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GROUP TEST

 

HIGH END DVD PLAYERS

 

ARCAM DIVA DV88, £900

Looking every inch like the classy piece of AV kit that it is, the Arcam Diva DV88 is largely designed and built in-house, with the exception of parts like the Korean made deck mechanism and what looks like an off-the-shelf DVD decoder board using the highly respected Zoran Vaddis III processor chip (also used in a number of other high-end players, including recent models from Toshiba). The only reason we're telling you this is because Vaddis III is one of the first single chip decoders with HDCD (high definition compatible digital) compatibility, adding to the DV88's already impressive list of credentials as a accomplished AV component.

 

Don't expect too much in the way of toys or gadgets, though. It has all of the DVD basics including a modest selection of track play facilities (x2, x4, x8 & x20 speed picture search and 6-speed slomo), a 3-stage zoom, easily hackable region lock, 3-scene bookmark and there's a component video output, for use video projectors and suitably equipped (and currently rare) home cinema TVs. However, it's clear from an internal examination why it costs the thick end of £900, it's sturdily built and the power supply looks like it's been lifted out of a high-end power amplifier.  

 

A beefy power supply may not be absolutely essential but on high-end gear it can make a lot of difference, ironing out the often minute fluctuations in demand by the processing circuitry and mechanical components like the deck mechanism. Heavy-duty components also add to the weight, which is no bad thing on a DVD player as this can have a damping effect on vibration and reduce chassis resonance.

 

Video quality is excellent, little detail is lost in dark and moody scenes like the opening sequences in Batman & Robin but it really shows what it can do with lots of colour, light and movement and the traffic cone sequence in Toy Story 2 reveals just how good state of the art animation has become. Movie sound is pin-sharp, revealing lots of subtle little details but it swings effortlessly into action blockbuster mode, packing the explosions and gunfire in The Matrix with impact and energy. The best it saves for audio CD sound, which compares favourably with high-end audio components. Bright classical pieces come alive with a big vibrant sound, which also suits gutsy rock and pop tracks. A real smooth operator, the best of both words, it's pricey but it delivers the goods.

 

Arcam 01223 203216

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, HDCD playback, multi-speed replay, 3-stage picture zoom, 3-scene bookmark, multi function remote (Arcam products only)

 

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

 

BOX COPY

HDCD or high definition compatible digital is a kind of Mk II audio CD. It uses a 20-bit coding scheme to increase the amount of detail in a recording, taking it closer to the original sound. Unlike the new digital audio formats intended to replace compact disc, HDCD discs can be played on ordinary CD players, and enthusiasts claim they actually sound better. However, to get the full effect the player needs to have the additional processor circuitry, creating a more sharply focused soundfield and richer, more natural sounding vocals and instruments.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

ARCAM DIVA DV88   

£                                  £900

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            smart stylish looks, outstanding AV performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       -

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

DENON DVD-300 £1000

This rather smart looking player -- with a price tag to match -- is based on a set of Panasonic components. In fact the specification is remarkably similar to at least two other players in this group, from Panasonic and Technics with DVD-Audio replay as one of the main selling points, and home cinema audio features that includes on-board Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 channel digital surround decoders.

 

In common with the Panasonic A7 and Technics A10 it's a hefty little beast though in this instance almost all of the extra weight is down to a metal plate bolted to the bottom of the case. This is meant to damp out vibration coming from the deck mechanism and from whatever it is standing on. Additional screening is provided for the DVD-Video processor board. The remote handset is a bit of a let down. It's a standard Denon item and a real swine to use, mainly due to the size of the buttons, and in particular the microscopic 'Select' button in the middle of the four cursor keys. To add salt to the wound we found that the handsets supplied with the Panasonic and Technics players will control this machine.

 

The control system and on-screen displays all have a familiar ring to them. Our sample appeared to have a firmware glitch. During DVD-Video replay the picture disappears – as it is supposed to do – when the 'Audio Only' button is pressed but it won't come back and the only way to restore it is to switch the machine off and on again. Otherwise it behaved impeccably and features like picture search and slow motion replay are very responsive, allowing the user to quickly move through a recording, or analyse a scene – frame by frame if necessary -- in minute detail. 

