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GROUP TEST HE 96

 

DVD PLAYERS

 

HARMAN KARDON DVD-10
So far Harmon Kardon has adopted a fairly conservative approach towards DVD and the general specification of its second player, the DVD-10, differs little from its almost equally basic predecessor (DVD-1). Nevertheless the price, which is still on the high side for an entry-level machine, is now more in line with players from other well-known hi-fi and AV brands.

 

The cosmetics are obviously designed to blend in with HK's range of hi-fi component so it's fairly restrained with just the odd touch of gold trim here and there. There's not a lot to see on the feature list either, just a set of basic facilities plus a 9-scene bookmark and a remote control handset with light-up buttons. However, there is one very welcome hidden extra and that's a hackable region lock (see Xtra Info), which can be set to playback Region 1 discs from the US (or any other region for that matter).

 

DVD playback provides no surprises, good or bad, the picture is very clean, colours are sharp and well defined but contrast is skewed towards well-lit scenes which means dark and dingy sequences -- the helicopter attack in Godzilla for example -- looks fairly murky and some fine detail and colours are lost. It has no problem with rapid changes in brightness or movement, the destruction of the Machine in Contact is a case in point and it does a great job of capturing the explosion and the fragments flying through the air; on some budget players it's just a blur. Slow motion replay is smooth and picture search is fine too, as far as it goes, sadly the top speed is only 16x and skimming through discs without resorting to chapter skip can be hard going.

 

Audio outputs are standard-issue analogue stereo and digital bitstream, the former has average amounts of background hiss, it's far from intrusive and effects on Dolby Surround soundtracks are capable of packing quite a punch when heard through a decent AV amp and speakers. It's a similar story with the digital outputs and you won’t be disappointed if you hook the player up to an 5.1 channel AV amp and some meaty speakers. Audio CD replay is satisfactory, more mid-market than top-end but it shouldn't displease most users.

 

There's little doubt that the DVD-10 will be warmly welcomed by loyal HK fans and it is a perfectly respectable player but we suspect the unremarkable price and low feature count may limit its appeal in the wider market.

 

Contact: Harman Kardon, 020 8731 4600, www.harman.com

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see Xtra info), PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 9-scene bookmark, illuminated remote handset, audio cables supplied

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The region code hack for the Harmon Kardon DVD-10 is slightly unusual in that there are no on-screen indications that it has worked, nor – as far as we are aware – is there a way to enable all-region playback -- but it's quick, simple and reliable. With the player switched on and no disc loaded press the following buttons on the remote handset: 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2 followed by the region code number you wish to select (i.e. 1 for the US and 2 for Europe etc.), the front panel should say 'Power On'; press the Standby button, switch back on again and its done. 

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

HARMAN KARDON DVD-10        

£                                  £299

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Decent enough entry-level player but quite pricey for what it is

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

JVC XV-E100

JVC are keen to point out that the XV-E100 is part of its new Cinema 100 system and naturally enough would prefer it if was bought with a matching cool green TV, AV amp (RX-E100) and speakers (SP-X100 & SP-PW100 powered sub-woofer), nevertheless it is available as a stand-alone component and that's the context in which we'll be reviewing it. It's a moderately well equipped budget/entry level player and thanks to the classy cosmetics, sharp styling and slim line cabinet it looks a lot more expensive than it is.

 

The only feature that qualifies as a luxury is Digest. This is an old favourite on JVC players and it displays a screen full of nine thumbnail sized stills 'grabbed' from the start of each chapter. It works like the chapter select feature on many DVDs, but it's not as quick, nevertheless it can be useful on discs that do not have that facility. Otherwise it's all fairly routine stuff with a picture zoom, JVC's 3D Phonic pseudo surround, Theatre Position that jiggles picture brightness and contrast levels and Strobe, which displays a sequence of thumbnailed stills to capture rapid movement. It's one of those features that look impressive but inevitably rarely gets used.

 

None of the three Theatre Position settings did much for the player's contrast balance, which is biased in favour of bright, well-lit material. The movie Seven is dark throughout, in more ways than one, and on the XV-E100 it looks even gloomier than usual and a lot of detail is lost in the shadows. Pop in Toy Story 2 and it comes alive, colours are vividly reproduced and the quality of the animation and the detail in the characters and background really shows through.

 

Background noise on the analogue stereo soundtrack is very slightly below average for a budget player leaving plenty of room for Dolby Surround material and the coaxial and optical bitstream outputs are there if you need them, providing a clean digital feed for an external 5.1 decoder.

