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Panasonic DVD-RV20, £300

VERDICT ****

The recently launched DVD-RV20 is in all respects a very decent entry-level player but in the face of such compelling competition we might have expected a more interesting specification on a machine costing £300.

 

The brief feature list wouldn’t look out of place on a sub-£200 player, the only extras worth mentioning are a super fast 100x picture search, 2-mode virtual surround sound (VSS) and sub-woofer output. In fact it lacks several quite basic facilities that we’ve come to take for granted on budget machines, like an RGB output on the SCART socket and a coaxial bitstream output.

 

Setup menus and on-screen displays are standard-issue Panasonic, and none the worse for that as they are mostly clearly presented and easy to use though some bright spark has split the picture format settings across two menu pages, so on the first display you can choose between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio, then you have to return to the main menu and select ‘Other Settings’, to get to the Pan & Scan/Letterbox switch. The handset buttons are reasonably well laid out and easy to find though some of the labelling could be clearer and we’re not terribly keen on close proximity of the chapter skip and picture search buttons.

 

Images are sharp and fluid; it manages to resolve the smallest details, even in busy scenes containing lots of movement or rapid changes in brightness. Colour rendition is excellent and that includes skin tones, which look perfectly natural. Little or nothing is lost in shadows and dark scenes and it’s one of the few players we’ve tested recently that doesn’t need any additional picture controls. Slomo is smooth and we’re most impressed by the picture search facilities; 2x normal speed is just that, no skipped frames or jerkiness though we can’t see the point of not suppressing the soundtrack since it is virtually unintelligible. Layer change takes around a quarter of a second.

 

Background noise levels on the mixed stereo output is very low and they have a flat and open response that carries Dolby Surround soundtracks without any problems. The sub output is a welcome bonus and the bitstream output is clean and open. Audio CDs performance is comparable with upper mid-range hi-fi players with a bright, punchy sound. 

 

Fortunately the RV20 acquits itself with above average AV performance otherwise we would have had to say that it is a rather mediocre design, dull even, short on features and not especially good value for money. Even so, we can’t ignore the fact that it is up against some very well appointed players, with comparable picture and sound. Our guess is that without any killer features we suspect only dedicated Panasonic fans will notice it in the crowd.

 

Contact Panasonic (08705) 357357, www.panasonic.co.uk

 

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Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, dts compatible bitstream output, 2-mode Virtual Surround sound, sub-woofer output, 5-scene marker

 

Sockets

AV out (SCART), S-Video out (mini DIN), mixed stereo & composite video out (phono), optical digital bitstream out (TOSlink)          

 

HE RATINGS

Picture  4

Movie sound            4

Music sound            4

Features            3

Value                3

 

 

Harman Kardon DVD-1, £450

VERDICT ****

Harman Kardon are in the middle echelon of serious hi-fi brands so it should come as no surprise to learn that the DVD-1 sports a £450 price tag; what you may not have expected is the fact that it’s made in China, and that it is so basic.

 

Most DVD players have one or two unusual features we can latch on to, praise or deride, but the DVD-1 almost completely devoid of extras. If we dig really deep – and this is scraping the bottom of the barrel – the light-up buttons on the remote handset and a 9-scene bookmark just about qualify as vaguely interesting.

 

The region lock can be readily changed by tapping a few numbers into the remote handset, (with the player in standby mode and no disc in the tray, enter the code 3141592, followed by the region number). There’s no all-region (Region 0) setting and the video output from an R1 disc is raw NTSC, so on a single standard TVs you’ll end up with a black and white picture. 

 

There’s a headphone socket and level control on the front, around back there’s two SCART sockets, carrying both composite and RGB video outputs. It has an S-Video output and both optical and coaxial bitstream sockets in addition to the usual mixed stereo line output. The remote handset is an odd shape but the buttons are a good size, neatly laid out according to function and shaped like arrows, in the case of the play and search keys.

