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GROUP TEST

 

BUDGET DVD PLAYERS

 

COPY/INTRO

We know it and you know it but what a lot of newcomers to DVD do not realise is that virtually every player will replay audio CDs as well. The only exception that we are aware of is the new Pioneer DVD-RW video recorder that has recently gone on sale in Japan, and may be bound for these shores later this year, or early 2001.

 

Audio CD (CD-DA or ‘Red Book’ standard) replay is not actually part of the official DVD specification, nevertheless it is quite clear that manufacturers have taken the view that incorporating the facility is an advantage and usually involves little, if any, extra effort or expense. Even so, surprisingly few of them make much of it, there’s usually a mention on the features list and the function is dutifully explained in the instructions but it is rarely promoted as a key selling point, which we think it is.

 

Whilst it won’t make much difference to those who pipe the sound from their DVD player through their TVs or a one-box mini hi-fi system, it has to be a big plus point for anyone with an AV and hi-fi system built around separate components. At the very least it means one less box, but only -- and this is an important point -- if the DVD player in question can cut the mustard as an audio source.

 

You’ll be pleased to know that all of the DVD players we’ve tested to date do a very fair job playing audio CDs. We haven’t heard a really bad one yet, indeed most of them compare quite favourably with mid-market component CD decks. We wouldn’t mind betting that a few of those players would – given the opportunity -- rank as quite serious hi-fi components.  Whilst we always give audio CD replay the once-over, for obvious reasons the bulk of our tests and checks concentrate on the DVD audio-visual side of things. This month things will be slightly different.

 

What makes this group test unusual, compared to a regular round up of top-end players, is that we asked manufacturers to nominate a model or models in its range with a ‘musical’ bent, which could comfortably double up as hi-fi components. Needless to say we are still mostly concerned with on-screen performance and what the players make of DVD soundtracks, but this time we’ve added on some extra tests and had a good listen to a carefully chosen selection of audio CDs through a decent amp, speakers and headphones.

 

By the way, whilst all DVD players can read Red Book audio CDs there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to play CD-R (Orange Book) discs, which are recorded or ‘burnt’ on CD-R decks and PCs. The organic dyes used on these discs have different optical characteristics to audio CD discs; problems can also occur with rewritable CDs (CD-RW Orange Book III) discs.

 

Now back to the business in hand. There has to be some other good reasons to pay £500 or more for a DVD player these days, particularly so since you can now pick up some quite decent machines for £200 to £250. The most obvious difference between this small and select group of players and budget models lies with their DVD audio capabilities and the fact that several of them have on-board 5.1 digital surround decoders, but that’s only part of the story. Dearer machines generally have substantial power supplies, providing more stable regulation for critical audio systems plus a few extra convenience features – in other words a few more bells and whistles – that may not always have a direct bearing on picture or sound quality but do make the product easier or more agreeable to use.

 

We’re suckers for gadgets and widgets so machines with motorised flaps and panels, clever displays, well thought out controls or ergonomically designed remote handsets always get a extra point or two, as do decks with lots of sockets. We like sockets, the more the merrier, even if you don’t need or use them all. It’s all about flexibility; maybe this time with your current TV or AV amp you don’t need a choice of three different types of video connection or two varieties of digital audio output, but one day you might!

 

Smooth multi-speed replay is another feature you’re more likely to find on a top end machine and behind the scenes there’s usually fancy-sounding performance enhancing facilities, like extra strength error correction and digital noise reduction. The deck mechanisms on up-market players are often made to a higher specification and may incorporate extra refinements, like twin laser pickups or sophisticated optics.

 

These machines also tend to be more substantially built and they are generally heavier than their bargain-basement cousins. The extra weight is in the casework, chassis and heavier-duty components, especially in the power supply circuitry. Individually these differences have comparatively little impact on DVD video performance but together they can help to improve deck stability, which can be very important in audio CD reproduction.

 

One thing you are less likely to find on top-end models is open or easily disabled regional coding systems. At the moment that’s largely confined to budget models, and in particular players manufactured in China. If the facility to replay Region 1 discs is a major consideration then you will have to take your chances outside of the approved retailer/dealer networks and track down companies selling hacked or chipped multi-region models or do some research on the Internet. However, it’s our solemn duty to remind you that this will invariably invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty, so consider yourself duly warned.

 

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

Digital video technology is wonderful stuff it certainly makes our lives a lot easier. The trouble with analogue video is all the variables. A perfectly good VCR can easily suffer from a bad head day. A couple of flecks of dust or a greasy finger mark on the tape can ruin the picture. An iffy batch of tape, even sudden changes in humidity and atmospheric pollutants can all adversely affect picture quality. DVD is much more consistent; our benchmark video checks centre on a tried and tested selection of discs and sequences that highlight potential inadequacies in a player’s decoding and processing abilities. These include sequences with a lot of fast movement, rapid changes in brightness and extremes of contrast. Colour fidelity is a priority, including a player’s attempts to render subtle shades and variations, especially skin tones. We note response times to layer changes and check out multi-format titles like The Matrix, which has PC code on the disc and some players don’t like it... On the sound side we give the on-board decoders a thorough work out with dynamic soundtracks that contain a lot of movement plus loud and quiet passages. In this roundup we’ve added several extra checks for audio CD using test recordings and a wider than usual selection of discs covering a broad range of musical styles.

