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GROUP TEST

 

DVD MEGA TEST

 

BUSH DVD-2004, £199
Someone at Bush must have a sense of humour, how else do you explain the DVD-2004, a DVD player with built-in video games? Donít get too excited, itís more Gameboy than Playstation 2 with versions of those old favourites Tetris and Othello, but you can play them when a movie is running, or when listening to audio CDs. Presentation is best described as lively, from the brightly coloured  Ė some might say garish Ė opening screen, to the shiny silvery front panel with flush-fitting Power and Eject buttons at each end.

 

Itís packed with features, starting with the built-in Dolby Digital decoder, itís configured for all-region replay, it can play MP3 tracks on CD-R discs, thereís a 3-stage picture zoom, 4-mode picture search and a ridiculous six slomo speeds. Volume can be set from the remote and thereís a 3-scene bookmark facility. Hooking it up to the outside world shouldnít be a problem; it has a single SCART socket that can be configured from the setup menu to output RGB, but not S-Video. There is a separate S-Video connector along with no less than three composite video output sockets. (No, we donít know why either, though it might be a hang over from the US version, fitted with a set of 3 Component video sockets. Wiring the sockets for composite video might be easier than leaving them off and blocking the holes, well thatís our theoryÖ). Still on the subject of sockets, it has a front mounted headphone jack, but no level control; you have to use the volume control on the handset for that.

 

The setup menu struggles to be seen over the dazzling blue and red logo screen but itís all pretty straightforward, as are the on-screen displays, in fact the only operational niggle concerns the remote handset. Too many tiny buttons, as usual, and what on earth are the slomo keys doing down at the bottom, miles away from the other transport keys, next to volume up/down?

 

Picture quality on our sample was a bit hairy with some signs of audio interaction on the picture and a fair amount of digital noise. This was mostly confined to the composite video output on the SCART socket, S-Video and RGB were clean. Admittedly our sample appeared to have been quite well used but itís something weíll be keeping an eye on and weíll check another model as soon as possible. Audio quality is fine, the Dolby Digital channels are deep and crisp and even and the mixed stereo has a wide response with very low levels of background noise. Audio CDs are okay too, well into budget/mid-price hi-fi territory. Worth considering, but if you get the chance do check the picture for noise.

 

Bush 020 8594 5533

 

FEATURES

All Region playback, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, 3-stage zoom, MP3 replay, 2 games (Tetris & Othello), volume control, 3-scene bookmark,

 

BOX COPY

Video games on a DVD player are a brand new idea Ė whatever will they think of next?  Our theory is that itís a dig at the recently launched Sony Playstation 2, which is a video games console that plays DVDsÖ The games on the Bush machine might be a good way to keep your brain ticking over whilst listening to audio CDs or MP3 tracks, though weíre not exactly sure why youíd want to play games when watching a movie, what else is the fast forward button for? 

 

Overall              3

Picture              3

Sound                           4

Features                       4

Value                            4

 

 

CYBER HOME AD-N212 £130

The Cyber Home AD-N212 may not be the prettiest looking DVD player weíve seen lately, or the best equipped, but it sure as hell is the cheapest. Needless to say itís basic, very basic in fact, but weíre almost talking pocket-money prices here, not only is DVD no longer a luxury, with players like this around itís cheap enough to have a second player for the bedroom.

 

It plays DVDs, video CDs and audio CDs and thatís it, not even MP3 tracks, but when it comers down to it thatís all you need. It has some trick play functions (fast search up to 16x) and a 3-speed slomo, but this only works in the forward direction. Thereís no zoom or spatial sound options, which you can also live without. Perversely it has two headphone sockets but no rear-panel SCART connector. It comes with an AV cable and SCART adaptor, but itís a bit of fudge and we suspect not a very cost-effective solution since an internal investigation revealed that the main printed circuit board has a vacant spot for a ten pence SCART connector. Our sample was factory set to Region 2 playback only but itís a relatively simple matter to enable all region replay. For the record: with power on and tray open press 7, 6, Select, choose 13 for multi-region then press Setup, switch off then on again

 

