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AZUDA DVD-862, £159

 

A warning notice on the back panel of the Azuda DVD-862 solemnly urges owners ‘Do not immerse in water’, which sort of sets the tone for this strange and contradictory machine. The instructions contain classics like: ‘An Interative menu will appear. After you enter the current password, you finish to change the available level’, but the bizarre thing is the DVD-862 not a far-eastern import, it’s actually assembled in the UK (Wales actually), by a company that you probably haven’t heard of, but they are big in PCs and build systems for several well-known brands.

 

The manufacturer’s PC background is evident in the way the player is put together – it’s held together by loads of little screws, of the type familiar to owners of PCs – and the presence of an enclosed PC type DVD mechanism. but the main board uses the same ESS MPEG-2 processor chipsets that can be found in players from the likes of top-name manufacturers like Hitachi. More oddities; it has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder and it can play MP3 files recorded on CD-R/RW discs but the bitstream output is not dts compatible. It doesn’t have a SCART AV socket on the back, but it does have a YUV component video output on three phono sockets, which can be configured for RGB. The retail price is £200, but you can buy it on-line from the web site listed below for only £159.

 

There’s no messing around with firmware hacks and code numbers when it comes to region coding, just slap in a disc and it’ll play, no matter where it comes from, and should that disc be a karaoke recording, it’ll play that too, and allow you to sing along with a built-in twin microphone mixer with echo facility. It’s a real go-anywhere machine and the power supply is rated 100 to 240VAC 50/60Hz. The 862 has a Scene Digest facility that is clearly related to the one on the Hitachi DV-P505 but whereas Hitachi’s only works on Video CDs, this one works on DVDs as well. It has a 2-stage picture zoom (2x & 4x magnification), multi-speed replay but the range of fast search speeds is poor (2 x, 4x, 6x & 8x) and slomo is slightly better (1/2x, 1/4x & 1/8x), but to get to it you have to slide back the cover on the remote handset and press a ‘shift’ button, then step through the forward and reverse speeds to get to the one that you want.

 

It’s not what you would call a pretty machine, the front panel is a bit too busy for that, but the controls are large and accessible and include a full set of Setup menu options. On-screen displays during playback are mostly confined to status and track information however the setup menu, which can be called up when a disc is playing (playback pauses) is well presented and easy to use, the only thing to remember is not to mess with the onscreen display language, there are only two choices, English and Chinese, if you accidentally get it into Chinese mode just make sure your Mandarin is up to scratch, so you can get it back to English again!

 

Whilst a number of core processing components are the same as those used in other players picture quality on the 862 lacks the wide dynamic range of some of its rivals, needed to bring out picture information in murky scenes and shadows. Attention to detail is good though, colours are clean and if there were any processing artefacts we didn’t see them. Although range of trick play speeds is disappointing the picture flows smoothly, layer change is very fast and takes just a few frames.

 

MP3 sound quality is fine providing you don’t expect too much, however the fact that you can squeeze 10 hours of medium-fi music on a 12-cm disc is appealing, and the karaoke facility means the DVD-628 is a bit of a party animal. The Dolby Digital decoder is satisfactory, some low-level effects came across as being a bit mushy, or didn’t seem to be very well focused but the overall effect can still be dramatic and involving. The mixed stereo output response is wide and largely uncoloured but levels of background hiss are fairly average.

 

Without doubt this is one of the most unusual DVD players we’ve seen this year, but most of its foibles are out of sight or behind the scenes – unless you count the dreadful instruction manual. From the outside it looks like a very reasonable deal indeed. AV performance is good but not outstanding, there’s lots of bonus features, like all region playback, scene digest, the wide mains voltage operating range, even MP3 and karaoke might come in useful for some. Component video output is marginally interesting but the fact that it can be configured for RGB output makes up for the lack of a SCART socket. In the end though it comes down to price, at £200 we say it was a worth considering, but for £150 it represents remarkable value for money; we’re tempted to say there has to be a catch but apart from the puny selection of trick replay speeds and apparent lack of dts compatibility we have to say that is there is one, we didn’t find it.

 

Contact Elecbrand, 01639 822222, www.yesola.co.uk

 

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

The shape is a bit strange but the main controls are a good size and easy to get to, apart from the Stop button, which could have been bigger. The only real problem is slomo, which has to be enabled by pressing a shift button, hidden under a sliding flap.