 

JARGON BUSTER

BITSTREAM OUTPUT

Digital audio outputs, a stream of unprocessed data (coaxial and/or optical signal format), for connection to an external decoder, to recover 5.1 channel Dolby Digital/AC3, MPEG or DTS surround sound 

 

COMPONENT VIDEO

Separated luminance (Y) and colour difference (Cb & Cr) video signal format, best quality for NTSC equipment but little used on PAL TVs; a few video projectors have component video inputs

 

DOLBY DIGITAL/AC-3

Six channel digital audio surround sound system (aka 5.1 sound) made up of five high quality channels (front stereo, centre-front dialogue and stereo surround) and one bass or sub woofer channel for low-frequency sounds and effects

 

DTS

Digital Theatre Sound, alternative even higher quality 5.1 surround sound system (see above), starting to have an impact in the US, PAL Region 2 discs still very rare. Most new players have DTS compatible outputs, for connection to a suitable decoder a handful of players have built in decoders

 

DUAL LAYER

Many DVDs have the digital information stored on two reflective layers, one on top of the other. At the changeover point the laser pickup has to re-focus, on some machines this may result in a momentary break in replay

 

GUI (Gooey…)

Graphical user interface. The name some manufacturers give to on-screen display systems with PC-style icons graphics and menus

 

MPEG

Motion Picture Experts Group – the division of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) responsible for developing technical standards like DVD

 

REGIONAL CODING

Coding system, developed at the behest of Hollywood Studios to control distribution that prevents DVDs bought in one country playing back on machines in another country or region. The world is divided into 6 regions with the US Region 1, the UK most of Europe, South Africa and Japan is designated Region 2 whilst the USA and Canada are Region 1, the rest of the world are in Regions 3 to 6.  

 

S-VIDEO

Video signal connection system, colour and brightness information is ‘separated’ to prevent the signals interacting, resulting in annoying cross-colour and 'herringbone' interference patterns

 

THE TESTS

 

DENON DVM-3700, £1000

VERDICT *****

The DVM-3700 is the only 5-disc auto changer in this roundup; in fact it is the only autochanger full stop, but don’t let that concern you because they’re quite civilised these days, if this one is anything to go by. The machine appears to be largely based on the DVD-5000, Denon’s flagship model, with which it shares a number of CD-related performance features. They include advanced AL24 digital to analogue processing, which is a spin-off from the Alpha 1 system developed for Denon’s highly rated CD and MiniDisc players. The machine has an on-board HDCD decoder, to get the best out of specially encoded audio CDs and the laser pickup uses Panasonic’s holographic lens system, optimised for both DVD and CD playback. To ensure stability the chassis and deck are designed to minimise and absorb vibration.

 

Surprisingly the autochanger mechanism adds little or nothing to the size of the machine but it’s not what you would call a pretty sight, compared with the shiny DVD-5000, in fact the DVD-3700 is a rather nondescript black box, notable mainly for an annoyingly bright blue indicator LED. The changer is a carousel type, with a wide motorised drawer that emerges from the front panel. One advantage of this system is that discs can be loaded and unloaded whilst one is playing. The only point against it is that it’s a bit clunky when loading or changing discs.

 

Playback features and the on-screen displays are reminiscent of most recent Panasonic DVD machines. Replay menu options appear in an icon-filled bar at the top of the screen, from here its possible to select one of four preset picture modes (normal, soft, fine & cinema) and one user-set mode with adjustments for contrast, hue, equaliser and brightness). There is also a 2-stage 3D spatial effect called VSS (virtual surround sound), and DVD dialogue enhancer. The main set-up menu, accessible from Stop mode, includes the settings for screen aspect ratio and video output (NTSC or PAL 60).

 

There are no SCART sockets on the back panel and as a consequence no RGB output but it does have two composite video outputs, S-Video and component video outputs. There are four monitor settings, to match the display characteristics of a normal direct view TV, CRT or LCD projector or a back projection TV.

 

We could detect little if any difference in audio CD performance between this machine and the DVD-5000, and that is in spite of the fact that it doesn’t have the same elaborate power supply and heavy metal casing as its stablemate. Audio CDs have a crisp natural sound with a distinct clarity and depth; it’s a real pleasure to listen to, recordings come alive with subtle sounds that less players miss or ignore and it really deserves to be part of a high-end hi-fi system.

 

On-screen performance is good, not quite the best we’ve seen lately but there’s really not a lot in it. Images are clean with no noticeable texturing or artefacts, the contrast range is good but some fine detail can be lost in dark shadows, otherwise the picture is sharply defined and colours look lifelike. There’s a fair assortment of trick play options though the handset controls and operating system make a meal of speed and direction changes. Layer change is fast, less than a quarter of a second and it had no problems with tricky discs. Dolby Surround soundtracks are pin-sharp, bass effects have plenty of punch and there’s very little background noise. The bitstream output is squeaky clean indicating fast and accurate data processing .

 

The DVD-3700 is a most welcome addition to the market. It combines top grade audio CD performance and good quality AV with the convenience of an autochanger. They’re a fairly new phenomena in DVD market and thus far have been confined to a handful of mediocre budget and mid-range models, however Denon has moved the technology up-market and for serious movie and music buffs, heavy-duty CD listening – parties etc. – and couch potatoes it’s definitely worth considering.