The styling is routine black box and thatís carried across to the remote which is a typical off-the-shelf jobbie with the keys laid out in an apparently random manner and important, frequently-used functions, like play, stop and pause lost somewhere in the middle. The handset is unusual in one respect, however, itís only the second time we can recall seeing a misspelled label at least thatís the assumption. Despite repeatedly pressing the ĎAngelí button, divine messengers and guardian spirits failed to materialiseÖ

 

Whilst it has no significant picture or sound enhancements AV processing is capably handled by the popular C-Cube chipset featured in a lot of other budget and mid-price players. Picture quality is fine with no major flaws other than some very slight texturing in areas of low contrast. Colours are bright but skin tones and subtle shades can be a bit heavy-handed at times and it could do with a slightly wider contrast range but itís only something you would notice in a side-by-side comparison with other players. Background noise on the mixed stereo output is no more than average and effects on Dolby Surround soundtracks emerge in good condition. It passes muster as an audio CD player, itís nothing special but it works as well as the decks fitted to most budget and mid-priced hi-fi systems.

 

Itís quite possible player prices will drop even further but if youíre on a very tight budget or maybe you fancy a second machine, why wait?

 

Cyber Drive, 01243 5300009, branches WHSmiths and www.jungle.com

 

FEATURES

All Region playback (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, SCART cable included

 

BOX COPY

The lack of a SCART socket on this machine isnít critical but it does limit the connection options and it means thereís no high-quality RGB video output. Mind you, SCART have their fair share of problems; connectors can be intermittent and noisy, moreover cheapo leads can actually degrade picture and sound quality. If youíre using a SCART connection our advice is to invest in a good quality branded lead Ė thereís no need to spend more than £10 to £15 -- rather than rely on one youíve got kicking around.

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Sound                           3

Features                       3

Value                            5

 

 

DENON DVD-1000, £300

So far Denon has concentrated most of its efforts on the middle and high-end segments of the DVD market. Japanís oldest hi-fi company has embraced the new technology with gusto and launched a string of well specified and often exotically specified players. At £1600 the DVD-5000 is still one of the dearest machines ever built Ė however its newly arrived stablemate, the DVD-1000 is an altogether different proposition. This is Denonís first Ďentry-levelí player and with a £300 price tag, itís the closest the company is likely to get to the budget end of the market.

 

Whilst the DVD-1000 is relatively cheap by Denonís standards, there has been no obvious corner cutting when it comes to design and build quality and the emphasis is firmly on AV performance. Audio facilities are bog standard format minima, you wonít find any flashy gadgets or superfluous functions either and even the front panel display and on-screen graphics have an air of austerity about them. The only small luxury, though we suspect few owners will actually make use of it, is a component video (YUV) output, which is the video signal format of choice when playing NTSC discs on high-end monster-screen TVs and projectors. Since this is a Region 2 only player (no known hacks yet), and the only R2 NTSC discs are Japanese in origin, itís going to have a fairly narrow appeal.

 

However, under the bonnet there are some rather splendid sounding enhancements, like the Super Sub Alias Filter, designed to improve picture resolution, and extra reinforcements on the chassis and front panel, to reduce resonance and vibration and help heat dissipation.

 

In some respects Denon may have gone a bit too far and some quite useful features, like multi-speed replay, has been trimmed to the bone with only 8x picture search. The remote control supplied with this machine is no great shakes either though to be fair the handsets supplied with Denon equipment has never been very inspiring. 

 

You have to look quite hard to spot the picture tweaks but every now and again you notice some small extra details, especially in darker scenes where the wider than average contrast range helps lift the picture. Nevertheless on some scenes there is a trace of processing noise and light texturing in the background, which is the sort of thing you sometimes see on budget players. The mixed stereo output is very clean and Dolby Surround effects are sharply defined. Audio CDs also come alive and the DVD-1000 could easily double up as a top-end hi-fi component.

 

A classy piece of kit at an affordable price; not a player to get excited about, but put it on your shortlist if you rank performance Ė particularly sound quality -- and the Denon name above features and frills.

 

Denon (01753) 888447

 

FEATURES 60

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, component video out

 

BOX COPY

Component or ĎYUVí video is a similar concept to RGB video, where picture signals on their way from the source device (i.e. the DVD player) to the display device (TV etc.) go through fewer processing stages to minimise quality losses.  RGB, where the red, green and blue components are kept separate, works best on the European PAL colour TV system. The

Component video signals Ė used on NTSC video equipment -- works on a slightly different principle. Colour signals are added and subtracted to the brightness (luminance) signal, resulting in cleaner colours with more subtle graduations in shade and hue.