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

So much of the back panel is taken up with warning notices it looks like all of the output sockets have been squeezed together in one corner. There are three groups of sockets; on the far left are the bitstream digital audio outputs comprising one coaxial (phono) and one optical (TOSlink) connector. In the middle are the six 5.1 channel outputs from the Dolby Digital decoder, using standard phono sockets. The standard mixed stereo output is available on the top pair of sockets (labelled ‘Main’).  Next to that are all of the video outputs. The three sockets labelled Y U V can also be configured for RGB output (the phono sockets are appropriately colour coded). Finally there is a composite video output, again using the standard phono-type socket and next to that is the S-Video output, using a 4-pin mini DIN. The slightly off-centre square hole suggests it may have been a bit of an afterthought…

 

THE HARD FACTS

AZUDA DVD-862

OUTPUTS

SCART             N

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    Y

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   Y

 

EXTRA FEATURES

All Region, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, scene digest, MP3 playback, karaoke facility with echo, repeat playback

 

GOOD POINTS

Features, price and generally adequate performance

 

BAD POINTS

Limited trick play and awkward controls, amateurish instructions

 

Ease of use            4

Picture  4

Sound               4

Features            5

Overall  4

 

 

 

BUSH DVD-2009, £170

Normally we expect to see some family resemblance between DVD players or indeed any AV product when they come from the same manufacturer but Bush appears to have taken a ‘pot-pourri’ approach with its current model range. This is usually indicative of a company sourcing players from different factories, maybe to meet unexpected demand, which is fair enough, but in the case of Bush’s two most recent models, the DVD-2002 and the DVD-2009 (which we’re looking at here) we have a somewhat unusual situation. Both machines are very attractively priced but only £10 or so separates the 2002, which has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder, and the comparatively basic 2009. Were the two machines more closely related it might be possible to point to some sort of structured set of features spanning the range but apart from the Bush badge they appear to have very little in common.

 

One of the first things you notice about the 2009 is the size, the front panel is 390mm wide, which might be helpful for those with space problems, and otherwise the design and cosmetics are fairly conventional. The main features are Truesound virtual surround, it has a 5-scene marker, 2x picture zoom and one of the strangest assortments of trick-play options we’ve ever come across. The four fast picture search speeds seem straightforward enough, except that someone decided to defy convention and good sense and label the speeds as percentages. So 2x fast play becomes 200%, and 4x, 8x and 15x end up somewhat absurdly as 400%, 800% and 1500%. We won’t get into the semantics of percentages greater than 100 but that it just looks very peculiar on the on-screen displays! If you thought that was odd, wait until you see the slow motion options... It only works in forward play, but figure this one. The 2009 has no less than 11 slomo speeds! They’re also displayed as percentages (which makes a little more sense), but why on earth would anyone need 11 forward-only slow motion speeds?

 

By the bye, the on-screen displays are rather eye catching, clearly presented and easy to read. The main playback display is a bit like the ones on JVC DVD players with the picture shown as a reduced size insert and surrounded by menu options and track/time/bit rate information.

 

We are on more solid ground with the 2009’s regional coding, mostly because it doesn’t appear to have any locks fitted. In other words it will play just about any disc you care to slip into the tray. Normally we’d say this was an unadvertised feature and you must not assume that all 2009’s will be the same but Bush seems to have given up any pretence and doesn’t even go through the motions of mentioning Regional Coding in the instructions or printing little world-shaped logos on the back panel or anywhere else that we could see.

 

Picture quality is generally okay; it suffers from the same problems that affect a lot of budget players, namely a slightly narrow contrast range. Most of the time it’s not a problem but you do notice that darker scenes tend to look gloomy and you suspect – usually with good reason – which a lot of information in the picture has disappeared into the murk. The 2009’s ability to resolve fine detail is average to good but colours end up looking a bit flat. This shows up most clearly in close ups where the many subtle graduations in skin tones do not show up. It’s not a serious problem by any means but it does become noticeable in side-by-side comparisons with more up market machines. Otherwise picture processing and things like layer change (just a couple of frames) are well up to spec and in the case of the latter, can show players costing considerably more a very clean pair of heels.