 

Denon (01753) 888447

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features             Region 2 PAL/NTSC, DTS compatible, 5-disc autochanger, 5-scene marker, VSS virtual surround sound, 3-mode picture control, picture adjustments (contrast, colour, brightness, hue, sharpness), monitor output selector (TV, CRT/LCD projector, projection TV), NTSC replay, HDCD decoder, Karaoke voice-cut

           

Sockets            composite & component video out, mixed analogue stereo out phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical) Front: headphones (jack)

 

Picture  ****

Sound               *****

Musical perf            *****

Features            *****

Ease of use            ***

 

BOX OUT

The AL24 24-bit processing system is designed to reduce quantisation errors and distortion during the digital to analogue conversion process by effectively filling in the gaps between the samples. The HDCD (high definition compatible digital) decoder converts 24-bit data from HDCD discs into a 16-bit data stream.

 

Captions

·          It’s big and butch and quite heavy too at 9.2kg, front panel design is rather ordinary though, and that bright blue LED indicator is very annoying

 

·          Not a SCART in sight but there’s two composite and one S-video output, and component video for them as needs it

 

·          Not the best handset we’ve seen, in fact it looks like it belongs to a cheap mini hi-fi system, too many small buttons.

 

 

KENWOOD DVF-9010, £900

VERDICT ****

The old dictum, ‘if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it’, certainly holds true for the Kenwood DVF-9010, which seems like it has been around forever, and looks like being with us for some time to come. Whilst the specification has remained more or less unchanged since it’s launch a little over a year ago, the price has come down and nowadays you’re likely to find it selling at or around £900. That sounds a lot, especially if you’ve just perused the features list, but in common with a lot of high-end kit it only becomes obvious where all the money goes, after it’s been switched on.

 

The first thing you’ll notice, and doubtless – if you’re anything like us – will want to spend some time playing with, is the motorised front panel. Forget watching movies or listening to CDs, it will keep you amused for hours. Otherwise the front panel is a fairly plain affair with a few discrete buttons. The display is a good size and reasonably legible though some of the mode indicators are on the small side and can be difficult to see across a room. 

 

Denon has blessed the DVF-9010 with on-board Dolby Digital and MPEG decoders but no DTS capabilities. It’s a fairly hefty piece of kit, part of which can be explained by the casework, flap mechanism and motor, though the substantial power supply has also got a lot to do with it. In contrast the remote handset is remarkably compact, with most routine functions controlled -- via the on-screen displays -- from a neat little joypad button. Rear panel connections are surprisingly sparse for such an aspirational machine. It has all of the basics in the shape of composite and S-Video outputs -- two of each no less – but there are no RGB or component video connections. The latter we can live without but the lack of RGB is a disappointment.

 

Other items of interest include a spatial sound option, a bookmark memory, so you can easily return to a point in a movie and on the audio side there’s an advanced 24-bit digital to analogue processing By the way, you may be interested to know that the 9010 (and several other Kenwood models) apparently have easy to defeat (for soldering-iron wielding teccies…) regional coding locks. It looks like a relatively simple lid off, snip and solder type job – details are on the Internet – but don’t forget internal tinkering of any kind will void the guarantee.

 

The audio listening tests produced some interesting results.

 

XXX ALAN’S BIT HERE XXX

 

Panasonic is responsible for the deck mechanism, it’s a quality item with a good track record and that is borne out in the video performance. Attention to detail is most impressive, fine textures and subtle graduations in brightness and contrast are faithfully rendered. Colours are crisp and well-defined, skin tones look natural and noise levels are negligible. We couldn’t see any motion or processing artefacts in any of our test recordings and the image was very stable at all replay speeds. Layer change is satisfactory, it takes a little over half a second on some discs, which is not especially fast but on-screen disturbance is minimal. 

 

The mixed stereo output sounded wide and open with only a hint of background noise, the Dolby Digital decoder did an excellent job. It produces a big and spacious soundfield, packed with little sounds but it has no difficulty with big or sudden effects and the sub-woofer channel seems a lot livelier than usual.

 

Kenwood established several benchmarks with the 9010. A year later and AV performance has been equalled and in some respects bettered this is still a player to be reckoned with, and that front panel is still a great gimmick!

 

Kenwood (01923) 816444

 

UP CLOSE

Features                       Region 2 PAL/NTSC, built-in Dolby Digital and MPEG 2 decoders, virtual surround, bookmark memory, moving panel

 

Sockets                        Dolby Digital/MPEG analogue line out, mixed stereo line out, composite video out & coaxial digital out (phono), 2 x S- Video out (mini DIN), optical digital out (optical jack). Front: headphone (jack)               

 

Picture  *****

Sound               *****

Musical perf            ??

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

BOX OUT

Most DVD players use compact and efficient switched-mode power supply circuitry. They provide a well-regulated supply, but whereas small variations can be tolerated during DVD playback, audio CD demands a higher level of stability. This means going back to ‘old-fashioned’ transformers and hefty smoothing capacitors, which add to the weight and cost of machines like the 9010.

 

Captions

·          The motorised front panel is a lot more interesting than some movies. It’s a clean-looking machine and the front panel looks good, even when it’s switched off.