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Sound                           5

Features                       3

Value                            4

 

 

HITACHI DV-P305 £250
Price erosion, whereby the cost of high-tech products like DVD players, just keeps on falling is great for us, the consumer, but itís a nightmare for some manufacturers. The better-known brands struggle to stay competitive, especially on entry-level products. Some just give up, others donít bother getting involved in the first place or concentrate on the steadier mid-market and high-end sectors. Hitachi has wisely decided to stay clear of the cut-throat pricing at the ultra budget end of the market but is keen to maintain a presence. All this is a rather long-winded way of saying that the DV-P305 is actually a badge-engineered Samsung machine, uncannily similar in fact to the DVD-511, (also included in this group test).  

 

The P305ís origins are not obvious from the front panel, which has visual connections with other Ďhome-madeí Hitachi players, like the holographic badge restrained cosmetics and silver-grey livery. The line up of features is a dead give away, though. They include multi-speed replay (5 picture search and 3 slomo speeds) and the characteristic real time sound at 2x speed. Thereís a 2-step picture zoom (2x and 4x magnification), 3D spatial sound mode and a 3-scene bookmark facility. Playback is Region 2 only and our sample seemed to be firmly locked, thereís a routine set of back panel connections with a single SCART carrying composite and RGB video, plus separate S-Video and composite video outputs. The handset is pretty good, itís quite small and some of the buttons are borderline microscopic; itís not as neat as the one supplied with the Samsung original but the layout makes sense and the well used keys are more or less where you expect to find them.

 

The setup menu asks the user to make a language selection the first time itís plugged and apart from setting screen shape and any other preferences, like whether or not you want sound on 2x play, and itís ready to run. On screen displays are clear and simple to understand, in short itís a very well behaved machine with no vices or bad habits that we could see.

 

Picture quality is unlikely to offend, colours are natural looking and it manages skin tones well, a touch more depth in dark and gloomy scenes wouldnít go amiss but this can usually be offset by jiggling the TVsí brightness and contrast controls.  Thereís a normal amount of background hiss on the mixed stereo output but thereís no loss of definition on Dolby Surround soundtracks and most users will be satisfied with music CDs performance.

 

The Hitachi badge on the front is a comforting and familiar point of reference but apart from that thereís no other compelling reason to buy this machine in preference to the Samsung original or any of itís badge-engineered relatives.

 

Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, sound on 2x speed replay, 3-scene bookmark

 

BOX COPY

Badge engineering has a long and honourable history in the AV industry and goes way back to the early days of television and video recording. It was in part responsible for the success of VHS during the format battles of the early 1980s. It makes a lot of sense for manufacturers and companies like Hitachi Ė that are best known for mid-market equipment  Ė simply cannot build competitively priced entry-level products. Everyone wins, the manufacturer covers the important market niches and we get products with a name we know and trust at an affordable price.

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Sound                           4

Features                       3

Value                            3

 

 

MANHATTAN DVD-2000, £200

Yes, itís another new DVD brand, though this time you may have actually heard the Manhattan name before since it has been around for a while, on high-end satellite TV receivers. The DVD-200 qualifies as a budget player on two counts -- it sells for under £200 and it has no built-in digital surround decoders -- but the styling and cosmetics could easily belong to a mid-price model and thereís no shortage of secondary features. They include 6-mode picture search (up to 64x, in both directions) and three slomo speeds, a 3-stage zoom, 3D sound, volume control, it can replay MP3 recordings on CD-R/RW discs and it has a pretty set of on-screen displays. Itís shipped as a Region 2 model but it can be easily jiggled into multi-region playback. Eurosat, the distributors coyly say they wonít be publishing the details, so weíll do it for themÖ With the player in Stop mode on the handset press the Setup then Title, Step and Next buttons and the machine goes into service mode, displaying the Region ID and Macrovision disable options.