 

The system approach has much commend it from the standpoints of convenience and looks and from what we've seen and heard of the rest of the Cinema 100 components it works well too, even so the E100 stands on its own merits. We have some slight reservations about picture quality on some types of material but it's not too serious and the picture controls on most TVs should be able to bring the picture back into line. A good-looking little player from an A-brand manufacturer and a price that's fair

 

Contact: JVC UK 0870 330 5000, www.jvc.co.uk

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D Phonic spatial sound, strobe, picture zoom, chapter digest, Theatre Position picture preset

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

For obvious reasons the integrated system approach is very popular with manufacturers though it's a tough concept to sell to consumers, many of whom already have a perfectly good or recently purchased TV, AV amplifier or speakers, which they may be reluctant to replace. The main benefits, however, are that all of the parts of the system are designed to work with one another (though there have been exceptions in the past…), everything is operable from just one remote control, and it looks better because all of the bits match.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            smart system component, fairly basic but good value        

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

MARANTZ DV4100
The Marantz brand carries a lot of weight and its high-end Audio and video kit gets the respect it deserves but it's a slightly different story further down the range. The DV4100 bears a remarkable resemblance to some of Philips most recent offerings and the DVD-722 entry-level player in particular, with which it shares a good number of features. 

 

The give-aways are the cranky on-screen displays and operating system which have the same funny little ways, like the fact that when you use picture zoom the picture freezes, chapter skip and picture search share the same buttons and half of the search speeds and all slomo speeds are buried deep in the almost incomprehensible on-screen menu.

 

At least the socketry situation is not as bad as it has been on some Philips machines and this one has a full set of analogue and digital connections. It also has a reasonably effective 3D sound mode and it looks quite smart too with the case's lightly rounded corners and neat control layout. It has no special or unusual features, apart from FTS or favourite rack selection, which stores up to 20 track/chapter selections for an unspecified number of discs.

 

It's not the liveliest player on the market in fact it's quite sluggish at times and the layout of the remote handset doesn’t help. One other thing it shares with the Philips players and that's audio and video performance, which in both cases rates as quite good, but not spectacular. Men in Black, which has its fair share of low-light scenes, like the tunnel sequence, comes across well and it manages to resolve a fair amount of detail and texture. At the other end of the scale in brightly lit shots – the helicopter escape in The Matrix for instance -- it manages to capture fine graduations in colour and shade.

 

With only format standard mixed stereo and bitstream outputs audio performance is largely in the hands of the equipment it's connected to since both analogue and digital outputs are neutral in character. Unlike it's close Philips relative the DV4100 cannot play MP3 files on CD-Rs but it does have a fair crack at audio CD replay, which also lacks any serious flaws so it stands comparison with most mid-market CD players.

 

The 4100 is clearly a niche filler for Marantz and gives the company a presence at the cheaper end of the market. It's okay but the problem is very similar players – without the Marantz badge of course -- are available for substantially less.

 

Contact: Marantz 01753 680 868, www.marantz.co.uk

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, FTS (favourite track selection), picture zoom, SCART & AV cables included

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

Once you get past AV performance one of the main areas that can make or break a DVD player is its control system and remote handset. The DV4100 suffers on both counts. The on-screen displays and menus rely totally on graphics and icons, most of which are completely meaningless. The remote control is a mess with important functions like Play and Search confined to small badly labelled grey buttons whilst things like the near useless zoom and language selection get big, easy to find orange buttons…

 

Overall              3

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MARANTZ DV4100

£                                  £400

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Pricey and cranky but satisfactory AV performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

PIONEER DV-545 -- BADGE WINNER

On the surface the DV-545 looks very much like it's slightly cheaper stablemate, the DV-444 (HE95), it has the same ultra-slim cabinet – a mere 55mm thick  -- and the same basic assortment of convenience features, in fact the only obvious differences are an extra SCART socket on the rear panel and the remote handset, which features a large rotary jog dial with a tiny joystick in the middle and light-up transport buttons.

 

Much of the video and audio processing circuitry is also the same, and that includes a set of manual and preset picture adjustments but there are a couple of significant additions that should please those wishing to cut the box count and use their DVDs to play CD audio discs, without making too many compromises on sound quality. The first is Legato PRO; this is a proprietary system that Pioneer claims restores some of the high frequency sounds lost during the mastering of CDs and DVDs. The second add-on is Hi-Bit, another Pioneer tweak designed to reveal extra detail in low-level sounds (see Xtra Info for more details).