 

·          Bad news on the back, no SCART sockets, which means there’s no RGB output, just the standard composite and S-Video sockets – two of each

 

·          Love that remote, it’s small and easy to use

 

 

NAKAMICHI DVD-10s, £600

VERDICT *****

When we reviewed the Nakamichi DVD-10 late last year we sort of quite liked it and praised it for being a competent and stylish machine, though at £800 or thereabouts, not particularly remarkable value for money. May we draw your attention to the lowercase ‘s’ after the model number on the player we’re reviewing here, rarely has so little meant so much! In spite of looking almost identical to the DVD-10 this is a very different machine. To begin with Nakamichi has ‘repositioned’ it, which basically means it is around £200 cheaper, and the specification has been upgraded so that it now includes on-board DTS decoding, as well as Dolby Digital and MPEG sound plus a few interesting extras.

 

We’ll begin with a rundown of the several small but nonetheless worthwhile improvements to the spec. The 10s now has a coaxial bitstream output – someone out there must be listening -- it will replay R2 and region-free NTSC discs in PAL 60 (as well as raw NTSC), so they can be viewed on any normal PAL TV and it sports a set of shiny gold-plated phono sockets on the back panel. There are a couple of brand new features as well. They are a 2-stage picture zoom (x2 and x4) and a track/chapter ‘Digest’ mode. This is very similar to the Navigation features fitted to some Hitachi and JVC models; the machine goes into a search routine and then displays a screen full of still snapshots from the start of each chapter or track. You can then go straight to any part of the disc by moving an on-screen cursor to the scene of your choice.

 

Not everything has changed for the better, though. The on-screen displays are simply awful. They’re based on the now familiar menu or icon bar that appears at the top of the screen, it’s very similar to the ones used players that use a particular Panasonic chipset, but the display on this machine looks smaller than usual. To make matters worse the graphics shimmy and the numbers -- for adjusting contrast, brightness and sharpness -- are all but illegible. The remote control is different too, the new one is another old friend, that often turns up with Pioneer-based machines, it’s small and densely packed with tiny buttons, finding the right one in a dimly-lit room can be a hit and miss affair.

 

Nakamichi has an impressive and well-earned pedigree in the hi-fi separates market and that has been carried across into its DVD range. The DVD-10 performed well as an audio source and the good news is that if anything the 10s is even better. It has a pleasingly smooth, warm and well-rounded sound. There’s real weight behind bassy material but it has no trouble picking out the fine details in vocals and instruments. 

 

Back now to the video, which also has strong overtones of its predecessor. The 10s is good, but maybe still a notch or two behind the very best, when it comes to processing densely-coloured or large rapidly moving shapes and fine textures. Even so the picture is bright with a wide contrast range that copes easily with murky scenes and shadows. It has a fine selection of trick play modes but we were a little surprised by the unhurried layer change, which took almost a second on one disc. 

 

The Dolby Digital decoder is fast and very precise, picking out low-level details without any difficulty, and it doesn’t miss a beat when dealing with sudden peaks or loud bursts and explosions; the sub-woofer channel is particularly lively, more so on DTS soundtracks.  

 

What a difference! Nakamichi really should have given this machine a whole new model number all to itself, heaven forbid anyone would mix up the DVD-10s with its predecessor… AV performance is good, not outstanding but it makes it into Division One without too many problems, audio CD is also comfortably into the hi-fi ballpark and at the risk of yet another sporting metaphor, it’s a right useful player…

 

Nakamichi, 0181-863 9117

 

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Features            Region 2 PAL/NTSC, PAL 60, built-in Dolby Digital, DTS and MPEG 2 decoders, virtual surround, 2-stage picture zoom, track/chapter Digest, intro scan, bookmark, control lock, user-set contrast, brightness & sharpness

           

Sockets            Dolby Digital/MPEG/DTS analogue line out, mixed stereo line out & composite video out & coaxial digital out (phono), RGB/composite & S-Video AV out (SCART), S- Video out (mini DIN), optical digital out (optical jack). Front: headphone (jack)   

 

Picture  ****

Sound               *****

Musical perf            *****

Features            *****

Ease of use            ***

 

BOX OUT

Internally the DVD-10s is not dissimilar to a number of other DVD players, including one or two machines selling for substantially less than £600, but Nakamichi has put its considerable experience and know-how in hi-fi and in particular audio CD processing to very good use.

 

Captions

·          The classy black front panel and discrete controls make it a perfect match for Nakamichi hi-fi components

·          Composite, S-Video and RGB video outputs, what more could you ask for

·          The remote is a step backwards from the previous model, too many small buttons for comfort

 

SHARP DV-760H, £500

VERDICT ****

Although the DV-760 is the cheapest high-end player in this roundup – by quite a margin -- it also happens to be one of the best equipped and it has a full set of 5.1 surround sound decoders, for Dolby Digital, DTS and MPEG soundtracks. Overall it’s a reasonably compact design with a fairly busy front panel, large buttons and lots of indicators, to let you know what it’s up to.

 

Over and above the standard-issue DVD replay features there’s Sharp’s trademark Gamma Correction facility – more on that in a moment – a digital picture sharpener and noise reduction system, a good selection of multi-speed replay modes, 3D sound and the handset can also control the main functions on a number of other manufacturer’s TVs. Rear panel connections are unusually abundant, the video output options are component, composite, S-Video and RGB with the latter three on the single (but still very welcome) SCART socket.

