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GROUP TEST

 

BUDGET DVD PLAYERS

 

INTRO

Now that the first £100 DVD players have started to appear we're rapidly approaching the situation the audio CD market was in a few years ago. The kind of dramatic price erosion we have seen on DVD makes it harder for manufacturers to justify big price tags, particularly when some of the cheapest players work almost as well as the dearest ones. We say 'almost' because such differences as there are can be quite difficult to spot and depend to a significant extent on the display devices and sound systems they are used with.

 

The players in this group test neatly illustrate the ways manufacturers are striving to differentiate products, both within model ranges, and with other brands. It is a big problem, only a relatively small number of companies produce the key microchips responsible for the video and audio processing and digital technology engenders a certain amount of uniformity, and reduces opportunity for manufacturers to cut corners. Nevertheless at least one player in this roundup provides us with a timely reminder that the old adage about getting what you pay for still has some relevance in DVD.

 

A couple of players in this group also brought back memories of the early days of VHS when 'badge engineering' was rife. It was not unusual for players built on the same production line, with a near identical specification, to end up selling for wildly different prices. At one point JVC was making over half of the VCRs sold in the UK. This hasn't happened to anything like the same extent with DVD but suffice it to say that a couple of companies are being kept very busy making players for others. Sorry, no clues, you'll have to read the reviews to find out who's been cloning what…

 

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

Our small repertoire of test discs and sequences from DVD Video and audio CDs are chosen for their ability to expose processing flaws and picture defects. Consistency is important, for example Godzilla has been included since day one; it has a number of useful features, like a troublesome layer change and low light sequences containing a lot of fine detail. The Matrix, Toy Story, Men in Black and Batman & Robin have a good selection of scenes with plenty of fast movement and rapid lighting changes and as an added bonus, dynamic sound effects that help us to assess the player's audio capabilities.

 

CYBER HOME AD-M 512, £130?  

Maybe someone out there is listening… The last time we looked at a Cyber Home DVD player (the AD-N212 in HE 85) we noted with some regret that whilst it was exceptionally good value it lacked two critical features, namely a SCART socket and an RGB video output. The new AD-M 512, has both, the price stays the same and it has some extra features, the most prominent being on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders.

 

Also new to the AD-M 512 is a 2-stage picture zoom and MP3 replay, which could be handy if you have a suitable PC with CD-ROM recorder, that will let you cram several hours worth of music downloaded from the web or 'ripped' from CDs on a disc. Replay facilities have improved, it has four-speed picture search instead of three but it only goes up to 16x. There's also a 3-speed slomo mode but this only works in the forward direction, though there is an unadvertised (and very flaky) reverse slow play mode. There's also some extra audio options with remotely accessible volume and mute controls and on the analogue mixed stereo output there's a 6-mode spatial effect generator (stadium, amphitheatre, concert, church, passive & wide), and a graphic equaliser (classic, rock & user).

 

So far it's all been quite encouraging but there is one little bit of bad news. The firmware has changed and as far as we can see you can't switch Region codes any more and our sample remained firmly locked to Region 2. The service menu is still accessible (drawer open, 6, 7, Select), but the Region selection item has vanished.

 

The helicopter sequence in The Matrix provides a good test of a player's ability to handle extremes of light and dark and the AD-M 512 was found to be slightly wanting in that respect with a small amount of detail being lost in the gloomy bits. Overall detail is good and the picture is generally clean, but it does look a little flat, compared with a lot of mid-range players. Our sample also locked up a couple of times and the only way to get it going again was to pull out the plug. The stereo output sounds good with lots of detail and movement, the Dolby Digital and dts decoders are fairly run of the mill stuff, the channel outputs have very little background noise. Some quieter effects are not very distinct it does a good job of extracting louder sounds and it's worth investing in a sub-woofer.

 

A definite improvement over the N212, and the price remains very competitive but there still are one or two rough edges.

 

Contact: WHSmiths

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital & dts decoders, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, audio effects and equaliser

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo, 5.1 channels and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), headphones (jack)

 

BOX COPY

Build quality could be better; the metalwork is very thin and the top panel on our sample had already become dinked by some brackets inside the case. Talking of which, the innards are a scary sight. On most DVD players these days there's a couple of PC boards the deck mechanism and a few cables; this one uses a PC type enclosed deck and it looks like the proverbial explosion in a spaghetti factory with wires and boards all over the place. It's probably going to be okay but it does suggest a somewhat 'casual' approach to the design.