 

The mixed stereo output has no more than average levels of background noise and the bitstream connections appear to be clean and free of any artefacts. Truesound is a notch up on plain vanilla stereo for some types of material but you won’t need reminding that it’s not a substitute for proper multi-channel surround.

 

It is most unfortunate the 2002 and 2009 are so close together in terms of pricing because taken in isolation the 2009 is not a bad machine as entry-level players go and the Bush name is a familiar landmark in the sub £200 segment of the market. We could probably learn to live with the daft trick play options, however, the fact is that for the same sort of money, or very little more you can get players with built-in Dolby Digital decoding – including one quite good one also sporting a Bush badge – and more often than not a more interesting selection of secondary and convenience features. To confuse matters even further Bush’s sister brand, Alba, has a very tidy player in the shape of the DVD-103, and that sells for £150 with features like scene digest and like the 2009 it has all-region playback. About the best we can say is that it’s all right, but before you decide, have a look at what else is available.

 

Contact Bush 020 8594 5533

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

For such a cheap machine the remote handset is quit well designed with large clearly labelled buttons that mostly fall readily to hand. Most of the rest of the controls are hidden under the sliding flap that covers the lower half of the handset.

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

The 2009’s back panel is unusual for a couple of reasons, firstly it is one of the very few machines we have seen where there’s no region code logo and secondly, because all of the sockets are well spaced and clearly labelled, and that is a rare sight! The lack of a region logo is either due to the manufacturer forgetting or the fact that this machine plays back all regions, take your pick…The output sockets are very clearly identified so there can be no mistakes. From left to right they are: coaxial and optical bitstream (phono and TOSlink). Next to that is the S-Video output (mini DIN). Third from the left are the composite video and mixed stereo outputs (phonos again) and on the far right there’s the main AV out connector, in the form of a single SCART socket, which is wired for composite video and RGB video

 

THE HARD FACTS

BUSH DVD-2009

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    N

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   N

 

EXTRA FEATURES

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

 

GOOD POINTS

Neat looking on-screen displays

 

BAD POINTS

Odd trick play options, average AV performance

 

Ease of use            3

Picture  4

Sound               3

Features            3

Overall  3

390100315

 

HITACHI DV-P505, £300

The P505 is only Hitachi’s second or third DVD player to date, depending whether or not you count the quirky DV-W1E twin-deck DVD/CD-R machine; its first model, the DV-P2E, was in fact a re-badged Pioneer deck. In the scheme of things that’s a fairly modest record of achievement from a big name consumer electronics manufacturer but we have to say that the first all-Hitachi player (DV-P250) was a real stonker and the multi-talented DV-W1E was definitely one for the history books, so we had quite high hopes for the DV-P505.

 

The basic spec and price seem quite reasonable, around £300 buys a tidy looking machine with on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoding, virtual surround, 2-stage picture zoom (x2 and x4) plus multi-speed trick play, but unlike previous models there are no headline grabbing features or indeed anything we can really get our teeth into. We were mildly excited to see a ‘Digest’ button on the remote. As you may recall this was the ‘killer’ feature on the P250, it generated a visual index of stills from each chapter on a disc. However, for some strange reason it has been dropped on the P505, or rather it only works with Video CDs, which is a fat lot of good!

 

Since there’s not much to talk about on the inside we’ll move swiftly on the exterior, starting with the front panel. It’s quite busy and that’s because it has a full set of menu access controls in the shape of three buttons and a little joystick. This is actually very unusual, and it means this is one of the very few DVD players on the market that we can recommend to amnesiacs and owners of large dogs or destructive kids because you can still access all of it’s vital functions even it if the remote handset is lost or destroyed. Incidentally, the joystick on our sample was way too sensitive and very difficult to use, but we’ll be charitable and put that down to it being an early sample.

 

On screen displays during replay are confined to basic time and chapter information, all disc transport, audio and subtitle operations are controlled from buttons on the remote handset. It is possible to call up the setup menu during playback, which is handy.  In addition to all of the usual language and picture format options there a decent set of surround controls including adjustments for centre and rear delay and a white noise test tone, which we don’t see very often these days.