 

Panasonic's picture processing circuitry does it usual very competent job, producing a clean well-defined image. The fast-moving and dimly-lit cityscape battle scenes in Godzilla yields all kinds of little details that other players miss out and there's enough leeway in the manual picture controls to fine-tune it for just about any type of material or display device. Audio CDs come alive and it exposes added depth to raunchy tracks like Blondie's Maria and Double Take, but with none of the harshness that afflicts so many other DVD players.

 

You would need to be a real Denon fan to fork out a grand on this machine. Good though it is, you can get pretty much the same spec and performance for a good deal less.

 

Denon (01753) 888447

 

FEATURES

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

 

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

 

BOX COPY

It used to be called badge engineering, where near identical products would appear under a variety of different brand names, often at widely differing prices. These days it's a bit more sophisticated, in DVD-land companies can play a sophisticated game of mix and match with components, chassis and front panel designs, and the chances of two players sharing precisely the same physical and technical spec is quite small. Nevertheless, in instances where key audio and video components are shared basic AV performance is likely to be very similar too, and in the end that's what you are paying for! 

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

Denon DVD-300

£                                  £1000

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

 

KENWOOD DVF-R7030, £800    

Purists sometimes get a bit sniffy about auto-changer deck mechanisms but it is clear from the DVF-R7030 that in this instance it has no effect on AV performance, though it does have a significant impact on size, and it's the biggest (though not quite the heaviest) player in this roundup. One unwelcome consequence of this machine's larger than average cabinet is the thin flimsy top panel, which is undamped and given half a chance can resonate alarmingly.

 

The 5-disc carousel auto-changer is the one of two headline features on this player; the other is a DVD Audio decoder. The R7030's DVD-Video features are based around Panasonic processing components, and include on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoding. The audio side of things is almost all down to Kenwood and includes its DRIVE (Dynamic Resolution Intensive Vector Enhancement), 24-bit processing DAC technology. Another interesting audio feature is the 'Pure Audio' button on the front panel; it switches off all of the video processing circuitry when playing audio-only material, to avoid the possibility of interference. The button lights up and it is very bright indeed, annoyingly so in fact, and there's appears to be a glitch in the control system, that locks the on-screen displays when the button is lit.

 

Operationally the player is no more complicated to use than a single disc machine and discs can be changed whilst one is playing. The auto-changer mechanism is almost silent, even when switching discs, however unlike most single disc decks, you can't manually push the loading tray back in, which is slightly inconvenient.

 

The on-screen graphics are clear and easy to read but the little remote handset can be awkward. The joystick cursor control is a good idea but secondary functions are colour coded and have to be accessed by flipping a switch on the side.

 

DVD-Video replay is fine and it handles tricky low light shots with lots of movement -- like Neo's fight training in the Matrix -- with ease but when it struggles, which isn't very often, it is possible to tweak the picture to suit almost any type of display and viewing condition.  Audio CDs sound big and roomy even though bass levels are quite modest. Instruments and vocals are clearly focused on light and airy tracks like Beautiful South's 'Don't Marry Her' and the R7030 will not disgrace itself hooked up to a high-end audio system. Some genuinely useful features, great AV and worth considering if you fancy a punt on DVD-Audio succeeding.

 

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

For some strange reason CD and DVD players with auto-changer deck mechanisms have never been very popular in the UK. For the terminally lazy and aspiring couch potatoes they are very convenient and with a 5-disc model you can pretty well settle your evening's viewing or listening, without once having to get up off your bum. True, there were pretty awful CD auto-changers around a few years ago but performance is not an issue in this case and the actual deck on the R7030 is as good as any you'll find on a mid to top-end player this side of £1000.