 

Overall              3

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            3

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

CYBERHOME AD-M 512         

£                                  £130 (?)

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       optical & coaxial

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

GRUNDIG GDV-130, £230

First generation Grundig DVD players were all based on Philips models, which was okay when DVD was new, but over the past couple of years Philips has fallen behind the rest of the market and recent model ranges have looked a bit frumpy. This may explain Grundig's decision to source its current DVD players from further afield, to a well-known Korean manufacturer in fact, with mixed results, as we shall see.

 

The GDV-130 is a reasonably smart looking design with a two-tone finish and what few front panel controls it has are clustered together on the far right. You might be forgiven for expecting something interesting after seeing the price but it is actually very basic; it has no fancy features to speak of, just the format basics, the only little luxuries are MP3 replay, a picture zoom and a 2-mode spatial sound effect on the analogue mixed stereo output. It has a single SCART connector, configurable for RGB output, and an S-Video socket, but there's only one digital audio output, which could be inconvenient. On a more positive note the region coding can be changed via the remote handset, though it's a bit of a palaver. For the record the sequence is: Open tray, Setup, 9 (for all region, or 1, 2, etc for single region), 2,0,0,0, Step, Shuffle, Next.

 

The remote handset is a fairly chunky affair with lots of buttons, unfortunately the ones you tend to use most often are small and not that easy to distinguish, and what on earth possessed the designers to arrange the picture search and track skip buttons vertically? The operating system on our sample turned out to be a bit suspect and it crashed when we tried to reverse picture search over the layer change on Godzilla. Other strange little habits include access to 2x and 4x fast play during audio CD play. The on-screen displays are quite good though, and the setup menu uses a lot of graphics and is very easy to use.

 

The picture looks crisp and contrast is satisfactory, which is to say some detail can be lost in darker scenes, like the 'illegal alien'' segment at the beginning of Men in Black, but it's no worse than most other entry-level machines. Colours accuracy is good, skin tones and shades look reasonably natural. Trick play is fine and there's a good selection of speeds up to 32x. The stereo sound channels sound fine with only modest amounts of background noise and the player has no effect on the digital surround channels, which pass cleanly through.

 

Picture and sound are okay but we have some reservations about the stability of the operating system, and the price is well over the top!

 

Grundig 0209 324 9400

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay (see text), dts compatible, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, 3-mode surround, 3-stage picture zoom

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo, and coaxial bitstream (phono)

 

BOX COPY

The GDV-130 uses the very popular ESS Technology single chip decoder, codenamed 'Swan', which turns up in a lot of players these days. ESS is one of the leading makers of DVD chips and as well as capturing a sizeable slice of the budget market, their products are often used in high-end brands, including models made by Denon. The chip used in the 130 is a remarkable piece of engineering and is responsible for both video and audio decoding, audio down-mixing, generating the on-screen displays and video standards (i.e. NTSC to PAL) conversion.

 

Overall              3

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

GRUNDIG GDV-130

£                                  £230

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            expensive but AV performance is satisfactory

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       coax

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

JVC XV-M557, £280

So far there have only been a handful of DVD auto-changers, mostly mid-range and top end models, now however the JVC shifts the facility closer to the mainstream with the XV-M557. The deck mechanism is a 3-disc tray-loading type, which like the carousel systems adds to the bulk of the cabinet, made more noticeable by the fact that conventional single disc players have been steadily shrinking. However against that you have to weigh the convenience of not having to get up off your bum so often to change discs, and you can swap discs whilst one is playing.

 

The main difference between this model and JVC's' other DVD auto-changer, the XV-M567, is the absence of on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders, otherwise the feature set is very similar with a good range of trick play functions, strobe and zoom picture effects and chapter digest. This is a useful feature to have when playing discs that have poor or non-existent chapter selection facilities. The player generates a visual index of nine sub-screens, made up of stills 'grabbed' from the start of each chapter. You can then quickly go to the start of that scene using a moving cursor.  In the absence of 5.1 sound JVC has given the 557 its proprietary 3D Phonic pseudo surround system that is supposed to create the impression of rear speakers, and Theatre Position, which increases the apparent width and depth of the soundfield, when heard through a pair of stereo speakers.

