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SONY PLAYSTATION 2, £300

Whilst DVD replay is very much a secondary feature of the Playstation 2, in marketing terms it is crucially important, giving the PS2 a distinct edge over current and future games consoles and broadening its appeal into mainstream home cinema. So how does this particular facility stack up against dedicated DVD players? Put it this way, if you’re a games addict it’s a welcome bonus, if you’re a home cinema fan it’ll drive you nuts!

 

The obvious point to make is that the PS2 a video games console first, last and every other which way. Very few concessions have been made for DVD playback, with the basic package at least. That’s not to say it can’t ever qualify as a home cinema component, but you will have to spend another £40 or so on a proper infra-red remote control handset, and because it only has composite video output as standard, you’ll also need to buy the optional S-Video adaptor lead, to get the best possible picture quality. As it stands all DVD functions have to be controlled from the standard ‘dual shock’ wired game controller. That means learning a whole new set of tricks, like remembering which buttons do what, and fumbling around with hidden button on the back of the game-pad, to get at track skip and picture search functions.

 

PS2 is a largely featureless black box and apart from a couple of illuminated buttons (reset and disc tray open) it has no front panel displays or controls so everything is dependent on a set of on-screen displays. Accessing the setup, main playback and disc menus from a wired controller, designed for playing games, is a minor nightmare, and it’s not helped by titchy and indistinct graphics. In short a remote handset is not an option it’s essential! Playback facilities are pretty basic, in addition to the single speed picture search (about 8x normal speed), there’s still frame and slomo replay, but it only works in the forward direction. There are no extras to speak of and no on-board digital surround decoders, moreover it only has optical digital bitstream output but it is dts compatible. By the way, Japanese PS2s (also DVD Region 2) have hackable region locks but the ‘fixes’ that have appeared on the Internet so far have all been a bit hit and miss. Needless to say none of them worked on our PAL sample and the word on the web is that the UK PS2’s are firmly locked. There’s speculation that a hack or chip upgrade might be possible but it would be very unwise to buy a PS2 on the strength of it.

 

There have been quite a few stories circulating about the PS2’s DVD picture performance being less than wonderful but these have mostly concerned first generation Japanese models imported into the UK. Our early PAL production sample worked fine; resolution and colour accuracy were both satisfactory, contrast balance could have been better -- some detail is lost in dark and shadowy scenes – but video processing is very clean and we saw no artefacts. Layer change was quite relaxed though, taking up to half a second on some movies. The mixed stereo output was crisp and lively with very little background hiss. The small selection of trick play facilities is a disappointment but the search and slomo functions all work reasonably well.

 

VERDICT

If Sony could see its way to supplying a proper remote control and fitting an S-Video socket, or including the adaptor as standard, then eighty percent of our qualms about this machine’s DVD playing abilities would disappear. As a basic DVD player it’s expensive and has its fair share of foibles, but let’s be realistic, that’s not what it’s about and all those eager first adopters haven’t waited two years and shelled out the thick end of £300 on a PS2 just to play movies on it…

 

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

 

Ratings (DVD playback)

Overall              3

Picture Quality            4

Sound Quality            4

Features                       3

Ease of Use                  2

Build Quality                  4

Value for Money            3

 

Pros

It plays games too, and the graphics are brilliant…

 

Cons

Price, controlling playback from the games pad, no S-Video output as standard

 

Rival Buys

Dreamcast & DVD package, £350

 

Quote 20

‘…if you’re a games addict DVD playback is a very welcome bonus, if you’re a home cinema fan it’ll drive you nuts!’

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            Sony Playstation 2

£                                  £300

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Games first, DVD replay a poor second 

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       -

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1 (adaptor cable)

ISSUE                          86

 

 

TOSHIBA SD-500 £550

DVD Audio is the headline feature on the SD-500 but it is almost lost in amongst all of the other tasty extras on this remarkably well-specified machine. The twin tray deck mechanism is one of the more obvious and useful attractions and it is joined by – deep breath – Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround sound decoders, HDCD (high definition compatible disc) compatibility, digital picture noise reduction, multi-screen chapter navigation, strobe playback, component video output, ‘pan around’ zoom, 3D sound, multi-brand TV remote with luminous buttons, and that’s just for starters…

 

Rather than list every bell and whistle you can take it as read that you are getting your money’s worth as far as picture and sound enhancements are concerned, but Toshiba is hoping that DVD Audio – touted as a successor to audio CD – will get the SD-500 recognised as a serious piece of hi-fi kit. However, it’s early days for DVD-Audio, discs to play on it are rarer than hen’s teeth, and the ongoing rivalry with the Sony backed SACD (Super Audio CD) format muddies the already murky waters.

 

The front panel is quite busy but the twin-tray hasn’t added significantly to the general clutter or made it any harder to use than a regular single disc machine, in spite of Toshiba’s best efforts... The SD-500 suffers from a surfeit of on-screen displays; at least four different ones can be summoned during playback (‘Quick’, ‘Virtual Remote’, ‘Navi’ and setup), some of them duplicating functions on other menus and that’s in addition to various mode and status displays. All of them depend to a greater or lesser extent on a tiny joystick on the remote handset to make selections, which would be okay but for the fact that it is so sensitive so it is easy to make mistakes and get in a tangle. The Remote handset does have one good feature, though, and that’s the side-mounted multi-function jog-control, though left-handers might disagree.

 

Even if DVD-Audio holds no immediate interest for you the SD-500 is worth considering purely on the basis of picture quality. It sparkles, images are sharp and detailed with natural looking colours and there are enough manual adjustments to fine-tune the image to suit just about any display device and viewing environment. It has more trick play functions than you’ll ever need and there’s hours of fun to be had with the fancy zoom function. Movie soundtracks are crystal clear; the Dolby Digital and dts decoders work overtime to create a lively detailed and thoroughly involving soundfield.

 

VERDICT

So far we’re suitably impressed by DVD-Audio, there’s a noticeable increase in depth and clarity, compared with regular audio CDs, though to be honest our repertoire of test discs is still somewhat limited. Nevertheless, there seems to be enough extra content in the sound to bring it, and the SD-500 to the attention of serious hi-fi buffs; home cinema enthusiasts need look no further.

 

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

 

Ratings

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                       5

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            4

 

Pros

Twin deck convenience, AV performance, DVD-A might be a bonus

 

Cons

Awkward remote control

 

Rival Buys

JVC XV-723 £500

 

Quote

‘Even if DVD-Audio holds no immediate interest for you the SD-500 is worth considering purely on the basis of picture quality’.

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            Toshiba SD-500

£                                  £550

VERDICT                      5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Brilliant top end twin-deck, superb audio

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE                          86

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 2411

 

 

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