 

Around the back thereís single SCART socket that can be set for high quality RGB video output plus it has the usual composite and S-Video alternatives. The digital audio outputs Ė for connection to an external decoder -- are handled by a set of standard coaxial and optical TOSlink connectors.  The remote control handset suffers from the all too common titchy button syndrome with important functions like Play and Stop lost in the middle of a forest of similarly sized keys. The vertical layout of the picture search and track skip buttons is also a bit odd, itís almost as if the handset was originally designed for some other purposeÖ

 

Video and audio processing is in the very capable hands of an ESS chipset, which is a familiar sight in numerous other players, including several high-end models, so itís off to quite a good start. Picture quality is actually very acceptable, a little more detail in shadows and moody scenes wouldnít go amiss but overall the picture is well inside the budget/mid-range ballpark. Much the same goes for the sound quality, though a lot will depend on what itís hooked up to. Dolby Surround effects on the mixed stereo output are reasonably well defined; background noise levels are about average. Audio CDs and MP3 replay quality is satisfactory.

 

The Manhattan DVD-2000 is an agreeable enough machine and it does the business as far as AV performance is concerned but the brutal truth is that it lacks any real killer features, quirky widgets or indeed anything to make it stand out from the growing crowd of sub-£200 players.

 

Eurosat, 0208 452 6699, www.manhattan-direct.com

 

FEATURES

All Region (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 3-stage picture zoom, SCART cable included

 

BOX COPY

We sometimes mention the processing chipsets used in DVD players, they do all of the hard work, decoding the digital data on the disc and turning it into high quality pictures and sound. In the early days of DVD this was done by lot of chips, in the past year weíve noticed a big reduction in the chip count, especially in budget and mid-market models where the bulk of the decoding is often done by just one or two chips, most of them made by just a couple of companies.

 

Overall              3

Picture              4

Sound                           3

Features                       4

Value                            3

 

(sr/ms/co/cs)

 

MARANTZ DV7010, £600

Hereís something you donít see very often these days, a DVD player with a £600 price tag; the Marantz DV7010 has to be something special, right? Sadly itís not, at least not six hundred quidís worth of special. It has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder, but so too do a lot of other DVD players, some of them costing less than a third as much as this one. Maybe it has lots of secondary features? If it has theyíre well hidden, in fact the only thing we could find that was even slightly out of the ordinary is Condition Memory.  This stores user preferences for up to 15 discs. However, since these preferences include such mundane things as TV shape, the position of the on-screen displays, multi-angle, language and parental lock settings itís really not something we can get very excited about.

 

The lack of trick play facilities on such an expensive player is very disappointing; it has just one rather jerky picture search mode and one slomo speed. To make matters worse search mode is dodgy on some discs and it dropped back to normal speed replay at chapter change points on our copy of Godzilla.  Setup is easy, at first we thought our sample was faulty because we couldnít get a response from the remote handset. After several changes of batteries and much head Ėscratching we found a switch on the back panel that selects internal or external remote control.  Whilst on the subject of the remote, itís not a pretty sight and whatís the point of glow in the dark menu buttons? Surely it would have made more sense to dab luminous paint on the transport keys?

 

Thereís no denying it is a smart-looking machine and the layout is unusual, with the deck mechanism on the left side Ė a spot or retro styling maybe? A lot of early players had off-centre decks. At least one Philips model still does, which is probably not a coincidence since Philips and Marantz have very close ties.

 

Okay, enough griping over, the DV7010 makes up for some lost ground with its AV performance. In fact picture quality is very good indeed, detail is pin sharp, it has a wide contrast range, colours are clean and we didnít see any processing noise or artefacts, though layer change is bit sluggish, taking around a quarter of a second. The Dolby Surround channels generate a big open sound and effects are sharply focused. Audio CDs have a rich smooth sound and it could easily double up as a quality hi-fi component. 

A couple of years ago the DV7010 might have made sense but right now it just looks under specified and over priced.

 

Marantz (01753) 680868

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible, front-mounted headphone socket and level control, condition memory

 

BOX COPY

The initial setup is semi automatic, when used for the first time the setup menu asks the user to choose TV screen shape, audio and subtitle languages. We had trouble getting it to work; the Ďdeadí remote threw us for a while. In order for the machine to work with the remote handset a switch on the back panel has to be set to the ĎInternalí position. The External setting is used when the player is connected to other compatible Marantz AV components. Confused? We were!