 

Apart from that the features are pretty much the same as the DV-444, which is fine unless you are a serious gadget fan in which case you will be sorely disappointed. Nevertheless there are a few settings and adjustments to play around with, like the picture controls, and these can be stored as personal preferences, to match your display device and/or viewing conditions and as such are definitely worth having. So too is the TrueSound spatial effect, especially if the player is going to be used with an ordinary stereo TV. As a matter of interest the 545 can also replay MP3 recordings but the best is yet to come.

 

That's picture quality, which is quite simply excellent! It copes with just about anything you and Hollywood can throw at it, in particular it excels at extracting the fine detail that budget players generally loose in the mush of gloomy scenes. A good example of that are the opening sequences in Batman & Robin, set in the Bat Cave, which the 545 shows is bristling with texture and colour. Equally important, it is completely unfazed by scenes contain fast changes and extremes of brightness, intense colours and rapid movement. It doesn't miss a beat in the airport chase in Toy Story 2 or the funky wormhole journey in Contact and it's ability to render delicate shades and subtle skin tones marks it out as one of the year's top performers.

 

It's no slouch when it comes to the sound side of things and the extra audio processing appears to be earning its keep. Movie soundtracks emerge in pristine condition on both the analogue stereo and digital bitstream outputs, it really needs to be used with a decent AV amp/decoder to get the best out of it, preferably a Dolby Digital/dts model but even analogue Dolby Surround sounds good with effects, big and small sounding clean and well focused.  Background hiss, which can ruin a soundtrack, especially if it contains a lot of quiet passages, is very well suppressed. Audio CDs also benefit from the extra processing, the differences are a fairly subtle but they're there if you listen, and of the two enhancements Legato PRO is the most effective with a noticeably crisper sounding treble and midrange.

 

The 545 is outstanding machine with no real shortcomings though in the scheme of things it is borderline pricey but this is one occasion where it's worth paying the extra and this is one of those very rare beasts, a genuine all-rounder that excels in both DVD and audio CD playback.

 

Contact: Pioneer, (01753) 789789, www.pioneer.co.uk

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, TrueSound 3D sound, Legato PRO digital filter, picture controls, condition memory, shortcut menu, illuminated remote handset, audio cables supplied

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

Legato PRO, or to give it its full name, Legato Link Conversion and Hi Bit are two audio enhancements, developed by Pioneer for use on its cassette decks and CD players. There is a small but noticeable improvement in DVD and CD audio but how and why it works is steeped in the usual impenetrable jargon. According to the blurb Legato PRO restores high frequency information by monitoring the signal, calculating where it judges the lost sounds should be, and inserting the new information to produce a smoother signal. Hi Bit extends the dynamic range of the affront stereo channels by requantising 16 and 20 bit data to a 24-bit signal.

 

Overall              5

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            5

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PIONEER DV-545      

£                                  £330

VERDICT                      5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Excellent all-rounder

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

SAMSUNG DVD-105

When it comes to bringing down the cost of home entertainment hardware Samsung has always done it's fair share but the recently launched DVD-105 goes well beyond the call of duty. With only format standard audio facilities it ranks as an entry-level player but this machine has a feature line-up that would put some machines costing twice as much to shame.

 

It doesn't look like a budget player either, the slim case has crisp lines and a clean uncluttered fascia, even the remote control looks as though someone has put a little bit of extra thought and effort into its design. Notable extras include chapter digest, which displays a menu of thumbnail stills, it has a 3D spatial sound mode, 2-stage picture zoom and picture search up to 128x normal play.

 

There's no shortage of secondary features, like a 3-scene bookmark, there's a volume control on the remote handset, Screen Fit expands the picture to suite different display formats, slow repeat replays a sequence in slow motion and we've saved the best bit for last, the Region code can be changed with a simple handset hack (see Xtra info). Before we get too carried away it has to be said that the DVD-105 is not perfect and there's one obvious omission on the back panel and that's a second SCART socket, which could be a nuisance on some setups.

 

Back to the good stuff and the icing on the cake is AV performance. It's not going to set any new records but it's at least as good as most other sub £250 players, and one or two that cost a good bit more. The only small quibble -- and it's by no means confined to this model -- is heavy-handed treatment of dark scenes and shadows that results in a loss of detail and a certain amount of murkiness. This shows up in the cityscape and chase sequences in The Fifth Element, the interiors of Bruce Willis's cab and the police cruisers are lost in the gloom but when the light comes on, like the street crossing scene in Toy Story 2 it has no problem whatsoever capturing finely graduated colours and textures.