 

Around the back there's a single SCART socket with separate S-Video and composite video outputs and format standard analogue mixed stereo but oh dear, it has only one (optical) bitstream output. Operationally it's reasonably easy to live with and the remote handset's not too bad moreover it's a multi-brand model that can control the basic functions on a number of other makers TV sets.

 

AV performance is generally very acceptable. The picture reveals a lot of detail, even in tricky dark scenes containing a lot of fast action, like the subway fight in The Matrix. Colours are crisp and flesh tones look natural. It has a good selection of fast play speeds (up to 60x normal) but they are all jerky, even 2x which is usually very smooth. Noise levels on the mixed stereo output are respectably low and analogue surround emerges in good condition with dialogue and effects cleanly resolved. 3D phonic puffs up the sound quite well, but it's not a substitute for proper multi-channel surround. The solitary optical bitstream output works well enough and 5.1 channel information passes through the machine unhindered.

 

A likeable machine, the auto-changer is a bonus and doesn't make the player any harder to use, impinge on performance or add significantly to the price. Worth considering.

 

FEATURES 100

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, 3-disc auto-changer, multi-speed replay, chapter digest, pseudo surround and 'theatre' sound effect, picture zoom, strobe, TV control functions

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video and mixed stereo (phono), optical bitstream, (TOSlink)

 

BOX COPY

The 3-disc auto-changer works well enough but disc change is not especially fast (compared with a carousel type) and it's accompanied by a fair bit of clunking and clicking. It's not very smart either and we would have liked it to have some kind of position memory, so you could switch between discs, and resume at the point where you left off. As it is you have to go through the whole loading process every time, including wading through the intro screens and copyright warnings.

 

Overall              4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

JVC XV-M557   

£                                  £280

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Optical

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

KENWOOD DVF-R9030, £900

Why, you may be wondering, does a perfectly respectable DVD player like the DVF-9030, need two large slabs of plastic mockwood screwed to the side of the case? It certainly doesn't do anything for its looks and we're not convinced it has any technical or performance benefits. Ironically the large expanse of top panel has a tendency to resonate and could do with some more effective damping…All the side cheeks do is make an already sizeable player even larger and more difficult to find a home for.

 

The main reason the box is so big is that it houses a 5-disc carousel type auto-changer, which is a very handy thing to have for audio CD playback, and that's something this machine excels at. It can also playback DVD Video discs, which may or may not become the next big thing in high-end hi-fi (depending how the rival SACD format fares…). 

 

DVD-Audio is a key feature and Kenwood has incorporated a raft of high-end processing components into the R9030 like DRIVE (Dynamic Resolution Intensive Vector) and 24-bit DAC, moreover it has an audio only mode, which disables all of the video circuitry. DVD facilities are fairly modest by comparison and include Dolby Digital and dts decoders, component video outputs plus a strangely out of place 3D sound option, which appears to be a hang over from the fact that the machine's DVD processing circuitry is largely based on Panasonic components. The upside of that is clear and easy to use on-screen displays and a useful set of trick-play options. It's a shame they didn't ask Panasonic to design the remote control as well, it's a horrible little thing with a touchy joystick and awkward multi-function colour-coded controls that are almost impossible to decipher in normal room lighting.  The disc changer is a delight to use, however, it's quiet, refined and lets you change discs whilst one is playing. The only small quibble concerns the fact that you can't manually retract the drawer by pushing it, as you can with almost every other type of disc loading tray.

 

Thanks to Panasonic picture quality is first rate with a wide contrast range that really helps bring out the detail in dull and night-time scenes, like the opening sequence of Men In Black, and pretty well the whole of The Matrix, which fair leaps off the screen. Trick play is okay though it is let down by the cranky control layout on the remote. As expected it sounds excellent, DVD soundtracks on both the mixed stereo and 5.1 channel outputs move easily between low-level ambient sounds and big dramatic effects. For the record DVD-Audio also sounds wonderful.

 

A serious audio component that also plays DVDs, DVD-Audio is a bit of a gamble though, and there's not much to listen to at the moment.

 

Kenwood, 01923 816444

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital, dts & DVD-Audio decoders, 5-disc auto changer, multi-speed replay, 10-scene bookmark, 3D sound, picture controls

 

AV out (2 x SCART), S-Video (2 x mini DIN), component & composite video, mixed stereo, 5.1 channels and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), headphone (jack)

 

BOX COPY

CD auto-changers have long been regarded with suspicion by hi-fi aficionados and they're rarely, if ever seen on top-end components. It's a slightly odd attitude since the thing that really matters is the actual deck mechanism and processing electronics, not the means by which discs are loaded, though it hasn't been helped by the sometimes poorly made auto-changer mechanisms that turn up from time to time on budget hi-fi equipment. However, the one used in the R9030 is very well made indeed, and might just change a few minds.