 

Overall              3

Picture              4

Sound                           5

Features                       2

Value                            2

 

 

PIONEER DV-636D, £400
The dts surround sound system may have been a bit slow to take off in the UK but all credit to Pioneer for sticking with it and its latest mid-market player, the DV-636D is one of the very few models around with an on-board dts decoder. Mind you, thereís still precious little Region 2 dts software available, so hopefully this model will be as Ďflexibleí as its predecessors when it comes to region mods.

 

The 636D is a replacement for the 626D; notable extras include a second SCART socket (fully wired for RGB pass-through). Trick play facilities have been uprated Ė though not by very much Ė and it comes with a Ďnewí remote handset. The price is definitely an improvement, down from £450 for the 626 to just under £400. 

 

Trick play remains a sore point, when Pioneer says it has upgraded the facilities on the 636D, basically that means it still has the one paltry picture search mode but it now has forward and reverse slomo. Big deal! The current norm, even on budget players, is for at least three search speeds, and itís a genuinely useful thing to have. Itís not as if the search on this machine is up to much anyway, it only works when you hold the button down, or for at least 5 seconds for it to lock into scan mode. The new remote should also be taken with a pinch of salt, unless you count changing the shape of the four cursor buttons as significant. Good things, carried over from the 626, are the dual laser pickup, which can read homemade CD-R/RW discs and the impressive array of back-panel socketry, which basically means two of everything.

 

Externally there havenít been many changes; it remains a purposeful-looking black box with a nifty/annoying blue light in the middle of the fascia. On screen displays are clear and easy to understand, moreover most of the setup functions can be accessed whilst a disc is playing. Picture quality is up there with the best of them, images are finely detailed, skin tones and shades look entirely natural. The only minor gripe concerns layer change, which on some discs takes a quarter of a second or more, and thatís an age these days.

 

Audio quality is very pleasing; the Dolby Digital decoder creates a silky smooth soundfield that switches effortless from subtle little sounds to belly churning explosions. dts recordings produce a slightly fuller sound Ė compared with Dolby Digital Ė certainly thereís a bigger bass effect, itís just a shame thereís such a limited supply of material. Audio CD quality is comparable with mid to top end hi-fi components. 

 

Definitely worth considering if youíre a big dts fan and know your way around the region coding business. Itís very flexible and AV performance is excellent but let down by a poor assortment of secondary features.

 

Pioneer, (01753) 789789

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital & dts decoders, ĎTruSound & virtual Dolby sound, twin SCART sockets with RGB bypass, condition memory, twin-laser pickup

 

BOX COPY

The dts (digital theatre sound) system is operationally similar to Dolby Digital in that it has five full-bandwidth surround channels (front stereo, centre front dialogue and stereo rear surround), plus one low-frequency bass channel. However, aficionados claim that differences in the ways sounds are coded and compressed produce a sharper and more natural Ďcinematicí sound. Low frequency bass effects definitely have a bigger impact but a lot depends on the capabilities of the amplifier and speakers, consequently the system tends to work best with meaty high-end kit.

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Sound                           5

Features                       3

Value                            4

 

SAMSUNG DVD-511, £250

In addition to its own range of players Samsung also finds time to build machines for other brands (see Hitachi P305 and Thomson DTH-4500). The DVD-511 is one of a pair of new decks for the 2000/2001 season; itís the entry-level model, which basically means it doesnít have any built-in digital surround sound decoders and a fairly routine selection of features. Not that itís sparsely equipped, far from it with things like 3D sound, a 2-stage (2x & 4x) picture zoom, 3-scene bookmark and 5-mode multi-speed replay with real time sound on 2x fast play.

 

It looks like it could cost quite a bit more too, the slim-line casework and silver-grey cosmetics are all very trendy and for once it seems as though someone has taken a bit of trouble designing the remote control handset. The layout is a bit cramped but the buttons youíre going to use most often are grouped together with big and easy to find keys for important functions like play/pause and stop.

 

The initial setup and the on-screen displays also show distinct signs of someone using their brains. The system kicks in the first time the player is plugged in, asking the user to make a language selection. The menus are well presented and very easy to use, though we do have one little gripe. The setup menu is slow to appear. Press the button and nothing happens for what seems like ages and your first instinct is to press it again, which makes the main page flash up briefly, then disappear; its most irritating.... Since thatís the worst thing we can find to say about the DVD-5111 you can take it as read that this player is generally very well behaved and easy to live with.

