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BUDGET DVD PLAYERS

 

GOODMANS GDVD-100, £200

We’re accustomed to new DVD players bearing the Alba, Bush and Goodmans badges being generally quite well specified, good value for money and usually an improvement on the models they replace, but we really don’t know what to make of the GDVD-100… It’s not bad looking; quite smart in fact, it’s reasonably priced too, though the feature list is on the short side. However, it is livened up considerably with things like Scene Digest (see Box), which generates a screen full of thumbnail sized stills, grabbed from the start of each chapter. It also has a truly bizarre picture search facility, the on-screen display shows ‘1x’ when it is in fact playing back at twice normal speed and we can’t begin to work out what 2x, 3x and 4x are all about. There’s more, our sample appeared to have a glitch that made it drop out of picture search mode at chapter changeover points, it happened on several of test discs including Godzilla.

 

More oddities, the SCART AV output socket on the back panel can be configured for S-Video and YUV component video output. The latter is meant for high-end US TVs and projectors. TVs with that kind of exotic socketry are rarer than hen’s teeth in the UK and in any case it is only really of use on multi-region players. The GDVD-100 is locked securely to Region 2 playback; there probably is a hack but none of the usual ones worked on our test machine.

 

The GDVD-100 has ordinary analogue mixed stereo audio and digital bitstream outputs but in common with a lot of other recently launched budget machines it can also play CD-R/RW discs with MP3 music files, and a very good job it does of it too. Movie sound quality is also fine with surround sound information clearly presented across the soundstage. Video performance is only fair however, some detail is lost in gloomy scenes and it’s a bit heavy-handed with subtle shades like skin tones. Features like Scene Digest, MP3 replay and the headphone socket are a bonus but we have to say that the GDVD-100 is a bit too quirky for our liking

 

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, dts compatible bitstream output, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, YUV component video output

           

Sockets          

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

 

BOX COPY

Scene Digest used to be a high-end feature, found only on players costing £400 or more now however it is turning up on budget machines. The idea is the player skims through the disc, taking a snapshot of the start of each chapter as it goes and building up a kind of visual menu. The on-screen display shows a sequence of nine ‘screen grabs’, simply by highlighting the image, or moving a cursor, you can instruct the play to go straight to the start of any chosen scene.

 

Overall                        3

Movie Sound              3

Music Sound              3

Build Quality            3

Features                     3

 

Contact            Alba plc, 020 8594 5533

 

 

JVC XV-522, £280

JVC was a little slow off the mark with DVD, which is surprising for a company that’s usually so switched on to the mass-market. Now it seems to be trying to make up lost ground and the XV-522 is one of three new players that will be launched in the coming months. It’s an entry-level model with bog-standard DVD audio – i.e. no built-in surround-sound decoder -- but the feature list contains several surprises, moreover the styling and compact cabinet are more typical of a mid-range player. By the way, this machine is also available in all black (XV-521) and champagne (XV-522) coloured finishes.

 

Now to those features, there’s multi-speed replay, two-mode 3D spatial sound, a three-mode ‘Theatre Position’ picture equaliser (see Box) and Scene Digest. This is a big help for quickly moving to the start of any chapter on the disc and until recently was only found on top-end players. The remote handset can control the main functions on a range of other maker’s TVs and AV amplifiers and there’s picture zoom and ‘strobe’, which creates a sequence of 9 screen-grabs, which supposedly helps when analysing rapid movement or action sequences.

 

The 522 has a fairly basic set of on-screen displays that tell you what the player and disc are up to. It should be a doddle to use but JVC has given it one of the worst remotes we’ve seen in a long while. It is quite obviously one of its old VCR handsets re-jigged for DVD. The buttons are all over the place and clearly there weren’t enough of them so it has contrived an awkward ‘shift’ function, so you have to hold down one button whilst pressing another to access several key features.

 

Audio and video quality is both satisfactory, the picture contains plenty of details but there was a slight background shimmy on our sample and picture search is quite jerky. The mixed stereo soundtracks have a touch more background hiss than usual and audio CD replay could be sharper. The 522 gives JVC a presence at the budget end of the market but quite honestly there are better and more interesting players to be had for that sort of money.