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

Kenwood DVF-R7030              

£                                  £800

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

MARANTZ DV-17, £1300

A heavy-duty chassis and casework that looks as though it has been hewn from a single ingot of aluminium gives the DV-17 an air of solidity. It hears a very close resemblance to its US cousin, the DV-18 with which it shares a number of key features, including coveted THX Ultra certification, advanced audio and video processing and copper shielded HDAMs (high definition amplifier modules), which basically means Marantz has gone to considerable trouble to ensure top quality CD audio from this player. In keeping with the well-established traditions for high-end AV components the DV-17 is a gadget-free zone, nor does it have any on-board digital surround decoding, just plain vanilla mixed stereo and optical and coaxial digital bitstream outputs. The only small concession to connectivity is a headphone socket and a level control on the front panel.

 

Playback facilities are confined to a routine set of picture search and slomo modes, there are no user controls for sound or picture over and above the basics; on-screen displays are plain and to the point. The remote control handset starts out well with well-spaced and clearly labelled buttons but a microscopic four-way joystick for DVD cursor control spoils it. It's much too fiddly and half the time you end up selecting the wrong thing.

 

The audio spec contains no real surprise or notable innovations and fans of Marantz's high-end audio components will feel right at home, and no doubt welcome the fact that it is compatible with the brand's D-Bus remote control for a high level of system integration.

 

Images are crisp and revealing even the bright colours computer generated characters and backgrounds in Toy Story 2 manage appear natural-looking colours and the wide dynamic range reveals a wealth of hidden background detail in the Nebuchadnezzar's control room in The Matrix. Movie soundtracks are sharply rendered, subtle low-level sounds are cleanly picked out, whether this is due to THX Ultra certification or just careful design is open to debate. Audio CDs have a pleasingly rounded sound though gutsy bass-heavy material like Blondie's Screaming Skin does have a slightly rough edge to it.

 

It looks great, AV performance will satisfy demanding movie and audio CD fans in equal measure but for the thick end of £1300 we had hoped for something a little more dramatic, and it has to be said that similarly capable players are available for the same or even less money.

 

Marantz 01753 680868

 

FEATURES 100

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, THX certified, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, twin laser pickup, condition memory, digital video noise reduction, picture controls

 

AV out – composite & RGB -- (SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo digital stereo, coaxial bitstream, external remote control (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), headphones (jack)

 

 

BOX COPY

The fact that relatively few DVD manufacturers submit equipment for THX certification rightly suggests that the test routines are very stringent. The video checks alone involve over 100 measurements to determine picture sharpness, colour purity, brightness and contrast. However, many of the most demanding tests are focused on a player's audio performance, looking in detail at technical parameters like frequency response, noise, distortion, channel mixing and balance and digital to analogue conversion. Detailed checks are also made on the player's control system, on-screen menus and AV connections.

 

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            5

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MARANTZ DV-17        

£                                  £1300

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Accomplished performer but outrageously expensive

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       --

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

PANASONIC DVD-A7, £700

The styling of Panasonic products tends to be fairly neutral and generally passes without too much comment but the company seems have made a determined effort to give its top-end DVD player some front panel personality, and we suspect help to justify what looks like a rather hefty price tag. Shiny gold trim and a pair of soft blue up-lighters set this machine apart from most other DVD players but it's a bit fussy for our liking and detracts from the real reason behind the highish price, which is the on-board DVD-Audio decoder.

 

When the A7 was launched late last year it was only the second DVD-Audio player to reach these shores but apart from that the core specification is fairly ordinary. The only extras of note – at least as far as DVD-Video replay is concerned -- is built-in Dolby Digital and dts decoders and it comes with a multi-brand TV remote. Panasonic has put a lot of effort into this player's audio facilities and the A7 has advanced signal processing a heavy-duty power supply and uprated chassis components, to dampen vibration.

 

An audio-only mode cuts out all of the video circuitry to lessen the chances of processor noise creeping into the audio channels. The remote handset and on-screen displays are a both old friends, it's mostly very easy to use and it has a good set of trick play facilities. The variable speed picture search and slow motion replay are both very smooth indeed and it moves effortlessly – and with only a fraction of a second's delay – from forward to reverse and search to slomo speeds.