 

Audio is fine, there no more than average amounts of background hiss on the stereo outputs and the digital outputs were similarly clean. Audio CD replay is okay as well, and it compares well with the decks fitted to most budget/mid-range hi-fi systems. 

 

It works well, it looks okay, it's cheap and the loose region lock is an added bonus, what more do you want?

 

Contact: Samsung 0800 521652 www.samsung.com

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see Xtra info), PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, picture zoom, chapter digest, Screen Fit, Slow Repeat, 3-scene bookmark, volume control, AV cable supplied

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

To change region codes on this machine initiate a 'cold-start' by holding down the Play and Stop button on the front panel. The language menu appears, select 1 for English then press Repeat, 3, 8, 7, 6, 7. The number 02 appears on the screen, enter 9 for all regions or the Region number of your choice then Open/Close and Standby on the player. Incidentally the S-Video output when playing R1 discs was in NTSC on our sample but the composite was PAL so it can be used on any TV.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  3

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

£                                  £159

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Basic audio but mid-range features for a budget price

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

SONY DVP NS400 £330 – BADGE WINNER
Sony's flair for innovative styling and design may not be much in evidence on the NS400 but it is still a handsome machine, and it gets better the closer you look, especially when you come to the features list which includes an on-board Dolby Digital 5.1 channel digital surround decoder. Now we all know that these days digital surround processors add little or nothing to the price and in a lot of cases it is more convenient to have the decoder separate from the player -- usually in an AV amplifier -- even so it's not to be sniffed at and it can only add to the flexibility of the system it is going to be used with.

 

Before you ask you can't change the region coding on this or any of Sony's DVD players. They're locked solid and the only way around it is to buy a 'chipped' model, or have the player modified. In both instances you will invalidate the manufacturer's warranty, so think carefully before you do it!

 

The Dolby Digital decoder goes some way towards explaining the price but it's by no means exorbitant and actually quite restrained by Sony standards. In addition to digital surround you also get a useful set of convenience features, like Chapter Digest, which creates a visual menu of sub screens from the start of each chapter, then there's a small assortment of sound modes, including pseudo surround for puffing up the sound from a stereo TV. Also included is an unusually colourful on-screen display system called Magic Pad and it comes with a multi-brand TV remote (it can also control the main functions on a number of other maker's AV amplifiers).

 

 

 

Whilst the control system is generally easy to use it does get bit convoluted in places and some features can be quite difficult to get at. Accessing the Chapter Digest and speaker setup menus for example, can take 15 and 20 button presses respectively. Some of the on-screen displays also take a bit of getting used to, like the three mode picture search which shows '2x', then '1' and '2' as the speed increases.

 

Any minor gripes we might have had with the way the NS400 operates and -- to a lesser extent – the cosmetics, are quickly forgotten when you see what's on the screen. It does an excellent job with dark scenes; the interior of Poison Ivy's lab in Batman & Robin and the illegal alien sequence right at the beginning of Men in Black -- which takes place at night -- are good examples of what it can do and show up the player's ability to pick out fine details and colours under difficult conditions. It gets even better in brighter scenes producing a noticeably sharper picture than many similarly specified players, Toy Story is a joy to watch and it's also a dab hand at rendering skin tones, shades and textures nor does it have any problems with fast changes in brightness and explosions, or rapid movement.

 

The Dolby Digital decoder works well, at least as good as those used in most mid-market AV amplifiers; all channels are cleanly separated and the processing appears to be free of any artefacts. Background noise levels on the analogue stereo output are a little lower than usual and only really noticeable at very high volume levels or during very quiet passages. Audio CD replay is good for a DVD player, well inside the mid to top-end hi-fi system ballpark and it could even give a few dedicated CD players a run for their money.

 

Sony products tend to be quite distinctive, the NS400 is one of it's more subdued offerings but there's nothing wrong with that and what it lacks in pizzazz it more than makes up for with excellent AV performance, some useful facilities and an affordable price tag.

 

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

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible output, multi-speed replay, Chapter Digest, digital cinema sound/virtual surround, playback memory, multi-brand TV/AV amp remote handset

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

One of NS400's key audio features is a twin laser pickup. This gets around the problem of DVDs and audio CDs having slightly different optical characteristics, in particular the size and pitch of the reflective pits that represent digital data. The pits on DVDs are significantly smaller than those of a DVD and whilst it is possible to use a single laser to read both types of data, separate lasers, optimised for each type of disc are less prone to errors and consequently produce a cleaner and more accurate datastream.