 

Unusually for such a well-appointed player the on-screen displays are -- not to put too fine a point on it -- very basic indeed. There’s none of the usual graphics or icons, just a small assortment of stop/play/pause symbols in one corner and a track/chapter and time readout in the other. The main set-up menu can be called up during replay but several options are greyed out and can only be accessed from Stop mode. Most secondary functions, like 3D sound, Digital Picture, Gamma Correction display dimmer etc., have their own buttons on the remote handset, which means it has ended up being quite large and cluttered.

 

Gamma correction, or to give it its full name, New Digital Gamma Selection, is a Sharp speciality, the idea is it skews the picture contrast range to compensate for dark shadows or gloomy scenes and room lighting. It has appeared on several Sharp DVDs and VCRs but this is the most elaborate example to date, with a manual level control. The picture sharpener control (New Digital Super Picture Selection) has also been tweaked with manual settings that let you vary the relative levels of sharpness and noise reduction.

 

Given that Sharp makes scant mention of the fact that this machine also plays audio CDs, it does reasonably well. Admittedly it lacks the precision and finely tuned resolution of several of the other machines we’ve looked at.  It produces a well-balanced sound and is perfectly happy with fast aggressive material though sustained treble notes can sometimes sound a touch harsh. Nevertheless it stacks up well alongside most mid-range hi-fi systems and components.

 

Gamma correction is one of those genuinely useful features though maybe Sharp has gone a little too far providing so many options and manual control. It seems to work best when left in the auto mode; adjusting it manually is largely futile as trying to compensate for one scene invariably means the next one will look out of kilter, as the lighting changes. Much the same applies to the digital picture control and when in manual mode there’s an enormous temptation to fiddle around with it. With all of the sharpness and noise reduction gizmos set to neutral, or switched off the 760 produces a very decent picture, it’s not quite as vibrant as one or two of the others and colours are just a gnats flatter but there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, nor are there any processing or movement artefacts. Layer change is satisfactory with the picture freezing for just under half a second on our worst-case tests disc.

 

The 5.1 decoder positively sparkles; all channels emerge in pristine condition, crammed full of lively detail and movement, DTS soundtracks in particular works really well on this machine. Bass notes and effects are big and dynamic, the soundstage really opens up and comes alive though sadly the current range of R2 titles is not broad enough to give this machine anything like the workout it deserves.

 

The 760 marks the entry point for top-end DVD players with hi-fi leanings. Whereas most of the other machines give equal prominence to audio and video it’s fair to say the 760 is biased a little more towards the video side of things but it certainly won’t disgrace itself as a hi-fi source, and all things considered it is very fair value for money.

 

Sharp, 0161-205 2333

 

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Features            Region 2 PAL/NTSC, PAL 60, built-in Dolby Digital, DTS and MPEG 2 decoders, virtual surround, gamma correction, digital picture sharpener/noise reduction, multi-brand TV remote

           

Sockets            Dolby Digital/MPEG/DTS analogue line out, mixed stereo line out, composite & component video out & coaxial digital out (phono), RGB/composite & S-Video AV out (SCART), S- Video out (mini DIN), optical digital out (optical jack). Front: headphone (jack)

 

Picture  ****

Sound               *****

Musical perf            ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ***

 

BOX OUT

Whilst the DV-706 has few if any headline-grabbing audio features there are a number of helpful design points, including the front mounted headphone jack and level control plus gold-plated phono sockets. Program disc replay relies on a simple but effective on-screen display and there’s what looks like some rudimentary – but doubtless worthwhile – anti-vibration measures on the deck mechanism.

 

Captions

·          A crisply styled front panel with – for a change – some large and easy to find buttons

 

·          A good assortment of video output options including composite, S-Video and RGB on the SCART, separate S-Video and composite and component outputs

 

·          The trade off for such a basic on-screen display is this horribly overcrowded remote handset, it does have multi-brand TV functions though

 

 

SONY DVP-S7700, £800

VERDICT *****

It seems an odd thing to say about a player that was launched only last summer but in the crazy mixed-up world of consumer electronics that makes the DVP-S7700 a bit of an old-timer. However, as we’ve seen things move comparatively slowly at the top end of the market and Sony has decided to keep this highly praised deck going for the foreseeable. AV performance was well ahead of the game when it first appeared and only now has the rest of the market begun to catch up. It still looks pretty sharp too, though the classy champagne gold coloured metallic finish and rounded casework is not as exclusive as it once used to be. The front panel is still very unusual though, and the wide flap makes it look more like a laserdisc machine. The panel is motorised and lowers to reveal the pop-out disc-loading tray, very smooth!

 

Whilst the cosmetics still look as fresh as daisy the features list is a tad frumpy, there’s no on-board Dolby Digital decoding for example, which is a bit of a disappointment on a player in this price bracket, and comparatively few gizmos and widgets. Those that merit a mention include 4-stage digital picture noise reduction, a reasonable assortment of playback speeds (two slomo and 2x, 10x and 30x fast picture search, in both directions), and a very good set of AV output options. They include twin SCART sockets, configurable for composite and RGB video, S-Video and component video outputs, and there’s a headphone socket (with level control) on the front panel. Key Audio CD features are a dual discrete optical pickup, anti-resonance construction, isolated circuitry and high-grade power supply components.