 

Picture quality is comparable with other Panasonic players we've seen recently, which means resolution and colour fidelity are both above average, you can see every pimple on Arnie/Mr Freeze's face in the all too frequent close-ups in Batman & Robin. Contrast is well balanced with low level details revealed during excessively light and dark sequences. There's a refreshing lightness of touch with most CDs, that suits the delicate strains and high-speed fiddling of Saint Saens; sharp edges are softened, and tracks like The Beautiful South's Blackbird on the Wire sound warmer and more involving than usual.

 

The A7 is slightly odd mixture, build quality and performance are good but the video facilities are a bit ordinary and we're really not sure about the front panel, but if you fancy the idea of DVD-Audio it deserves to be considered.

 

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

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital, dts & DVD-Audio decoders, multi-speed replay, 5-scene bookmark, 3D sound, multi-brand TV control functions, picture controls

 

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

 

BOX COPY

One of the more distinctive features of Panasonic DVD players, and the many other models that use the same processing components, is the very simple on-screen display system. Unusually in such a fast-moving technology its appearance has changed very little in the past four years and the OSD on the A7 looks pretty much the same as the one on the DVD-A100, launched in the UK in the Summer of 1997. The fact that it has remained largely unchained suggests that Panasonic got it more or less right first time…

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            5

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

Panasonic DVD-A7

 

£                                  £700

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

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

 

 

T+A PULSAR DVD-1210R, £1700

In addition to being one of the heaviest DVD players on the market, and clearly built to withstand nuclear attack, the DVD-1210R is also one of the most expensive and will set you back a wallet-numbing £1700. T+A Elektroakustik, in true German stereotypical style, set out to produce a DVD player that sounded as good as one of its top-notch CD players. No expense seems to have been spared, from the heavyweight chassis and damped deck mechanism to the use of some highly exotic filtration circuitry and extensive internal shielding surrounding critical components.

 

Looking through the features list DVD playback seems almost to be an ancillary function though T+A hasn't skimped on components, like the dual laser deck mechanism and AV processor, which uses the ST Omega single chip decoder. Movie replay features include a decent set of trick play modes (4-speed slomo and picture search up to x32); our sample was enabled for multi-region replay (but don't bank on that being a standard feature). It has no on-board digital surround decoders but there is an SRS 3D pseudo sound option, which seems completely out of place on a player of this class, however, it's a built-in function of the Omega decoder and T+A obviously didn't want it to go to waste.

 

Nevertheless, it's the audio side, which takes top billing and T+A has carried across many of the features used on its CD players. These include a novel programmable signal processor with a set of five oversampling filters, which allows the user to fine-tune the sound according to the type of material, and it has a separate digital stereo output (in addition to the coaxial and optical bitstream outputs for surround sound), so it can be connected to an external D/A (digital to analogue) converter.

 

Dark and busy set piece sequences like Godzilla's last stand on Brooklyn Bridge are satisfactorily rendered, picture quality is generally very good, the contrast range is fine and it does a very fair job on the bright and heavily saturated colours in Toy Story 2. CD Audio is a real treat; rarely will you hear such warm rich and involving sounds. Blondie's thumping Under the Gun comes across with the same sense of clarity and precision as the soaring violin in Saint Saens' Rondo Capriccioso.  

 

It's a mad price for a DVD player but if you think of it as a top notch CD player that also plays DVDs it starts to make some sense.

 

BBG Distribution, 020 8863 9117

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts compatible, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, dual laser pickup, 5-mode FIR (finite impulse response) filter, separate digital stereo and surround outputs

 

AV out – composite & RGB -- (SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo digital stereo and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), R-Link remote control (RJ45)

 

BOX COPY

A sampling rate converter with five switchable conversion algorithms is not something you come across every day but if your hi-fi system cost as much as a small house then you'll probably appreciate the following, pay attention now, we'll be asking questions later….