 

Playback is locked to Region 2 and at the time of going to press we have no details of how to unlock it, though we wouldnít be at all surprised if there was a software hack. Connections to the outside world are via a standard set of back panel connections in the shape of a single SCART carrying composite, S-Video or RGB video, thereís additional composite and S-Video outputs and the usual analogue mixed stereo (phono), coaxial and optical digital outputs, for connection to an external Dolby Digital/dts decoder.

 

A small amount of detail is lost in shadows and murky scenes and colour shades and graduations can be a bit coarse but overall picture quality is fine. Sound quality is okay too, audio CDs are clean and Dolby Surround information on the mixed stereo output has plenty of room to create a big wide soundstage and noise levels are low. A smart little player, maybe a bit lacking in personality but you know the name, it works well and the price is fair.

 

Samsung 0800 521652

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, sound on 2x speed replay, 3-scene bookmark

 

BOX COPY

The sign of a well-designed setup menu is that you donít have to read the instruction manual to find out how to use it. Itís a fundamental point that many DVD system designers seem to overlook or ignore in preference to flashy graphics or convoluted controls. It also helps if the remote handset has been designed in conjunction with the displays, thereís nothing worse than continually having to continually look down from the screen to find a tiny ambiguously labelled button, or translate an obscure symbol.

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Sound                           4

Features                       3

Value                            3

 

 

SHARP DV-720H, £250
Sharp has maintained a relatively low profile with its DVD players. By our reckoning the DV-720 is only itís fourth player to date, which is quite modest by the standard of other A-brand manufacturer. As entry-level machines go it is reasonably well equipped and fairly priced, the cosmetics are in line with current trends and it is a very compact shape. There are no headline grabbing features as such, it doesnít even have gamma correction, which has been a feature on Sharp AV products for the past few years. Thereís a pseudo surround facility called ĎQsurroundí and a 3-stage picture zoom, it has three picture search and slomo speeds, a display dimmer and twin SCARTs but that is as exciting as it gets.

 

Well, thatís not strictly true, it does have one interesting extra and thatís Function Control. It works in a similar way to the on-screen displays used on some JVC players. Press the Function Control button during replay and the picture shrinks into a roughly quarter-sized sub-screen, surrounded by a set of displays and menus that show you what the machine is up to and let you do various things, like go to a selected scene by entering a time reference, view and change language, audio and subtitle options and watch a bit rate indicator. The front panel is quite busy, as is the remote handset which sports almost 50 buttons Ė possibly a record  -- fortunately itís quite well laid out with all of the transport keys grouped together at the bottom and colour coded blue; the important buttons are also a good size.

 

That promising start is spoilt by one of the slowest control systems weíve seen in a long while. We have become used to commands being quickly and crisply executed on most current players. Everything on this machine seems to take ages, though in reality its probably doing things only a fraction of a second slower than most of its contemporaries. Nevertheless, even simple things, like skipping chapters seem unusually slow; it took well over half a minute to decide not to play a Region 1 disc Ė when it didnít spit it our straight away we were getting quite hopeful Ė and layer change on one test disc took almost a full second, which is almost unheard of these days.

 

You can learn to live with its sluggish nature since picture quality is at least as good as most of its rivals. Images look clean and detailed with good colour graduation and even though it doesnít have switchable gamma correction, contrast balance is on the button and it avoids mushing in darker areas of the picture. Audio quality is about average, not too much noise on the mixed stereo output and music CDs sound good. Aside from the unhurried control system the 720 is a pleasant enough machine, it does the job, Sharpís a name you know and trust and the price is liveable.

 

Sharp, 0161-205 2333

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, picture zoom

 

BOX COPY

Qsurround is one of a number of systems designed to mimic the effect of a multi-speaker surround sound system, on a normal TVís stereo speakers. Techniques vary but in most cases audio effects and information on Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital soundtracks are extracted and lightly processed, usually by adding a short time delay or introducing a phase change and then fed back onto the normal stereo output. Hearing these sounds a fraction of a second behind the main soundtrack can give the impression that theyíre coming from speakers some distance form the screen. 