 

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, dts compatible bitstream output, 2-mode 3D sound, multi-speed replay, Scene Digest, picture equaliser, picture zoom, multi-brand TV remote

           

Sockets          

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

 

BOX COPY

JVC’s Theatre Position is an attempt to overcome the problems that occur when a movie – designed to be shown in a cinema – is transferred to video and displayed on a TV screen. Amongst other things it changes the contrast and brightness balance to overcome the differences between film projectors and TV picture tubes, which can be especially noticeable on movies containing a lot of dark scenes, or to recover detail lost in shadows or gloomy portions of the image. We found the ‘off’ position was the best option for most movies…

 

Overall                        3

Movie Sound              4

Music Sound              3

Build Quality            4

Features                     3

 

 

LG DVD-3350, £240

Time was, not so long ago, when LG had a reputation for bashing out cheap ‘n cheerful video and audio products. LG prices are still a little below the average but build quality and performance on a lot of its AV ranges has improved enormously and now compares well with other leading brands. It has also come a long way when it comes to design and presentation. Take the DVD-3350, it has the looks and styling of a mid-market machine, and it’s got the spec to match with a built-in Dolby Digital surround sound decoder. Replay facilities are particularly impressive with multi-speed replay controlled from what looks like a jog/shuttle control on the remote handset. In fact what looks like a jog dial – used to step the recording forwards or backwards one frame at a time -- is a dummy but the shuttle ring covers a wide range of speeds, from 2x up to 100x normal speed in 4 steps and there’s a 4-speed slomo replay function as well. There’s a few little luxury extras, like a clever 2-stage picture zoom, it has a 3D Surround option and it’s one of a growing number of machines that can replay MP3 files recorded on CD-R/RW discs.

 

Initial setup is no problem, there’s a comprehensive set of audio level controls for the surround sound output otherwise it’s ready to run with a minimum of full. A simple but colourful on-screen display can be called up during replay with information about track number and time, and the facility to change soundtrack and audio output, otherwise most operations are controlled from the chunky remote with its glow in the dark buttons. It delivers a sharp, clean picture with a good contrast range and accurately rendered colours. The Dolby Digital soundtracks have real impact coping equally well with subtle sounds and loud explosions; dialogue on the centre channel is very well focussed. The 3350 is a solid little player capable of excellent results, on the screen and from the speakers, it looks smart too and MP3 is a bonus, definitely worth considering if you’re looking for top movie sound and very decent picture quality at a sensible price. 

 

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, Dolby Digital sound, dts compatible bitstream output, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, 5-scene marker, glow in the dark buttons

 

Sockets          

AV output (2 x SCART), composite video, coaxial bitstream, 5.1 surround & mixed stereo outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical)

 

BOX COPY

The 3350 is blessed with two SCART sockets on the back panel and the one that connects to the TV can be configured for either S-Video or RGB video output. S-Video is the best option if your TV has the facility, it eliminates ‘cross colour’ patterning in parts of the picture with a lot of fine detail. However an RGB connection gives the best picture quality but not all TVs have the necessary input circuitry. If yours has use it, the improvement in colour rendition is quite noticeable

 

Overall                        4

Movie Sound              5

Music Sound              4

Build Quality            5

Features                     4

 

Contact            LG Electronics 01753 50047

 

 

SCAN SC-2000, £183

With no disc in the player press Setup on the remote handset, then Title, Step and Next. On the ‘secret’ menu that appears scroll down the list to find Region ID and select Bypass. The Scan SC2000 will now play DVDs from any Region. Righty-ho, now that’s out of the way let’s see what else this very attractively priced little machine is good for. It’s not bad looking, as black boxes go, and it has a good sized display that is actually quite informative, telling you which part of the disc it is currently playing. The remote handset is a fair size, layout, button spacing and labelling are all okay. The on-screen displays are quite striking, the main setup menu where you tell the player what sort of TV and audio system you’re using has a web page feel to it with eye-catching icons and easy to follow menus.

 

Playback options are well thought out with 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32, and 64x picture search plus 3 slomo speeds, there’s also a 3-stage picture zoom (x2, x4 & x8) and a 5-scene marker. Considering the price it’s hardly surprising that the player has only the format-standard mixed stereo analogue audio outputs; optical and coaxial digital bitstream outputs are included for the benefit of those with more ambitious Dolby Digital and dts surround sound systems. The SC2000 also has a 4-mode 3D sound option that widens the stereo image and as well as audio CDs, it can also play MP3 music files (see Box) downloaded from the net and recorded on CD-R/RW discs.  