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

KENWOOD DVF-R9030

£                                  £900

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            One for serious hi-fi buffs who fancy DVD-Audio's chances

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       Optical & coaxial

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

LOGIX 3000, £190

In DVD land nothing is quite what it seems, and we're not just taking about what happens on the screen. The Logix 3000 looks like a respectable little budget player from a company you've probably never heard of (in fact the Logix brand is owned by LG). It's short on frills but the price and specification are both fair, and it looks okay. The twist is that a player almost identical to this one – in fact it has a slightly simpler specification – can be found elsewhere in this group test, costing around £40 more. You might be able to work out which one it is from the front panel control layout and the list of features, but in case you get stuck, it's the Grundig GDV-130.

 

The real irony is that the Logix 3000 is better equipped in at least two important areas, it has both optical and coaxial bitstream outputs, and it has extra trick play modes, taking picture search up to 64x normal speed, in both directions. The remote control is also better, the handsets are actually very similar but the one supplied with the 3000 has the picture search and track skip buttons arranged logically, side by side, rather than on top of one another, and they are on the GDV-130 remote. There's one other even stranger difference, the glitch that we found on the 130, where it wouldn't go into reverse fast play over the layer change on some discs was absent on the 3000, but it wasn't completely innocent and the picture did freeze a couple of times when playing The Matrix though stabbing the fast play buttons got it going once again. 

 

Features common to both players include MP3 replay, picture zoom and 3D sound; the 3000 also has an easily hackable region lock, using the remote handset. It uses the same sequence of button pushes as the Grundig machine and because it doesn't involve making any modifications to the machine's hardware, it won't void the manufacturer's warranty.

 

Not surprisingly picture and sound quality are also very similar since both machines use the same ESS Technology single-chip decoder. The highlights are a clean picture revealing lots of fine detail, the contrast range could have done with being a fraction wider but it only shows up on dimly-lit scenes and it should be possible to compensate for it using the TV's own contrast control. Picture search and slomo are both smooth and the analogue mixed stereo output has low levels of background noise and broad response. No problems with the bitstream outputs either and having both coaxial and optical outputs improves connection flexibility.

 

Performance and facilities are both okay and we'd certainly give it houseroom, and it goes without saying that if you fancy the Grundig GDV-130, you should buy the Logix 3000 save yourself a few bob!

 

Contact XXXXX

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay (see text), dts compatible, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, 3-mode surround, 3-stage picture zoom

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo, and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink)

 

BOX COPY

If you are wondering how two DVD players that apparently have the same guts can exhibit a number of differences in performance and behaviour, it's all down to something called firmware. This is a software program and a set of instructions stored on a chip called a PROM or programmable Read Only Memory. The firmware allows the manufacturer to customise the player by enabling or disabling certain features and where necessary, acing a certain amount of distinctiveness to things like the on-screen displays, though the Grundig and Logix OSDs are practically identical.

 

Overall              4

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

LOGIX 3000      

£                                  £190

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            decent little budget machine

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       optical & coaxial

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

MINATO DVD-G1, £130

Tescos can take credit for being one of the first to introduce budget-priced DVD players. The Minato DVD-G1 is currently its cheapest model at just £130. It's not a brand we're familiar with, or particularly relish getting better acquainted with because the DVD-G1 is almost irredeemably bad!

 

The spec looks about right for the price, it has all the basics plus MP3 replay, a 3D sound and picture zoom. The only notable absentee is an optical bitstream output, even though there's room for it on the printed circuit board and it would only add a few pence to the price, but we'll let that pass.

 

Problem number one occurred when we tried to insert an S-Video plug into the back panel socket. It wouldn't fit; the metal surrounding the hole wasn't quite wide enough, however with a bit of effort it eventually seated. Problem number two, the S-Video output on our sample appeared to be over-modulated resulting in excessive colour streaking and a very coarse-looking picture. That's bad enough but swapping over to one of the two composite video outputs gave an even worse picture. Suspecting a fault we tried the SCART connector but this turned out to be okay, not great but at least it looked like a normal picture. Of course this could be due to a fault but it's more likely down to sloppy alignment. More on picture quality in a moment.