 

Overall              3

Picture              4

Sound                           4

Features                       3

Value                            3

 

 

THOMSON DTH-4500, £330
Not so long ago you could spot a Thomson AV product at twenty paces, one or two you still can but its current range of DVD players are not that distinctive. Not that thereís anything wrong with the styling of the DTH-4500, itís a tidy machine that doesnít look out of place alongside players from the likes of Sony and Panasonic, which is quite a tribute since itís actually built by Samsung. Again thatís not meant to be a criticism, Samsung is a respected brand though it is more usually associated with modestly priced AV equipment.

 

The price and feature list puts the DTH-4500 firmly into the mid-market sector, it has on-board Dolby Digital decoding, multi-speed replay with a nifty jog dial on the front panel. Thereís a good selection of gadgets, like a 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, it can play MP3 tracks on CD-R/RW discs, it plays real-time sound during 2x fast play, the remote handset can control a wide range of other makers TVs and audio systems and the buttons light up. The 4500 is billed as a Region 2 only model though weíre fairly sure a software hack will be appearing on the web before long.

 

Output options include twin SCART sockets (configurable for RGB and S-Video) for easy integration with existing AV systems, plus a front-mounted headphone socket. Installation is effortless and the first time itís powered up the user is asked to select language. The rest of the setup menu is easy to navigate with a section for setting up surround speakers. Control layout on both the front panel and remote handset is a mite cluttered. The remote is a reminder of the old days, interesting to look at Ė French minimalist Philippe Starck designed it Ė but a bit of a swine to actually use with huge volume and chapter skip buttons and fussy little menu keys. Still, at least they all light upÖ

 

There are no surprises when it comes to what happens on the screen, the 4500 is a solid middle of the road performer with a crisp, cleanly rendered picture, lots of detail and it has a fair stab at resolving gloomy scenes. It has no bad habits, layer change takes under a quarter of a second and the range of trick play functions is just about right (2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x search and 1/8x, 1/4x and 1/2x slomo). Dolby Digital sound is fast and punchy, audio CD performance is comparable with mid-price component hi-fi and MP3 is okay if you just want some background sounds. Itís quite pricey; the Thomson name carries a bit of extra kudos, but be aware that you can get similar performance and features for considerably less nowadays.

 

Thomson 020 8344 4444

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, front-mounted headphone socket and level control, sound on 2x speed replay, multi-brand TV remote, SCART cable included

 

BOX COPY

Being able to listen to the soundtrack when the player is running at twice normal speed is a rather neat trick involving a technique called buffering. Soundtrack data is read off the disc and fed into a memory, itís then read out of the memory in real time, in brief snatches, so it keeps time with whatís happening on the screen. Itís certainly good enough for you to be able to follow a movie, but in half the time. Could be handy next time you rent a duff movie, and feel obliged to watch itÖ

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Sound                           4

Features                       4

Value                            3

 

(2sr/ms/5/co/cs/h)

 

YAMAHA DVD-S796, £300

Hereís a puzzle. A few months ago we looked at he Yamaha DVD-S795, a very decent mid market player with on-board Dolby Digital decoding and lots of useful features, selling for around £350. Now we have the DVD-S796, which we understood was to be its replacement and the promo literature suggested it would also have built-in Dolby Digital and was expected to sell for £350. When it arrived the S796 turned out to be something completely different. Itís a very basic entry-level machine, no 5.1 decoding and a sparse feature list. Now we learn the price is down to £300, which is a step in the right direction.

 

Never mind, it comes from a good family, all the important bits are made by Panasonic, the telltale signs are the very distinctive on-screen displays features like the five-scene bookmark, the lack of RGB and coaxial digital outputs (we keep telling them off about that) and the Panasonic name plastered over all of the main processing microchipsÖ In fact, letís go mad and say outright that this is almost certainly a badge-engineered version of the Panasonic DVD-R20, which also sells for around £300.

 

It has a few noteworthy features, like the super fast (100x) picture search, 2-mode virtual surround, real-time sound during 2x speed replay and sub-woofer output. Itís fairly easy on the eye too, a neatly sculptured black box, and not too big either. Weíll have to dock a couple of points for the occasionally cumbersome setup. Selecting TV format, for example, is heavy going. Sad people that we are, we worked out that changing aspect ratio and display format on his machine can take up to 20 button presses, compared with two or three on most other players.