 

Whilst we’re on the subject of remote control boxers, this is not one of Hitachi’s finest. The cursor controls are big and easy to find, though since this machine has so few on-screen displays it seems a bit over the top. On the other hand, frequently used controls like the transport keys are all quite small and bunched together in the bottom right hand corner. One other slightly unusual feature is a recessed button that changes the video output standard, there’s four options PAL, PAL60, NTSC and multi/auto.

 

Mystery surrounds the choice of trick play speeds, 2x, 5x and 10x normal speed (in both directions) is fair enough, but then it jumps to 100x normal speed, which is much too fast to be any use. Slomo is awkward, there are three speeds (1/2x, 1/4x, 1/8x), but one button and to get to reverse slomo you have to step through the forward speeds first – no doubt it seemed like a good idea at the time…

 

Regional coding on our sample was firmly locked, there are rumours of a software hack but it proved elusive and we had no further details at the time of going to press. Picture quality is at least as good as the P250, possibly a little better with a smidge more detail revealed in shadows and murky scenes. Colours are very cleanly resolved, skin tones are faithfully rendered, it’s very good at close-ups capturing every little blemish and subtle graduation in shade. Trick play and slomo are both smooth and layer change is quick, lasting only a couple of frames on most of our test discs, blink and you’ll miss it.

 

Dolby Digital decoding is squeaky clean with all channels clearly presented, the response is wide and flat, noise levels are negligible. Background hiss creeps in on the analogue mixed stereo outputs but it’s certainly no more that average; Dolby Surround channels come across as lively with plenty of headroom for big bass effects.

 

The P505 is a difficult machine to sum up. AV performance is very good indeed, it’s moderately well behaved and easy to use, the price is fair and it looks okay, but we had expected something a bit more interesting from Hitachi. The disappearing Digest feature is a disappointment and the range of trick play options could have been better thought out. None of this is particularly serious nor would it put us off buying one, but given the choice we’d rather spend another few pounds on it’s predecessor, the P250, which to be fair was always going to be a hard act to follow.

 

Contact Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

On a scale of one to ten this gets a five, there’s too much emphasis on the cursor controls and not enough given to the disc transport keys, which are too small and too close together, and what’s that recessed PAL/NTSC button all about?

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

The rear panel socket layout is neat and tidy and for the most part it’s fairly obvious where the cables go though we did notice one odd and potentially confusing feature on our sample. The labelling of the mixed stereo output, appears to indicate that you should use a particular pair of phono sockets; one of them is the 5.1 decoder’s right front channel output, the other, next to it, is also coloured red. Hopefully most people will spot the mistake; otherwise they’ll end up with a very uninvolving Pro Logic soundstage… It’s always good to see the glint of gold on back panel; the phono sockets used for the 5.1 channel outputs, composite video out and coaxial bitstream output are all plated. It has an optical bitstream output and a S-Video socket (mini DIN), and a fully wired SCART socket with switchable RGB or S-Video output (selectable from the setup menu).

 

THE HARD FACTS

Hitachi DV-P505

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    N

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   Y

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital & dts decoder, multi-speed replay, picture zoom, spatial sound

 

GOOD POINTS

AV performance, sensible features and it’s reasonably easy to use

 

BAD POINTS

Digest feature only for Video CDs, indifferent remote layout, strange trick play speeds

 

Ease of use            4

Picture  5

Sound               5

Features            4

Overall  4

 

PHILIPS DVD-960, £520

Philips Matchline has to be one of the longest-running branding exercises in the business. A quick trawl through the archives threw up Matchline monitors, TV tuners and VCRs going back to early 1986. The basic philosophy has changed little over the years and one glance at the DVD-960 shows that the high-end marketing pitch and distinctive styling are still major priorities. The silvery-white front panel is a clear reminder of a Matchline classic, the VR-969 Super VHS video recorder – the one with an analogue clock set into the middle of the front panel – the question is, will this machine also earn itself a place in the home cinema hall of fame?

 

Probably not, the 960 is a good player and all that but we have to say there’s a lot of window dressing involved and if you whip off the lid inside you’ll find the guts of one of Philips less glamorous (and significantly cheaper) DVD players. There are one or two extras that some may consider worth paying for, along with the fact that it is actually a very pretty looking machine. The two most prominent ones are a set of component video outputs on the back panel and it comes with the world’s biggest DVD remote control handset, a full 23.7cm long, 2mm longer than the previous record holder, supplied with the Hitachi DV-W1E!