 

Picture quality is impressive, we noticed that it uses the same picture processing microchips as players from top name brands costing a good deal more. There’s lots of fine detail in the image, colours are crisp and natural looking and there’s no faffing about when it comes to layer change or playing grubby or lightly scratched discs. The stereo output is lively and it carries loud and dynamic effects with ease. It’s not the cheapest player on the market by a long chalk but AV performance is a notch or two up on most rival sub-£200 machines and taking into account its other abilities it is well worth short listing.

 

Features

Multi Region (see text), PAL/NTSC, dts compatible bitstream output, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 3-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, 5-scene marker, volume control

           

Sockets          

AV output (2 x SCART), composite video, coaxial bitstream & mixed stereo outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical)

 

BOX COPY 90

MP3 has been in the news recently; it’s a way of sending music over the Internet, much to the alarm of the record companies. The usual way to listen to MP3 tracks is through PC speakers or on personal players and now they can be copied to recordable CD-ROM and played on DVD decks like the SC-2000. Sound quality is not too bad – it’s not as good as regular CD but a bit better than tape – however the killer feature is that a disc can hold up to 12-hours of music, making it ideal for parties and background sounds.

 

Overall                        5

Movie Sound              4

Music Sound              4

Build Quality            4

Features                     5

 

Contact             www.scan.co.uk

 

 

SAMSUNG DVD-811, £300

Samsung was one of the first companies to introduce a DVD player with a region code lock that could be disabled by tapping a few buttons on the remote handset. It seems likely that the DVD-811 has something similar but it may take a while for details of how to unlock it to appear on the usual Internet web sites, but just in case avoid buying this machine on the assumption that it can play imported discs. On the other hand if you’re looking for a sensibly priced and very presentable little player with Dolby Digital surround, a good assortment of replay features, 3D sound, 2-stage picture zoom and a multi-brand TV remote, then the DVD-811 deserves closer inspection.

 

It is a largely conventional design, there’s a useful jog/shuttle dial on the right hand side of the front panel and it gets an extra brownie point for the headphone socket and level control on the left. The remote handset is a bit of a lump but all of the most important buttons are large, well spaced and easy to find and we like the little joystick button that’s used to navigate around the on-screen displays. The only features that counts as even slightly unusual are a master volume control and audio scan (see Box) during 2x fast playback, which lets you hear the soundtrack at normal speed. Setting the player up for first time only takes a couple of minutes and in normal use it’s responsive and well behaved.

 

Previous Samsung DVD players fared quite well when it came to picture and sound quality and the DVD-811 isn’t about to let the side down. Pictures are crisply defined and colours are accurately rendered, it could do with a tad less contrast to help bring out more detail in shadowy scenes but tweaking the TV’s picture controls works almost as well. Picture stability is good at all replay speeds and layer change happens so quickly you don’t even notice it. The Dolby Digital decoder produces six very busy channels picking out the smallest and loudest sounds with equal ease. Nothing special but a good all rounder. 

 

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, Dolby Digital sound, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, Audio Scan, 3D sound, 3-scene marker, multi-brand TV remote

 

 

Sockets          

AV output (2 x SCART), composite video, coaxial bitstream, 5.1 surround & mixed stereo outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical), headphone (jack)

 

BOX COPY

If you are wondering how the DVD-811’s Audio Scan feature lets you hear normal sound during 2x fast play, it’s all down to a technique known as ‘buffering’. Soundtrack data is read off the disc at the same time as the picture and fed into a memory chip. Sound data is then read out of the memory chip, at normal speed, in short snatches, so that it coincides with what is happening on the screen. This means you can watch a movie in half the normal time and still follow the plot.

 

Overall                        4

Movie Sound              4

Music Sound              4

Build Quality            4

Features                     4

 

Contact             Samsung 0800 521652

 

 

SONY DVP-S535, £370

For some unaccountable reason Sony classify the S535 as an ‘entry-level’ player on its web pages… Surely some mistake; whilst this machine has relatively few bells and whistles -- over and above what’s needed to play DVDs and audio CDs -- it does have a built-in Dolby Digital surround sound decoder and a number of advanced playback features and it really doesn’t bear comparison with most other manufacturer’s baseline players. The casework and styling is also a cut above the norm, to begin with the front panel is a good deal narrower than usual, more like a classy audio component, and it looks as though someone has actually given some thought to the control layout. Picture quality is a top priority with a 3-stage video equaliser and digital noise reduction and it stores the user settings on up to 50 discs. In addition to 5.1 channel surround it has a range of 3D and pseudo surround options called ‘virtual enhanced surround’ for 2 and 4-speaker set-ups. The on-screen displays – another Sony speciality – are eye-catching and easy to use and the remote handset is a multi-brand device, able to control the main functions on a wide range of other makers TVs and AV amplifiers.