 

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SONY DVP-NS400D

£                                  £330

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Maybe not a classic but still a highly desirable little player

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              93/96

 

 

 

SONY DVP-NC600

DVD autochangers have been around almost since day-one but for various reasons – some of it to do with price – they've never really taken off. The DVP-NC600 brings down the cost of owning an autochanger into the budget/entry-level ballpark, and the Sony badge will doubtless inspire a good deal of confidence. Why anyone would want or need a DVD autochanger is open to debate but there is a good argument for being able to load up and listen to a stack of audio CDs – five of them in this instance – and from that point of view the NC600 has a certain appeal for those of a less energetic disposition.

 

Aside from the deck mechanism there's comparatively few extras to talk about, there's only one SCART socket, and don't expect to save much room. The box is a fair size and at 411mm deep there's quite an overhang that might prove awkward in some installations. DVD playback is very straightforward, the on-screen displays are clear and easy to follow, it has a switchable picture noise filter and a 4-mode virtual surround option (Dynamic, Wide, Standard and Night), a single button on the handset switches between discs.

 

The autochanger mechanism has no noticeable impact on picture or sound quality and the NC600 looks and sounds as good as any of Sony's baseline models. Low-contrast shots show a fair amount of detail but it's at it best with well-lit material; scenes in the New Mexican desert in Contact give the player a thorough workout, the night-time and sunset sequences tend to look slightly flat but the daylight scenes -- when Ellie returns to the VLA observatory from Washington -- are vibrant and bursting with detail. Shades and skin tones look natural and it's particularly good with animation, the vivid colours in Toy Story, for example, leap off the screen. Our sample turned out to be more than usually intolerant towards dirty and scratched, causing the picture to pixellate and the deck to skip chapters.

 

Sony makes no special claims for the NC600's audio capabilities nor does it have any unusual or exotic features, just the bog-standard analogue and digital outputs. The stereo output has slightly lower than average levels of background noise; Dolby Surround effects have plenty of room to breath and sound great, likewise the digital outputs are as clean as a whistle. Audio CD performance is in line with mid-market hi-fi, not as pin-sharp as high-end kit but we suspect most users will find little to complain about, and the autochanger is a definite bonus for party animals and couch potatoes.

 

Contact: Sony 08705 111999, www.sony.co.uk

 

TECH SPEC

5-disc autochanger, Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, picture noise reduction, multi-brand TV remote

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

Autochangers have had a bit of a mixed history and in recent years have been most often associated with the CD players on midi hi-fi systems. In theory an autochanger should have no impact on performance as all they do is move discs around and play no part in reading the data from the disc but a few of the cheaper examples have gained bit of reputation for unreliability and noisy operation. That shouldn't be a problem with the one on the NC600, which is also smooth, quiet and reasonably quick.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SONY DVP-NC600 

£                                  £330

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Good value, no-frills 5-disc autochanger

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

TOSHIBA SD 210E BADGE WINNER

If only the Toshiba SD-210 had an easily disabled region lock and a second SCART it would come tantalisingly close to our notion of a perfect budget DVD player; even without those features it's going to take some beating and it sets a cracking pace that other manufacturers will find hard to match. The 210 gets off to a very good start by being small and good-looking with its clean lines and sliver/cream cosmetics and the theme continues onto the remote handset. By the way this is also a cut above the norm with (mostly) sensibly sized and positioned buttons, though the labelling can be a bit tricky to read in poor light.

 

Back to the box and one unusual feature stands out. On the back panel there's a set of component video outputs (see Xtra Info). To be honest it is of limited value to most users in the UK but it will appeal to high-end DVDers with suitably equipped TV and projectors. Other interesting extras include MP3 replay, it has a novel 4 stage zoom with a 'shrink' setting plus something you rarely see on entry level players and that's a picture equaliser control called Enhanced Picture Mode or 'EPM' that adjusts brightness, contrast and colour settings for different types of material (Animation, Movie 1 and 2 and 'Light'). There's also a set of sound options (Enhanced Audio Mode or 'EAM'), which includes 3D pseudo surround and a dialogue enhancer. Everything is controlled from an unusually easy to navigate on-screen display.