 

Another sign of old age is the rather austere on-screen displays, no flashy graphics or icons here. In its favour they are all legible, reasonably intuitive and the set-up menus are accessible during replay (though top-level functions, like TV shape can only be changed in Stop mode). A jog dial controls replay speed and it’s a rather strange business. To begin with it is very sensitive, the slightest touch sets it off and it takes practice to use, secondly the way the speeds are designated is plain weird. Click the dial once to the right and it shows X2 (twice normal speed), click a second time and it displays ‘1’ (10x normal) the third time shows the number ‘2’ (30x normal speed). The handset is enormous but in its favour the buttons are large and well spaced, the most frequently used ones glow in the dark and it can also control a small selection of other makers TVs and AV amps.

 

Audio CD performance is excellent. It is sharp and responsive with a wonderfully coherent mid-band that reveals all kinds of unexpected details. It makes you want to go back and listen to old recordings again, to see what you’ve been missing. On balance it favours the depth and complexity of classical pieces but that’s not to say it can’t rock with the best of them and it handles raunchy and bass-heavy tracks with ease. 

 

DVD video is a revelation; picture quality is amongst the best we’ve seen with stunning clarity and true to life colours. Normally awkward contrasty or gloomy scenes are not a problem and there are no processing artefacts to speak of. Noise levels are extremely low and it’s able to resolve the finest detail without any apparent effort, in short it looks great. Layer change is not the fastest we’ve seen, it takes less than half a second but it’s over before you know it. Trick play is okay, slomo is a little jerky but the range of speed options is good and the deck is fairly agile, responding quickly to speed and direction changes. The digital audio outputs are squeaky clean and ready for onward processing and the mixed stereo outputs carries Dolby Pro Logic soundtracks with ease, particularly bass information and effects, which help generate a lively and involving soundstage.

 

The S7700 is a genuine no-compromise dual-role machine that does both jobs – i.e. DVD and audio CD – extremely well. Definitely worth short listing!

 

Sony (0990) 111999

 

UP CLOSE

Features            Region 2 PAL/NTSC, DTS compatible, 4-mode noise reduction, multi-speed replay, jog control, RGB & component video out, multi-brand TV handset with luminous buttons

           

Sockets            AV output (2 x SCART), composite & component video out, analogue stereo output (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical) Front: headphones (jack)

 

Picture  *****

Sound               *****

Musical perf            *****

Features            ***

Ease of use            ****

 

BOX OUT

A dual-laser pickup gets around the problem of differing optical characteristics of DVD and audio CD, but Sony hasn’t stopped there. The S7700 has a host of audio friendly features including an ‘R-Core’ transformer for reduced magnetic leakage, a hefty vibration absorbing chassis and offset feet, for improved stability.

 

Captions

·          The big drop-down flap makes it look a bit like a laserdisc player, the display is large and easy to read

 

·          Twin SCART sockets, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and component video, for connection to projectors and serious home cinema TVs

 

·          The handset is on the large side and the shuttle dial is a bit touchy but glow in the dark buttons and multi-brand TV/AV amp facilities are well worth having

 

 

TOSHIBA SD-900, £750

VERDICT ****

The SD-900 is an important addition to the Toshiba range as it completes and compliments the company’s line-up of high-end home cinema products. It’s a substantial player, in every sense of the word, weighing in at just over 7kg. That’s largely due to the thick steel casing and extensive anti-vibration features that includes ‘hybrid alloy shock dampened top cover’ and a heavy-duty ‘high mass resin-impregnated anti-vibration base’, it says here…

 

Toshiba has been commendably restrained with the cosmetics and panel layout. It’s not too flashy and what buttons there are have been sensibly arranged along the lower edge of the fascia. Inside the box there’s a whole heap of fancy-sounding DVD enhancements, like the ‘Super Anti-Alias filter’, and ‘3D’ digital noise reduction. The former claims to increase resolution to 540 lines whilst the noise reduction system is supposed to clean up noisy recordings and iffy DVD transfers. There’s also a 3-stage zoom plus picture adjustments (contrast, colour, brightness, tint & sharpness), which is quite unusual.

 

Video output options include composite and S-Video and there’s a set of component video (colour difference) sockets. Unfortunately there’s not much you can plug them in to at the moment; a SCART socket with an RGB output would have been better. On the DVD audio side it has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder and a 3D ‘Spatializer’ mode 

 

CD Audio performance apparently benefits from another raft of doohickeys like an ‘Advanced Multi-bit Delta-Signal digital to analogue converter’ and ‘Adaptive Multi-Port parallel DAC’. Of more practical and immediate interest is the headphone socket on the front with a level control.

 

Set-up and operation are all fairly run of the mill and largely uncontroversial. On-screen displays are informative without being intrusive and the remote handset, whilst on the large side, is well laid out, with a useful jog/shuttle dial for quickly moving around inside a recording. Whilst we’re on the subject of handy extras, the remote bleeps at you when you press buttons, there’s a voice-cut ‘karaoke’ mode, the handset buttons glow in the dark and it has a NTSC replay mode (PAL 60), for replaying NTSC coded discs on almost any recent PAL TV. (It also outputs a ‘raw’ NTSC video, for TVs that can handle it).

 

In spite of Toshiba’s very obvious fetish for giving every circuit and component an exotic or long-winded name the SD-9000 is not found wanting when it comes to audio CDs. It has no special talents nor does it favour any one particular musical style, it just sounds crisp and clean. Low-level detail and quiet sounds that are easily masked are brought out into the open, without it coming across as clinical or over analytical and what noise there is, little if any comes from the SD-9000.