 

Mode 1 is the standard ' Long FIR' (finite impulse response) filter, giving a linear response. Filter 1 (Short FIR) yields lower pre and post processing echoes. Filter 2 is an 8th order IIR, to compliment instrumental pieces. Filter 3 is a combination Bezier/IIR filter with virtually no pre echo, a flat frequency response and no treble loss and Filter 4 is a plain old Bezier filter with no pre or post echo, linear phase and a slight treble roll-off.  

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            5

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

T+A PULSAR DVD-1210R      

£                                  £1700

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Outstanding audio performance, an incredible price but it does play DVDs!

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       --

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

 

TECHNICS DVD-A10, £

If you think you've noticed a certain similarity between the Panasonic A7 and the Technics A10 you are right. The specifications are broadly the same; they are both top-end DVD-Audio players with on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoding and the front panel layouts, down to the soft blue lights are almost identical. However, if pick each of them up you may well think otherwise. The A10 feels as though it weighs at least twice as much as the A7, which must mean it is packed to the gunwales with lots of extra heavy-duty features, right?

 

Well, sort of, though we estimate around 80% of the extra weight on the A10 is accounted for by a moulded base panel, screwed to the underside of the machine, filled with nothing more technical than a couple of mild steel plates. This undoubtedly has a dampening effect on the chassis, helping to neutralise vibration and eliminate resonance, but fortunately – in view of the remarkable price differential between these two machines -- there is a little more to it. Whereas the A7 is powered by a bog standard mains module the A10 has separate power supplies for the digital and analogue circuitry. The second power supply has it own chunky little mains transformer, which helps bump up the weight and there's extra shielding around the video processor board. Apart from that we could see little or no difference between the core processing components used in these machines, which may account for the similarities in audio and video performance.

 

On all operation levels the two machines are peas from the same pod with identical on-screen displays and controls, even the handset is the same, though the one supplied with the A10 has been given a lick of sliver paint. It's a bit light on gadgets and secondary features but well endowed with the important stuff, like a good assortment of trick play features, user picture controls and easy to navigate on-screen menus.

 

DVD-Video is well up to current mid/top end standards, configured to compliment the widest range of material, from the claustrophobic dank of the Bat Cave to the dazzling South Sea aerial sequences at the beginning of Godzilla. Our moderately well tuned ears could detect no differences between the A10 and A7 sound systems, certainly audio CDs sounded excellent and again there's a sense that performance has been tailored to cope with the broadest possible spectrum of music. Of course it is possible the weighty base may have an impact on some system, however, unless you are particularly drawn by the A10's cosmetics and extra weight we suggest you stick with the A7.

 

Technics (01344) 862444

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital, dts & DVD-Audio decoders, multi-speed replay, 5-scene bookmark, 3D sound, picture controls, multi-brand TV control functions

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Vibration can be a real problem with DVD and CD players. Even a small amount can affect the performance of electronic components and cause the laser pickup to deviate, all of which can have a noticeable effect on picture and sound quality. Vibration can come from many sources, from the player itself (e.g. a wonky disc), and from the system's speakers making the player or the stand it's sitting on resonate. Stiffening the chassis, adding extra weight and damping pads to large panels can all help reduce the effects of vibration.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

Technics DVD-A10

£                                  £

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE

 

 

TOSHIBA SD-900EE, £1300

It's always a little bit risky to label any product as 'The Ultimate' this or that, but it's a chance we're willing to take with the Toshiba SD-900EE, for the moment at least... It's almost certainly the best-equipped player to date, and arguably the most solidly built, but it's the tech spec that is going to get serious DVD fans mouths watering. The star of the show is a comprehensive set of video outputs, that includes 480p progressive scan component video, for what promises to be outstanding picture quality, which sounds exciting but it only makes sense on players that can play R1 NTSC discs, which the SD-900 is 'officially' not able to do.  However, the bit we're interested in here is its audio facilities, and they are most impressive, with DVD-Audio and HDCD replay plus the kind of attention to detail usually reserved for hand-built mega-buck hi-fi components.