 

The next problem concerns the remote control handset. All of the most frequently buttons, Play Stop, search and skip, have been placed in the most awkward positions possible, the buttons are too small and too close together. The IR sensor on the player has an unusually narrow range of operation and the handset has to be pointing more or less directly at it to work. Oh yes, the front panel display is too deeply seated making it hard to see from some angles. There's not even the consolation of a loose region lock – it's almost a traditional on budget machines – it seems this model has to be 'chipped' in order to get it to play Region 1 discs.

 

And so we come to picture and sound quality, actually it's not quite as bad as we'd feared but it doesn't do dark or gloomy scenes any favours, the night-time segment in Men in Black, where they bring down the alien ship, should be brimming with detail but it ends up looking flat and lifeless; the treatment of subtle shades and colours is also bit heavy-handed. Background noise on the mixed stereo output is fairly average but the bitstream output at least is clean.

 

If there is a good reason to buy this player, we couldn't find it…

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, 3D sound, picture zoom

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo, and coaxial bitstream (phono)

 

BOX COPY

You would think that designing a remote control for a DVD player is a fairly straightforward business but it's surprising how often manufacturers get it wrong. There are several reasons for this; one of the commonest mistakes is using an off-the-shelf case originally designed for a CD player or some other sort of AV device, which may have happened in the case of the DVD-G1. At the other extreme are purpose designed button boxes, where the designer has tried to be too clever, with fancy shapes, or save space by doubling up on functions.

 

Overall              2

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            3

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MINATO DVD-G1       

£                                  £130

VERDICT                      2

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Unrefined and unimpressive budget player

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       coaxial

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

PIONEER DV-939A, £1100

The DV-939A has the feel of a classic in the making. The specification is carefully tailored to appeal to audio and video enthusiasts and the well heeled, for whom name and appearance are just as important as technical merit. For movie fans there's a progressive scan output, Dolby Digital, dts plus a well thought out selection of trick replay modes and picture controls. The audio features list includes DVD-Audio playback, top-flight processing components, heavy-duty power supply and chassis (though the top panel is a bit thin) and the whole caboodle is housed in a very classy looking finely sculptured gold-tinted case.

 

Progressive scan, as the instructions are at pains to point out, is only available on NTSC discs. Since this is a Region 2 only player potential buyers should be aware that Region 2 NTSC are rarer than hen's teeth, though there are ways and means around that, for those that are determined (see Xtra info). It's also worth pointing out that the progressive scan output is only available on the component video output (Y/U/V), which further limits the number of display devices it can be used with, however, a small trickle of compatible high end TVs and video projectors are now available in the UK.

 

The remote is a good size with an easy to use joypad type cursor control and shuttle ring for selecting speed and direction; the main transport buttons light up, which is a neat touch. The on-screen displays are quite basic by current standard but they're clear and legible, which is what really matters. 

 

 

With all of the picture controls set to neutral and video noise reduction switched off the DV-939A delivers one of the best pictures we've see, Toy Story 2 has an almost 3D quality, colours have added depth, a finer graduation of colour and the broad contrast range copes just as well with murky scenes like the subway showdown in The Matrix.

 

Audio CDs have a smooth untextured sound; Debbie Harry's gritty vocals on Double Take are lifted above the instruments. It doesn't reveal deep bass notes quite as well as some high-end decks but the kind of attention to detail this player is capable of in the treble and mid-ranges is very well suited to classical pieces.

 

The DV-939A is a fine all-rounder, combining performance and looks with the sort of features serious home cinema users are looking for. Pioneer fans will need no further bidding, worth considering.

 

Pioneer, (01753) 789789

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital, dts & DVD-Audio decoders, 525p & 480p progressive scan, multi-speed replay, bookmark, 3D sound, digital noise reduction, picture controls, condition memory, illuminated remote buttons

 

AV out (2 x SCART), S-Video (2 x mini DIN), component, composite video, mixed stereo, 5.1 channels and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), remote controls (minijack)

 

BOX COPY

At the top end of the DVD market Regional Coding is becoming an issue once again with the launch of decks like the DV-939 with progressive scan video outputs. This facility delivers the very best picture quality but only from NTSC discs and on suitably equipped NTSC displays devices. This player is Region 2 only and the only source of Region 2 NTSC discs is Japan so it would seem to have limited appeal but if past experience is anything to go by there will be a decent supply of semi official multi-region Pioneer players for those that want to take advantage of this feature. 