 

The player’s ability to extract almost every last bit of information is evident on screen. Images are bright and cleanly defined, edges are sharp and colours have real depth and shape. Darker areas of the picture reveal hidden shade and content and video noise levels are very low indeed. Trick play is very good, the jog/shuttle lets you skim backwards and forwards, or step through recordings a frame at a time with the greatest of ease. Digital processing is clean and layer change happens in less than half a second. There’s a smidge of hiss on the analogue mixed stereo output but the Dolby Digital processor is squeaky clean, certainly as responsive and crisply detailed as any of the mid-market outboard decoders and AC-3 AV amps we’ve tried lately. 

 

As an audio source the SD9000 has plenty to commend it, it compares favourably with most mid-market CD players, and it qualifies as an audio source in a decent component hi-fi system.  However, its primary role is to partner big Tosh TVs, where the pin-sharp picture can stand being writ large, especially on those epic big screen and projector models.

 

Toshiba (01276) 62222

 

UP CLOSE

Features             Region 2 PAL/NTSC, PAL 60, built-in Dolby Digital & MPEG decoders, DTS compatible digital audio output, picture noise reduction, 'Spatializer' 3D sound, jog/shuttle dial, 3-stage picture zoom, user-set picture adjustments (contrast, brightness, colour, tint, sharpness), dynamic range control, karaoke vocal cut, remote bleeper, glow-in the dark buttons

 

Sockets           

Composite and component video, mixed stereo & 5.1 channel audio outputs (phono), S-Video output (mini DIN), digital audio outputs (coaxial & TOSlink optical) Front: headphones (jack)  

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Musical perf                   ****

Features                       ****

Ease of use                   ****

 

BOX OUT

The list of audio related features on the SD-9000 is a long one, with lots of teccy terms, but the upshot of it is that it’s a big solid machine, with a very well insulated deck mechanism. Top-notch digital processing and smooth digital to analogue conversion delivers a crisp, clean sound.

 

Captions

·          A clean and uncluttered front panel, it’s equally at home in a hi-fi stack, or underneath the TV

 

·          No SCARTs, which is a shame and you’ll have a tough time finding anything to connect those Component video outputs to

 

·          No complaints about the remote handset, the buttons are a decent size and well laid out

 

THE VERDICT

So, can one box do everything? The short answer is yes, provided you’re not a hard-core hi-fi fanatic, but then nothing is going to achieve the kind of perfection you crave, certainly not a hybrid digital technology like DVD. Back in the real world, where hi-fi systems do not cost as much as a small semi-detached house, the audio CD performance of most DVD players is perfectly acceptable, if you’re content with what mid to top end hi-fi currently has to offer.

 

The next question is how much do you have to spend to get top-notch audio and video performance? This roundup suggests that it is worth paying a little extra and £500 would seem to be a sensible starting point. Whilst almost all DVD players do a fair job with audio CDs, dearer models generally do it a bit better, thanks to a combination of more sophisticated decks, pickup mechanisms, optics, digital processing circuitry, more stable power supplies and better chassis design. In general these machines make fewer compromises and the differences can be heard but, and this is important, only if the amplifiers and speakers they’re attached to are up to the job. In other words there’s little or no point hooking a decent DVD player up to cheapo hi-fi kit and expecting miracles.

 

As far as DVD performance is concerned, once again the evidence suggests that high-end players are a sound investment, the picture is that little bit sharper, colours and fine details are more accurately rendered, they tend to have more trick play and picture controls, and these machines are usually quieter in operation. More functions and widgets sometimes make them less easy or friendly to use but that’s usually a price worth paying. They also look better than their bargain basement cousins, the styling is usually sharper and more refined and won’t look out of place alongside serious hi-fi kit. DVD audio features are likely to be more abundant too with several models having on-board 5.1 channel digital surround decoders, and all of the ones tested here worked very well indeed and compare very favourably with stand-alone decoders or those built into AV amps, but again the end result is largely dependent on the capabilities of the amplifier and speakers they’re used with.

 

Time to get down to cases. Of the six players top honours for the best all-round DVD and CD performance goes to the Sony DVP-S7700. It does both jobs very well indeed, picture quality is the best of the bunch and CD audio is just a whisker behind the very impressive Denon DVM-3700, which also proves that autochanger deck mechanisms have a real future in DVD. The next best dual-purpose machine was the Nakamichi DVD-10s, and this also gets a couple of extra points for value for money and DVD replay facilities. The Sharp DV-760H also scores well on price and specification but the emphasis is on DVD and whilst CD audio quality is fine, it lacks the sparkle and pin-sharp clarity of some of its rivals. The Toshiba SD-900 came out well in all of our tests and we would be happy to include it in any high-end set-up but it’s just a bit lacking in the personality department. Personality is something the mighty Kenwood DVF-9010 has in spades and we have no complaints about any aspect of its performance, but there is the nagging suspicion that you are paying a just little over the odds for that wonderfully wacky motorised front panel flap.

 

BEST IN TEST

SONY DVP-7700, £800

There’s no doubt that the Sony DVP-S7700 is the one to beat is you’re looking for the best of both worlds. It is an accomplished DVD player and a top quality CD deck, it is superbly well engineered, the styling is contemporary but it’s not going to date and you know it’s not going to let you down. The only thing counting against it is the price and £800 is a fair whack for a player with no in-built 5.1 decoders.

 

NAKAMICHI DVD10s, £600

Nakamichi has obviously done its homework and drawn on its considerable expertise to develop a machine that fits perfectly into this very important niche in the market. It manages to strike that very difficult balance between performance, price and features, without any obvious compromises.