 

The remote is one of this player’s most interesting features, which tells you a lot about the rest of them. It’s a multi-brand model able to control the main functions on a selection of TVs and AV amplifiers and the big round thing in the middle is a jog/shuttle dial, that lets you whiz back and forth, or step through a recording a frame at a time. That’s all very useful, but in order to use it you have to press a button, and it’s very sensitive, which makes it incredibly difficult to use. If you so much as breathe on the jog dial it shifts from slomo to fast picture search, moreover there’s only two slomo (x1/8 & x1/2) and two search speeds (4x & 30x), so it’s really nothing to get excited about. And don’t whatever you do loose the remote because the front panel controls are confined to play, stop, pause and open/close!

 

Back to the features, there’s a 3D sound option, the coaxial and optical bitstream outputs are dts compatible and in the setup menu there’s a shift option that slides the picture left or right. It has the same (or very similar) on screen display and operating system as most other Philips players we’ve seen, and that includes the facility to change the region lock from the remote handset, but there’s a sting in the tail. This method apparently only works 25 times. Nevertheless, it’s worth knowing how to do it and it’s the same method as the DVD 930/935. With the machine in Stop mode press Play 274, the front panel display shows a line of dashes, now press 0050001 281 56 and then Play, the screen turns red and it’s ready to play Region 1 discs. Be warned the output is Raw NTSC, so you’ll need a suitable TV. To get it back to Region 2 press Play 274 again and the code 0020001 281 56 and the screen turns blue. By the way, it worked on our sample but it also changed the logo on the intro screen to Grundig, whoops…

 

We had hoped that the highish price would show up in some way on the screen, at least compared with other recent Philips models with which it seems to have quite a lot in common. Hand on heart we couldn’t say there was a great deal of difference in picture quality, at least nothing that couldn’t be attributed to batch differences, but the upside is that the picture performance of this and most other Philips machines is generally very good. Colour fidelity is excellent; the image is sharp with lots of fine detail and no processing artefacts. The brightness level on our sample was a bit down but the dynamic range was wide enough to handle gloomy scenes. Layer change is comparatively slow at just under half a second.

 

Of course it’s possible that more significant improvements are visible on the component video output – it is the connection system of choice on NTSC material -- however at the time of writing we didn’t have any TVs with a component video input, (not that there are that many to begin with, and none in the Philips range…) so we haven’t been able to check that particular facility out yet.

 

The 960 does quite well as an audio CD player and it compares well with mid-range hi-fi components. The mixed stereo and bitstream outputs are also clean and free of any noticeable defects but again there was nothing that we could detect that sets it apart from most other major brand players with a similar specification.

 

It looks great and AV performance is up there with the best of them but in the end, much as we admire the cosmetics, we have to say the spec is rather ordinary for such an expensive player.

 

Contact Philips 020 8689 2166

 

BOX COPY 1 – REMOTE VIEWING

It’s huge, a recording breaking 23.7cm in length! The layout isn’t too bad and the multi-brand TV/AV amp functions are useful but the jog/shuttle is a bit strange. The jog dial is much too sensitive and in the end there’s only two search and slomo speeds.

 

 

BOX COPY 3 – AROUND THE BACK

Now here’s something you don’t see every day, up in the top left hand corner of the back panel is a discrete on/off mains switch. Presumably this is to make up for the lack of a power switch on the front; the trouble is it is going to be a swine to get to when the player is under the TV or fitted into a unit. The only other unusual feature is that set of component video outputs, it’s just a shame there are no Philips TVs – Matchline or otherwise -- to use them with. The SCART socket is wired for an RGB output but there’s no option to switch it to S-Video, fortunately there is a separate S-Video socket and composite video output (CVBS) next to the component video outputs. Both coaxial (phono) and optical (TOSlink) bitstream outputs are included and the mixed stereo outputs are right next door, on a pair of phono sockets. 

 

 

THE HARD FACTS

PHILIPS DVD-960

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    Y

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   N

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible bitstream output, trick play, multi-brand TV/amplifier remote handset

 

 

GOOD POINTS

Stylish good looks, AV performance

 

BAD POINTS

Few features and rather expensive

 

Ease of use            3

Picture  5

Sound               4

Features            3

Overall  3

43095275

 

 

 

 

 

 

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