 

The SD-210 had no problems whatsoever with all of our troublesome dark and shadowy sequences, it did an excellent job of lifting fine detail and colours out of gloomy interiors in movies like The Matrix. It lights up the subway fight scene and it was so good that we ended up watching Seven through again, just to see what we missed in the backgrounds. Little details that are lost on most budget players suddenly stand out; there's a brief shot in Seven near the beginning of a street news vendor, normally it looks dull and uninteresting but on the 210 you spot things like rivulets of rain running down a lamppost. Explosions and sudden changes in brightness are handled in an equally efficient manner, the 'bug' alien crash landing in Men in Black almost makes you duck for cover and the already bright colours in Toy Story 2 – when Buzz gets capture in Al's Toy Barn and the dancing Barbies -- are extra vivid.

 

The 210's audio performance doesn't quite match the peaks achieved by the player's video processing even so it is still very good and a notch up on most of its rivals. The analogue stereo output has slightly lower than average levels of background hiss, which gives full reign to dynamic Dolby Surround effects, bass effects in particular seem to have added impact and on a good Pro Logic decoder the centre dialogue channel appears to very sharply focused. There are no problems with Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks either and the 210 will make a good partner for a decent quality 5.1 setup. Audio CD replay is perfectly okay, comparable with many budget and mid-range hi-fi decks.

 

The 210 is proof positive that you don't have to sacrifice performance at the budget end of the market. We're a bit dubious about the value of those component video outputs and we'd have preferred a second SCART socket but that really is the only criticism of an otherwise splendid little player.  

 

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

 

TECH SPEC

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

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

Component Video outputs are mostly of interest to those with high-end video projectors and serious home cinema TVs, even then it's only of benefit when replaying NTSC material. Since the 210 is Region 2 only (it can’t be hacked but it can be 'chipped') it has little more than curiosity value for most owners. However, when the conditions are right component video can give the best possible picture quality. On Region 2 PAL discs the best option is to use the player's RGB video outputs on the SCART socket, with an S-Video connection to the TV as second choice.  

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       4

 

TOSHIBA SD-210

£                                  £230

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS                

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              96

 

 

 

YAMAHA DVD-C996

The DVD-C996 is actually Yamaha's second DVD autochanger; unfortunately its predecessor, the C900 came and went before we had a proper chance to have a look at it. The C996 appears to be a fairly lightweight upgrade and has the same type of carousel type mechanism that holds up to 5 discs. A neat feature called Play XChange lets you change discs whilst one is playing. The downside to carousel mechanisms is bulk and the C996 takes up a fair amount of room plus the loading tray adds a full 27cm (10.5 inches) to its depth when it is opened, which is worth bearing in mind if it's to be used in a confined space.

 

Apart from the autochanger it is decidedly spartan with only 3D sound, a 5-scene bookmark function and gold plated contacts over and above the format basics. That should mean that it is easy to use since there are so few controls and adjustments to worry about, as indeed it would have been but for the new and rather nasty stick-like remote with 40 or so tiny identically shaped buttons. Changing discs is easy enough, each one has its own selector button but the main menu navigation keys are mixed in with all of the others and can be a real swine to find, especially in subdued lighting.

 

Dark and gloomy sequences like the fight inside the Wayne Observatory in Batman and Robin and almost all of the movie Seven reveals a fair amount of detail thanks to generally well balanced contrast, courtesy of what we suspect to be Panasonic-based processing. In lighter sequences colours are natural-looking and it copes well with graduations, subtle shades and rapid changes in brightness such as the destruction of the alien fireball towards the end of The Fifth Element.

 

Audio outputs are confined to analogue stereo and digital bitstream (coaxial and optical). Noise levels on the stereo soundtrack are on the low side of average and Dolby Surround effects come though loud and clear so no problems there. The digital output is also clean and Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks flow through unimpaired. Audio CDs sound pretty good too, quality is comparable with the better mid-range components.

 

No problems then with performance and we can live with the lack of features but there's no getting away from it, even for an autochanger it is expensive! 

 

Contact: Yamaha, (01923) 233166, www.yamaha.co.uk

 

 

TECH SPEC

5-disc autochanger with Play XChange (see text), Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, 5-scene bookmark, audio cables supplied

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

There are basically two types of DVD autochanger, the Yamaha C966 uses the commoner carousel type mechanism, where all of the discs are arranged on a rotary turntable. It's simple and reasonably quiet but the tradeoff is the size of the loading tray, which naturally makes the case a lot larger than a normal DVD player. The other, less popular system is vertical stack loading, where each disc has it's own tray, or is loaded into an internal rack. This also has an impact on the player's bulk and tends to be confined to just three discs, though 5-disc systems have been developed.

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

YAMAHA DVD-C996    

£                                  £500

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Efficient but expensive 5-disc carousel autochanger

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              96

 

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 0709

 

 

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