 

There's a wealth of secondary features and a good few toys, like a variable zoom control, still image grabber to create you own background, strobe play and multi-screen chapter index. There's a full set of picture controls variable speed playback controlled from a discreet button on the side of the remote handset (it'll also control a range of other maker's TVs), picture noise reduction, and plenty more besides. But forget all that, £1300 also buys one of the slickest deck loading mechanisms we've seen in a while. It's a real conversation stopper, press the open close button and the display panel smoothly descends and the disc tray silently emerges.

 

Progressive scan is something we'll be looking at in much more detail when we have some suitable display devices to try it on but even plain old interleaved S-Video and RGB video connections on this machine look fantastic, bringing out the full vibrant colours in Toy Story 2 and capturing every small detail in sharp relief, picking out the spent shells spewing from the helicopter when Neo rescues Morpheus in The Matrix. Super sharp detail and one of the widest dynamic ranges we've seen on any player, brightening up gloomy scenes to almost cinematic levels.

 

Audio CD is very good, it tackles orchestral pieces with ease, big and fast bass-heavy tracks, like Blondie's Forgive and Forget retain all of their energy and drive and it manages to give a very convincing impression of a high end hi-fi component.

 

On reflection it is probably unwise to burden the SD900 with the ultimate tag, but it's surely the main contender and just now we can't think of anything better!

 

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

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital, dts & DVD-Audio decoders, HDCD compatible, 525p & 480p progressive scan, multi-speed replay, picture zoom, 5-scene bookmark, 3D sound, multi-screen display, digital noise reduction, still image capture multi-brand TV remote

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Progressive scan is taking off big time in the US but thus far it only applies to NTSC discs. Only Toshiba has shown any interest in marketing equipment in the UK market and very few TVs and projects have the necessary component video inputs and processing circuitry. Progressive scan is how PC displays work, the image is rock solid and flicker free, unlike the 'interlaced' TV picture we're used to. Progressive scan is also the native format for movies on DVD and under ideal conditions image quality compares favourably with the original film.

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            5

Features                       5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

£                                  £1300

VERDICT                      5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD/DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD/Dig

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE

 

BOX COPY – BUDGET DIFFERENCES

 

In most home entertainment technologies there is a fair spread of prices, reflecting often quite wide variations in specification and performance but with DVD players the gap between the cheapest and dearest models cannot be accounted for simply by AV quality. Even a budget player – and the £100 deck is almost with us – can deliver near broadcast quality pictures moreover once high-end features, like Dolby Digital and dts multi-channel surround sound decoders are appearing on sub £200 players, so what's the justification for spending £1000 or more on a player?

 

One thing is for certain, spending that sort of money on a high-end DVD player is not going to buy you a big increase in picture performance, certainly not in the way there is between VCRs, for example, but there will be differences and they're mostly to do with sound quality, especially when playing audio CDs. You won't need a trained ear to spot them, but you will need a decent hi-fi system, in other words there's little point in spending a vast wedge of cash on a high-end DVD player unless you already have or intend buying an audio system to match.

 

On a high-end player key components, such as the deck mechanism and processing electronics will naturally be top-grade items but the really big differences concern the audio circuitry and players from the leading hi-fi companies will usually incorporate the latest innovations in CD processing and dual or split power supplies to separate and isolate the analogue and digital signal paths within the machine.

 

Chassis design can contribute to sound quality and the majority of top-end players are built using heavier gauge materials, usually with additional bracing to strengthen the structure. Key components, like the deck mechanism will be supported on vibration absorbing mounts and large panels will have damping pads.

 

Audio performance is obviously very important but it isn't the only criteria though, and even a cursory look at the front panels of the cheapest and most expensive players reveals some telling differences, many budget players look the part! Then there's the name badge, currently there are almost 100 different brands of DVD player on the UK market and a good half of them you may not have heard of before. A few of them may be familiar to audio enthusiasts but the majority are new to the technology, and the UK and the more cautious amongst you may well wonder what some of these new company's service and backup facilities are like?

 

DVD is like everything else, you tend to get what you pay for; spending more might not get you a dramatically better looking picture, but it can get you superb sound, and if that's something you take seriously it's worth digging deep!

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2001, 3001

 

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