 

DENON DVM-3700, £1000

Okay, so the price is a bit over the top but look at what you’re getting. We’ve been a little cautious about autochangers but this machine proves it can be done, without any detriment to performance. The key feature though is CD audio quality, and in the end that’s what is going to sell this machine to sceptical hi-fi fans, dipping their toes into DVD waters for the first time.

 

RIVAL BUYS

 

JVC XV-701, £500

A superb assortment of features, including Dolby Digital and MPEG decoders plus some very interesting replay features, like the Digest Preview features for rapid chanter selection. Not only that, but it works really well too. Picture and sound quality is up there with the best of them, it’s easy to set up and use and it looks simply stunning.

 

PANASONIC DVD-A360, £580

Panasonic can take credit for being the first to incorporate a DTS decoder into a mid-range player. It’s based on a highly successful, tried and tested formula that means what it lacks in the way of gadgets and gizmos it more than makes up for with picture and sound performance, ease of use, styling and value for money.  

 

THETA DaViD, £4650

We had to include this one as the money no object option. It is basically a DVD transport so don’t go expecting an easy ride. It has the bare minimum of on-board processing so it’s not the sort of thing you can just plug into a NICAM TV. It requires serious commitment, a healthy bank balance and a lot of other expensive boxes, but if you want the best, and don’t mind paying for it, this is the place to start.  

 

TABLE 1                      

BRAND

DEN

KEN

NAK

SHP

SON

TOS

Price**

1000

900

600

500

800

750

DD/DTS decoders

-/-

*/-

*/*

*/*

-/-

*/-

DTS compatible

*

-

*

*

*

*

Spatial/3D

*

*

*

*

-

*

Pic/FX

*/-

-/-

*/*

*/-

*/-

*/*

MB remote

-

-

-

*

*

-

Dig op/coax

*/*

*/*

*/*

*/*

*/*

*/*

SCART AV

-

-

1

1

2

-

S-Video/Comp vid

*/*

*/-

*/-

*/*

*/*

*/*

Headphones

*

*

*

*

*

*

 

** typical street price

 

BOX COPY

THE OPTIMUM OUTPUT

You may have noticed that most of the DVD players in this roundup sport an extra set of three video output sockets on the back panel, labelled component video or with mysterious labels like Y’Cb’Cr. These are analogue colour difference signals sometimes referred to as ‘YUV’. (In fact Y’Cb’Cr’ is a signal format for digital video equipment the correct term for analogue components is Y’Pb’P’, but that’s being bit picky). The purpose of YUV and indeed all other types of separated video signals, (RGB and S-Video), is to separate the two main parts of a video signal. The brightness or luminance (Y) part of the signal is amplitude modulated whilst colour information is frequency modulated. In a ‘Composite’ video signal (the commonest type of video signal connection), colour and brightness information exist side by side and the consequence is the ‘herringbone’ patterning that you sometimes see in areas of fine detail in a TV or video picture.  In an RGB video signal the picture is broken down into red, green and blue components, and this is the system favoured in countries that use the PAL system. The next best solution is S-Video, where luminance (Y) and colour or chrominance (C) are kept apart. Component (YUV) is the preferred choice for NTSC video systems, and the results can be very good indeed. Unfortunately, however, very few video display devices (TVs, projectors etc.) sold in the UK have the necessary input sockets, so it is of limited use, moreover the benefits would only be apparent on NTSC recordings. In an ideal world a DVD player would have all four options (Composite, S-Video, RGB and YUV), however a lot of players with YUV do not have RGB, which is a disadvantage for users only interested in playing PAL recordings. There is a slim possibility that future DVD players will have digital FireWire (aka IEEE 1394) outputs, for direct connection to digital TVs, but that’s another story for another day…

 

---end---

ã R. Maybury 2000 0902

 

 

HE DVDs

Sony, 7700 ok arrived

Toshiba lucy 20/2 9000 ok  

Dem dvm3700, £1000 ok

Sharp, dv760 500

 

At HE

Kenwood mark hockey, he call back

Nakamichi, DVD10S, £600 Gordon, OK

 

NACK DVD10 HACK

Disc out, switch off, press + hold dimmer and left track skip, switch on, four lines, enter 1999 handset, press enter button, press 02, enter, switch off to reboot

 

HITCH HACK

1. Open a bonnet
    At the DVF-9010 and DV-S701, remove a D.R.I.V.E.II unit on the unit of an output terminal, which is located back panel side.

2. On the output terminal unit at right side, view from a front panel. Recognize micro Computer chip of the IC25.

3. Beside the IC25, also recognize three chip resistors around silk printed number 7 and 5.
    These chip resistors, which are 47 kohms, connected from 1C25 ports zc ground as pulldown.

4. Rermove the resistor, which is located the center of three resistors.

5. An axial type of resistor of 47 kohms must be connected from +5V Pin 7+8 of IC25 to Pin 13 land
     with solder bonding as pullup.

6. After power on, push play key more than 5 seconds. A model name appear on a display. Then chose an area by cursor key
    on a remote control unit or on a front panel especially the DVF-9010.

7. After choose of the area, push enter key.

8. Switch off/on to initialize the video controller, otherwise GUI will not work.

9. When you want to change the area, again procedure from No.6 to No.8.

 

 

 

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