadowy sequences, video processing is glitch free and layer change takes under a quarter of a second.

 

The digital surround decoders both do a good job revealing a lot of low-level detail; the channels all have a wide flat response and plenty of room for heavyweight bass effects. Noise levels on the mixed stereo output are well suppressed; Dolby Surround soundtracks are lively and detailed.

 

Our Verdict: The D723 is okay AV performance is fine and thereís lots of bits and bobs to play around with. It has a few flaws, the jerky picture search and remote handset spring immediately to mind, but the real reasons weíre being less than enthusiastic about this machine is the price, there some really slick players on the market these days for less than £450, okay, so they may not have 14-mode zooms, but then who really wants such a thing?

 

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

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features            Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital & dts 5.1 decoders, DVD-Audio decoder, multi-speed replay, 14-mode picture zoom/reduce, chapter viewer, strobe, 3-mode spatial sound, VFP picture control & user presets (sharpness, colour, brightness tint, gamma, Y-Shift), multi-brand TV/AV remote

           

Sockets              AV out (SCART), mixed stereo, 5.1 channels, coaxial bitstream, composite video (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), optical bitstream out (TOSlink)          

           

Rival Buys

Panasonic DVD-RV40, £350

Sharp DV-760 £500

Sony DVP-S735D, £430

 

 

HEAD

NAD T550, £500

VERDICT ***

 

Whyís it here:            The T550 is NADís first DVD player and the itís somewhat leisurely progress into the market can be explained by the fact that it is the companyís own design, using NADís proprietary processing circuitry and software and relying on fewer standard components than most rival players. As befits a leading light in high-end audio NAD has put considerable emphasis on the T550ís role as a quality CD player. Its parentage is clear to see and it sports the same cosmetics and minimalist styling as other products in the NAD range moreover the marketing blurb asserts that it would make an ideal partner for its T750 AV receiver/amplifier. 

 

Any unique features: Burr-Brown 1716 digital to audio converter (DAC) circuitry is more commonly found in top-flight audio CD players and NAD proudly boasts the use of high-grade electronic components in key processing circuits such as the built-in Dolby Digital decoder. In keeping with the minimalist theme audio options are very limited though this extends to the digital surround facilities and the T550 is unusual in having hardly any 5.1 channel setup facilities, (level controls, test-tone etc.,) unless you count switchable centre, surround and sub-woofer channel outputs. Much the same applies to video playback, it has 4-speed picture search and slomo, and a two-stage zoom, but there are no picture equalisation controls or indeed anything for the user to fiddle around with, other than the usual soundtrack and subtitle options. Round the back thereís a single SCART carrying composite video and RGB outputs, plus composite and S-Video sockets. One slightly unusual feature is a separate mixed stereo output and 5.1 channel outputs. The remote handset is a little out of the ordinary too, itís a truly horrible design with buttons scattered all over the place, itís very directional and surprisingly heavy. This is due to a slab of mild steel bonded to the bottom of the handsetís printed circuit board, whose only apparent function is to give the handset extra weightÖ

 

How does it perform: Slomo is okay but the first of the four picture search modes is next to useless, replay speed is normal but every second or so it drops a few frames; the other three speeds are very jerky and not much use at all for locating scenes or sequences, and itís not helped by the button placement on the handset, which has the play stop and pause buttons at the top and trick play rockers sideways on, towards the back end of the remote. Picture quality on our sample was less than inspiring, it looked quite dark and whilst it possible to sort the brightness and contrast out on the TV the picture still looks a bit dull, colours are also on the flat side and subtle shades are not as cleanly resolved as most other mid to top end players. Layer change can take up to a second on some discs, which is unusually slow.

 

Audio CD replay is very good though; it produces a crisp and sharply defined sound, comparable with high-end CD players. The Dolby Digital decoder also works well with a flat even response, thereís lots of detail and a very solid bass that really gets behind set-piece effects.

 

Our Verdict: By designing itís own DVD, more or less from scratch, NAD has come up with a cracking CD player that will please hi-fi buffs, but the home cinema performance and facilities are a bit lacklustre. In the end it all comes down to what else is available for £500 and it has to be said there are better DVD machines on the market. Nevertheless if youíre a NAD fan, have an audio system to match this playerís sonic capabilities and DVD is of secondary importance than the T550 might be for you.

 

Telephone Nad 01296 482017

 

UP CLOSE

Features                       Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, built-in Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-mode picture zoom, 5-scene marker

 

Sockets                        1 x SCART AV (RGB & composite), S-Video out (mini DIN), composite video, coaxial bitstream, mixed stereo & 5.1 channels (phono), optical digital out (TOSlink)

 

Rival Buys

JVC XV-D723, £500

Sharp DV-760 £500

Sony DVP-S735D, £430

 

 

 

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R. Maybury 2000, 09006

 

 

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