 

All of the extra video processing and noise reduction has paid off and the S5325 produces one of the sharpest pictures we’ve seen recently. Colours have added vibrancy and the image is never less than involving, even during dark or gloomy scenes. The only minor quibble is the sluggish layer change (see Box), which on our sample sometimes took over half a second. Sound quality is outstanding, Dolby Digital soundtracks come alive with head-turning effects and it’s no mean performer when it comes to audio CDs, comparing very favourably with most mid-market and some high-end hi-fi players. You won’t need reminding that you can get a perfectly decent DVD player with on-board Dolby Digital surround for a good deal less than £370 but this is one of those occasions when paying over the odds really is money well spent.

 

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, Dolby Digital sound, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, video equaliser & noise reduction, playback memory, 3D sound, multi-brand TV/AV amplifier remote control

 

Sockets          

AV output (2 x SCART), composite video, coaxial bitstream, 5.1 surround & mixed stereo outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical), headphones (jack)

 

BOX COPY

Layer change used to be big issue in the early days of DVD. Most discs have two layers of reflective pits arranged in a spiral, like the groove on a vinyl record. When the laser pickup reaches the end of the topmost layer, on the outside edge of the disc, it refocuses on the second layer and stats to track back to the middle. This takes a finite time, however most recent player use a range of tricks to minimise the picture disturbance, on some models it happens so quickly you don’t even notice it.

 

Overall                        5

Movie Sound              5

Music Sound              5

Build Quality            5

Features                     4

 

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

 

 

TOSHIBA SD200, £350

Although no one company can claim to have invented DVD Toshiba has a stronger claim than most and has consistently set the benchmarks by which other players are judged. The SD200 is the second Toshiba model to feature a twin tray disc loading mechanism, and the first with HDCD compatible playback (see Box). However, of more immediate interest is the fact that it has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder 3D sound, picture zoom and advanced picture processing. A couple of other items that may be of interest to some users are a component video output and upgradeable firmware. The latter means that in theory the SD200 shouldn’t get caught out by any future compatibility issues, as happened recently when some players had trouble with discs that also contained PC data. The SD200’s operating system can be easily updated with a special disc.

 

The twin disc mechanism obviously adds a little to the player’s overall height and it’s not as compact as most recent machines but it’s a worthwhile trade-off, especially for the terminally lazy who find disc swapping at two hourly intervals a chore. You can change one disc whilst the other is playing and surprisingly it’s no more difficult to use than a single disc player, easier in some cases, thanks to the well thought out on-screen displays. The remote handset is very cramped though, far too many small tightly packed buttons.

 

Picture quality is superb, colours are pin-sharp and skin tones look very lifelike, there’s also noticeably more detail in the image, which appears to have added depth and vibrancy. It sounds great too, audio CDs make a big fat smooth sound and that’s carried across to the surround soundtracks which really brings out loud dynamic effects. We have a couple of operational quibbles, the remote handset really is quite awkward to use and it’s a shame there’s no disc position memory, if you switch discs part way through when you go back you have to start from the beginning again, but that’s a small price to pay, in all other respects it is a refined, top-quality player that deserves to be high on your shortlist.

 

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC, twin tray deck mechanism, Dolby Digital sound, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, picture zoom, HDCD compatible

 

Sockets          

AV output (1 x SCART), composite video, component video, coaxial bitstream, 5.1 surround & mixed stereo outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical)

 

 

BOX COPY

High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) is a new addition to the audio CD family. Unlike the two new competing audio formats (Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio), now being touted as eventual replacements for audio CD, HDCD achieves higher audio quality and the discs are compatible with existing CD players. However, the catch is that there are only a relatively small number of specially mastered discs available. The even higher sound quality, increased track capacity and longer playing times of SACD and DVD Audio are likely to capture the public’s imagination, once the inevitable formats battle is over…

 

Overall                        5

Movie Sound              5

Music Sound              5

Build Quality            5

Features                     4

 

Contact             Toshiba (01276) 62222, www.toshiba.co.uk

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 2808

 

 

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