 

From now on itís almost all good news. Picture and sound quality are excellent, colours and shades are accurately rendered, it picks out the smallest picture details, even in gloomy scenes, and thereís not a trace of processing noise or artefacts. Layer change is a bit sluggish at around a quarter of a second. The mixed stereo output has very low levels of background noise and the extra sub output is a bonus Ė well worth putting to use if you have a sub-woofer! Audio CDs sparkle and this machine could be used as a hi-fi source component. Much as we admire this playerís AV abilities itís still rather expensive; committed Yamaha fans with top-notch AV gear probably wonít mind too much but if all you want is a basic no-frills DVD player to connect to an ordinary TV, then there are plenty of cheaper alternatives.

 

Yamaha, (01923) 233166

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, 5-scene bookmark, sub-woofer output, sound on 2x speed replay

 

BOX COPY

A digital bitstream output is a standard fitment on DVD players. Itís raw, unprocessed audio data, straight from the disc, containing all of the Dolby Digital and/or dts sound information for onward connection to an external decoder, usually built into a AV amplifier or TV. Most players have two types of bitstream connection, RF or coaxial, which uses a simple phono-type lead connection, and optical digital. Itís not essential to have both, but not having one, or the other could limit flexibility as not all AV amps and TV have both types of connection.

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Sound                           4

Features                       3

Value                            3

 

 

YELO 800 DVD, £199

From the outside it seems innocuous enough but the Yelo 800DVD shows signs of being put together in a bit of a hurry. For example, the mains cable is bonded to the inside of the case by a blob of mastic, the instruction book is peppered with mistakes and several buttons on the remote handset donít seem to do anything. The specification is quite good for the money and it doesnít look too bad either. Itís reasonably simple to use, thereís multi-region playback, it has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder, 3-stage picture zoom, it can play MP3 music track on recordable CDs and it comes with a full set of connecting leads.

 

The downside is a meagre selection of trick play features. Fast picture search only goes up to 8x normal speed and thereís no slomo. Itís supposed to have RGB and Component (YUV) video output but we couldnít work it out, nor get an alleged picture in picture function to do anything, and the button layout on the remote is a mess.

 

It has its fair share of foibles too; our sample jumped out of picture search mode at chapter change points, it froze solid on a couple of occasions and made a loud buzzing noise, it took a real dislike to our copy of Godzilla and once or twice the sound drifted out of sync with the picture.

 

On screen performance -- when it behaves -- wasnít too bad, the fact that it uses the same processing chipsets as several more expensive models clearly helps. The picture is clean and lively with accurate colours. It does a pretty good job on dark and dimly lit scenes and indeed whole movies, like Angelaís Ashes, lifting out details from the shadows, which a lot of budget and mid-market players manage to ignore. Layer change on most discs is fast and a lot of the time you donít even notice it.

 

More good news, Dolby Digital processing works well and it moves effortlessly from small subtle background sounds to big, loud explosions. Dolby Surround material is also crisply resolved and itís capable of generating a big wide soundstage. Audio CD replay is okay; itís the sort of sound you get from a mid-priced mini system, nothing too controversial but not as involving or revealing as high-end hi-fi gear. MP3 tracks sound about as good as they can, which is to say a bit thin and lifeless,

 

The 800DVD shows promise but there are a few too many glitches and signs of careless design for our liking. It really wouldnít take much effort to sort it out and we look forward to seeing the Mark II, until then we have to say that as it stands itís B-List material.

 

Yelo 020 8366 0000, www.yelo.ws

 

FEATURES

All Region, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 3-stage picture zoom, front-mounted headphone socket and level control

 

BOX COPY

The range of back-panel connections on this machine looks very impressive and the front mounted headphone socket is a welcome bonus but itís let down by ambiguous labelling. The 5.1 outputs are a case in point, and it is not helped by the diagrams in the instruction book. The SCART socket is supposed to carry RGB and Component video; it supposed to be switchable from the setup menu, but it eluded us and all we managed to get out of it was an S-Video type black and white luminance signal.

 

Overall  3

Picture  4

Sound               4

Features            3

Value                3

 

 

---end---

 

R. Maybury 2000, xx

 

 

HITACHI DV-P 305 £250

 

Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

FEATURES 60

 

 

BOX COPY 90

 

 

Overall              5

Picture              5

Sound                           5

Features                       5

Value                            5

 

 

 

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