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PIONEER DV-939A    

£                                  £1100

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP'NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

 

SANYO DVD-1500, £220

Looking back through the archives we were astonished to find that the DVD-1500 is the first Sanyo homesick DVD player we've reviewed. It seems they are the last of the major Japanese brands to embrace DVD. Considering it has had such a long time to think about it, and learn from the mistakes of others, the DVD-1500 is a remarkably bland entry-level model, and the price is hardly inspiring.

 

It's quite compact and the sliver cosmetics are quite neat but the discrete good looks are spoilt somewhat when it's switched on, as above the disc loading tray there's a ridiculously bright blue light that shines out like a beacon. The remote handset looks quite promising, it’s quite substantial and the buttons are well spaced, though it would have been even better had the frequently used transport buttons been a bit bigger.

 

The specification adds virtually nothing to the basic format requirements, unless you count picture zoon, a pointless 3-mode picture control (standard, mild and black and white…) and a Last Memo facility, which lets you halt playback and memorise the position on up to five discs. There's also a time search facility, that lets you go straight to any point on the disc, assuming that you have made a note of the time readout beforehand; doubtless someone somewhere will find a use for it…

 

Trick play functions are confined to a 3-mode picture search (top speed around 12x normal) and 3-speed slomo. It has the minimum of AV output sockets on the back, and only one (optical) bitstream output, yet it has a headphone jack on the front which tends to be something you find more frequently on mid-market and top-end players.

 

Basic it might be but AV performance isn't too bad at all. The contrast balance is good, colours are crisp and it does a very good job on skin tones. This talent shows up particularly well in moody sequences like the one The Matrix, when Neo is rescued and brought on board the Nebuchadnezzar for the first time. Trick play is steady but with only three unhurried speeds to play with it finding your way around a disc can be quite time consuming. There are no problems with audio quality either, the optical bitstream output is squeaky clean and the analogue mixed stereo output has slightly lower than average amounts of background noise and plenty of room for Dolby Surround effects, which emerge in pristine condition. 

 

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the DVD-1500, a bit pricey maybe, but we had hoped for something a little more interesting from Sanyo, which has in the past produced some quite innovative AV products.

 

FEATURES 100

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, picture zoom, last memo position memory, 5-scene bookmark, time search

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo, and optical bitstream (TOSlink), headphones (jack)

 

 

BOX COPY

Do DVD players really need two bitstream outputs? Several companies, including Sanyo seem to think not, and whilst we accept that it's probably not a huge problem on budget and entry-level players we think that it's a short-sighted attitude. There is no dominant standard and it's rash to assume that all 5.1 channel AV amplifiers and decoders will have both optical and coaxial bitstream inputs. It's not as if there's any consensus form the companies that only fit one bitstream socket, which suggests that it's not simply a matter of cost

 

Overall              3

Picture              4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SANYO DVD-1500    

£                                  £220

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            disappointingly bland design

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       optical

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

SONY DVP-S336, £270

Don't be deceived, the Sony DVP-S336 looks small and with lots of interesting knobs and buttons but it is actually a gadget-free zone and one of the rudimentary players we've seen. That's not necessarily a bad thing of course, and there's a lot to be said for a player that guaranteed granny-proof, it's just that we didn't expect it to come from Sony…

 

It really does look cute though, and the low profile front panel helps keep the whole thing in proportion. Far too many players are still being built into ugly VCR-sized boxes, mostly full of air, with vast acreages of empty front panel. So it's got the looks, but what else can it do? Well, there's 3-speed picture search and two-speed slomo, a sub-woofer output and 2-mode 3D sound effect and that's about it. The on-screen displays are very pretty and it has a bitrate indictor, for those who enjoy watching a winking bargraph, and we mustn't forget the nifty little joystick gizmo on the front panel, which operates the on-screen displays, but we're dangerously close to scraping the bottom of the barrel now.

 

Having so few widgets to worry about should have made it exceptionally easy to use but the layout of the transport buttons on the remote handset slows things down just a bit. The track skip and picture search (scan) buttons are on the small side and close together. Even so, operationally it is very straightforward and the on-screen displays and messages are clear and easy to understand. Setup too is a breeze and it can be up and running in a couple of minutes, once you've set the picture shape and the audio options.