 

The absence of any picture controls or video ‘equaliser’ facilities concerned us at first but after running a few discs through the DVD-1 it became apparent that it doesn’t need any help. It produces a clean and very well balanced image, packed with information and accurately rendered colours. Layer change takes place in less than a quarter of a second. Trick play is steady, though the fastest search speed is a fairly sedate 16x normal replay.

 

Audio CD response swings effortlessly from one end of the frequency spectrum to the other revealing plenty of low level sounds but without sounding cluttered or confused. The mixed stereo output has a similarly assured response, Dolby Surround effects are precisely located within the soundfield and background hiss is almost negligible. Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks pass through on to the bitstream output in pristine condition.

 

What the DVD-1 lacks in glitz and frills it makes up for with picture and sound quality to compliment any high-end home cinema system. The price is a touch intimidating, it can’t have escaped your notice that you can buy a fully-loaded DVD player for less then £200 these days, but it wouldn’t look as classy, perform as well or carry the same kudos.

 

Contact Harman Kardon/Gamepath, 01908 317707

 

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Features

Region 2 (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, dts compatible bitstream output, 9-scene marker, illuminated remote handset buttons

           

Sockets           

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

 

HE RATINGS

Picture  4

Movie sound            4

Music sound            5

Features            3

Value                3

 

LG DVD-3200, £200

VERDICT ***

The DVD-3200 is the successor to the DVD-2330, which we first looked at earlier this year. LG has always been a bit of a pacesetter when it comes to budget AV products, so we were expecting great things of the DVD-3200, particularly as it’s £10 dearer than its predecessor. However, it appears that little has changed internally. The audio system is basic and it lacks an optical bitstream output, but it does have a 3D spatial sound mode. 

 

We grumbled about the lack of NTSC playback on the 2330 so we’re please to see it has been incorporated on the 3200. Trick play options have been uprated with a useful range of slomo speeds (1/16x, 1/8x 1/4x and 1/2x normal speed, both directions. Picture search has four forward and reverse speeds of 2x, 4x, 16x and 100x, but the latter is almost too fast. It also has a 2-stage (x4 & x16) picture zoom and 5-scene bookmark but that’s yer lot.

 

The wacky remote handset warrants a quick mention, it’s a little on the large side but the large clearly labelled and strategically positioned disc transport buttons make it very easy to use. Pressing the ‘GUI’ button brings up a rather nondescript menu bar on the left side of the screen from where you can move trough tracks and chapters, change language settings and select 3D sound. The setup menu can also be invoked when a disc is playing, the picture disappears but you can return to the point in the movie where you left off.

 

Colour fidelity is quite good though small graduations in flesh tones are glossed over. Overall resolution is about average for a budget player, most fine detail is captured but some is left behind especially when there’s a lot of movement on the screen. Contrast balance is not too bad at all and comparatively little picture information is lost in murky scenes and shadows.

 

Audio CD performance is typical of most budget DVD players, on a par with the decks in mid-range hi-fi systems, in other words acceptable to most users but with enough minor flaws in the presentation to irritate picky audiophiles. There’s little or nothing to be concerned with on the mixed stereo output, it’s all routine stuff with a wide and largely uncoloured response and no more than average amounts of background hiss.

 

The improvements to the control system, remote handset and the addition of NTSC playback are all very welcome, as is the new casework and the 3200, but the basic specification and price remains unexciting. We can only reiterate what we said about the 2330, it’s okay, but we suspect it will be overshadowed by its similarly priced rivals.

 

Contact LG Electronics 01753 500470

 

UP CLOSE

Features

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible bitstream out, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, 5-scene marker

           

Sockets           

AV out (SCART), S-Video out (mini DIN), coaxial bitstream, mixed stereo & composite video out (phono)

 

HE RATINGS

Picture  8

Movie sound            8

Music sound            8

Features            7

Value                8

 

 

 

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ã R. Maybury 2000 2106

 

 

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