 

Basic it might be but when it comes to picture and sound quality all is forgiven. The video processing circuitry appears to be the same as that used in Sony's mid-range and high–end models. The upshot of that is one of the best looking pictures we've seen, on any player, in any price bracket. Resolution is outstanding, the S336 reveals the finest and most subtle details, but the wide dynamic range means the image appears to have added depth and almost nothing is lost in dimly lit scenes, extracting every last morsel of detail from the subway sequence in Godzilla. Colours are bright, vibrant and natural looking and it manages to render really small and almost imperceptible changes in colour and shade. Although devoid of any on-board 5.1 channel decoders it makes up for that with a crystal clear mixed stereo output, noise levels are very low and the sub-woofer output helps breath life into big bass effects for those wedded to less than dramatic Dolby Pro Logic surround systems.

 

It's not cheap and gadget fans will find it frugal fare but it more than makes up for the lack of toys with superb AV quality.

 

 

FEATURES

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

 

AV out (2 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo, sub woofer, and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink)

 

BOX COPY

The most serious criticism levelled against the S336 is a lack of facilities and gadgets but how important are the extras?  In truth at least half of the widgets fitted to DVD players are a waste of space and once the initial novelty wears off, probably won't get used again, but some of them can be quite handy. A good range of picture search speeds are definitely worth having, for quickly moving around the disc, extra picture and sound controls are always welcome as is a remotely hackable region lock, (though this doesn't influence the overall score).

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            5

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

£                                  £270

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            classy looks, very basic but excellent performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       0ptical & coaxial

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE             

 

SONY DVP-S536, £450

It is obvious that the Sony DVP-S536 is very closely related to the S336, in fact at a distance they look almost identical and it's only when you get close to the back and front panels that you can spot the differences. The crucial extra feature is a built-in Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround sound decoder, and there's also a few extra picture and sound tweaks and adjustments, but the big question is do they justify a hefty price difference of almost £200? We'll come back that later on.

 

Apart from the extra phono sockets on the back panel, for the 5.1 decoders, and a handful of indicator lights and buttons on the front the casework is unchanged from the S336, which is no bad thing as it's small, neat and perfectly proportioned. Incidentally, on the top panel, towards the back, Sony has thoughtfully embossed a series of labels denoting the position of the rear-panel sockets. The remote handset is also basically the same as the one supplied with its cheaper stablemate, though room has been found for a couple of extra buttons, for the picture and sound controls. Sony has used the same on-screen displays, with some extra menu items to cover speaker assignment and configuration.

 

Those additional picture facilities mentioned a moment ago include a 5-mode video equaliser, which jiggles contrast balance, saturation and black level, to suit different types of display device and viewing environments. The other one is a Digital Video Enhancer or DVE and this works by sharpening up edges in the picture, emphasising fine detail. There are two levels and off; there is a slight change, which is just about perceptible on a static image, but it's really nothing to get excited about. The multi-brand TV remote also covers the main functions on a number of AV amplifiers, but check the list of manufacturer's first, it's not that extensive and there are some significant omissions, like JVC and LG. 

 

We stared long and hard at the picture and ran side-by-side comparisons with the S336 and if there were any differences, that would be apparent on a normal moving image, we couldn’t spot them. The equaliser might prove useful, but the bottom line is the extra money isn't going on picture quality or facilities, which like the S336 is about as good as it gets. The mixed stereo output sounds about the same too – also excellent – which just leaves the 5.1 decoders. They do a bang-up job, resolving low level and gut rumbling effect with equal efficiency, at least as well as the decoders in most mid-range AV amps, which more or less answers the earlier question. Great player, great performance but at £450 we'd have to say, not great value.

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital & dts decoders, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, video equaliser, digital video enhancer, multi-brand TV remote

 

AV out (2 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), 5.1 channel, composite video, mixed stereo, sub woofer, and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink)

 

BOX COPY

Is it worth paying extra for on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders?  It depends really, if you are wedded to a particular audio setup than having the decoders inside the DVD player makes for a quick and simple upgrade but if you are starting from scratch and buying, or thinking of buying a 5.1 channel amp then having the decoders in the amp or as a separate component starts to make a lot of sense. It widens your choice of both player and audio equipment, connections are a lot simpler and it can actually work out cheaper.

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            5

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

£                                  £450

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            pricey but smart and stylish with performance to match

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       optical & coaxial

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 1303

 

 

 

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