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GROUP TEST HE 95

 

DVD PLAYERS

 

CYBERHOME AD-L528

If you like your DVD players big and hunky, cheap and funky then you should definitely have a look at the mighty AD-L528. It's heavy too, that's mainly down to it being powered by an old-fashioned mains transformer and there is some substantial metal screening around the deck mechanism, even so the case could have been a good fifty percent smaller as it's mostly full of air.

 

Dolby Digital and dts surround decoders head up the feature list – it has to be the cheapest player with digital surround so far – there's MP3 replay as well and those of you who can make use of the player's surprisingly exotic component video outputs take note. This latter facility is in addition to conventional composite video and S-Video outputs and is mainly of interest to those with suitably equipped home cinema televisions, where a component video connection can yield a marginal improvement in picture quality on NTSC (i.e. Region 1) recordings. 

 

Also included is picture zoom with a novel picture-in-picture showing the whole image plus a set of audio adjustments (bass treble and 3D effect) though we eventually discovered that it only works on CD replay (the instructions imply otherwise). Trick play options are limited with forward only slomo and a top picture search speed of just 8x. This is disappointingly slow, one of the main attractions of any disc-based recording format is the facility to whiz through recordings at high speeds, true you can skip chapters but 8x picture search is actually slower than the picture search facility on a lot of VCRs!

 

Now for some good news, Region 1 and all-region replay is possible with a very simple handset hack. All you have to do is switch the machine on, press the open/close button to open the disc loading tray then enter the code 1999 on the handset, a 'Service' menu appears with the option to change the region lock). Since this is a 'firmware' hack and doesn't involve any modifications to the unit the warranty is not affected

 

The L528 uses one of the less common processor chipsets but picture quality isn't significantly different to that of most other budget players. Saturated colours are okay but skin tones can sometimes appear a little flat. Neo manages to look even more pallid than usual in close ups during the fight training and roof-jump scenes in the Matrix, and Jodie Foster looks positively anaemic throughout much of Contact. Some slight texturing is evident in light areas of the picture – it's not a big deal and you have to look quite hard to spot it – but we suspect some users will notice the narrowish contrast range, which tends to mask detail in less well lit sequences.

 

Digital surround decoding is generally good with the five main channels sharply defined, big set piece effects are well focused though quieter sounds can seem a little muddy. No serious complaints about the analogue stereo output, there's some low-level hiss but it's not intrusive and only just audible during really quiet passages. Audio CD performance is typical for a budget DVD player, which translates as fine for general use but a bit lightweight for serious hi-fi applications. MP3 replay is disappointing, even tracks recorded at higher bitrates sound coarse and stuttery, it should be okay for providing background sounds for parties though.

 

Come on, for that price we're not complaining, they're virtually giving it away!

 

CyberDrive, 01243 530009, www.cyberhome-europe.de/

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital and dts decoders, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, 5-scene bookmark, picture zoom, volume mute, glow in the dark buttons, SCART & AV cables included

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite & component video, mixed stereo, 5.1 channels and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), headphones (2 x jack)

 

BOX COPY

The operating system and on-screen displays are a bit of a mixed bag. Some functions, like making subtitles appear and disappear are quite a business and not fully explained in the instructions. Audio setup options are virtually non-existent, which is a bit of a letdown on a player with built-in surround sound decoder. The handset suffers from a bad case of button-itis – too many and too small -- and the main transport keys could definitely do with being a bit bigger, even if they do glow in the dark 

 

Overall              4

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            3

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

CYBERHOME AD-L528

£                                  £130

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            An amazing price and features but fairly average performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

 

 

 

GOODMANS GDVD-125

You wouldn't know it to look at it but the GDVD-125 is one of the cheapest players on the market, at least from a manufacturer that you're likely to have heard of.  You can take it as read that cheap also means basic, though the GDVD-125 is not without charm, from the front at least. Nevertheless some penny-pinching is evident behind the scenes where panels don't fit quite as snugly as they might, and inside the box it's not a pretty sight, it looks almost hand built in places.   

 

Don't expect any frills and you won't be disappointed, mind you it has a useful set of search and slomo options, a 3-stage picture zoom and 3D sound and it can play MP3 files recorded on CD-R discs. Needless to say it has only the format-standard mixed stereo output, and if it's only going to be used with a stereo TV the sound can be livened up with a 3D spatial effects mode. There's a couple of oddities too, like the big red light over the front panel display and glow in the dark cursor buttons on the remote handset.

 

Overall on-screen performance is fine, there's some occasional blotching on dark and heavily saturated colours but it's largely unfazed by fast movement or rapid changes in brightness, like the 'Ice Hockey' sequence at the start of Batman & Robin. Nevertheless darker scenes would have benefited from a slightly lighter touch; the whole of Batman & Robin ends up looking gloomier than it should and every so often you find yourself reaching for the contrast button on the TV remote. In all other respects, though, it scores well with crisp details and natural-looking colours.

 

Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks fed to a decoder via the single (coaxial) bitstream output emerge in pristine condition. Dolby Surround effects, carried on the analogue stereo outputs also survive largely unscathed though there is some background hiss that can be heard during quiet passages, though to be fair it's no worse than average. There are no nasty surprises either when it comes to playing audio CDs, it's not going to win any prizes but it stands comparison with the decks in most mini hi-fi systems. MP3 replay is okay, al least it's easy to use, but most tracks sound fairly coarse.

 

It certainly doesn't look like an ultra-cheapie machine and it performs as well as some players costing £200 or more. It's reasonably well featured and you know the name so put it on your short-list if you're on a very tight budget.

 

Goodmans, 023 9239 1100

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, 3-stage picture zoom, 3D spatial sound, luminous remote buttons, SCART lead supplied

 

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

 

BOX COPY

The remote handset supplied with budget DVD players are generally pretty horrible but the designers seem to have actually put a little effort into the one that comes with the GDVD-125. Luminous buttons are usually a good idea, though it would have been better if the transport keys glowed in the dark, instead of the cursor buttons. It's quite crowded and some of the buttons are on the small side but the transport keys and functions you're going to use most often are a good size and reasonably well placed

 

Overall              4

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            3

Features                       4

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

GOODMANS GDVD-125

£                                  £160

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Good value, sharp styling and respectable AV

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

 

 

GRUNDIG 'XENARO' GDP-5102

As far as we can recall this is the very first DVD player to have both a model number and a name. Xenaro has a suitably teccy ring to it; whatever, it's certainly a lot smaller and better looking than previous Grundig players, early models were rather dowdy. Even so it is still fairly basic with a rather ordinary set of entry-level features that includes MP3 replay, 3D sound, picture zoom and strobe replay. The ridiculously heavy remote handset -- weighted so it balances on its base -- can control some TV and VCR functions but only if they're also made by Grundig.

 

It's all fairly straightforward though watch out for the installation if you're going to use the S-Video socket. This appears to be disabled by default and can only be enabled from the setup menu, so the player has to be connected to the TV by SCART first. Speaking of connections, this player has the fewest sockets we've seen in a long while, just one SCART, a mini-DIN for the S-Video out and three phono sockets for stereo audio and coaxial digital output.

 

Hidden away on the setup menu there's a couple of picture adjustments though these are hardly needed as the default settings are pretty good. The only small complaints concerns a slightly sluggish layer change (around half a second) and the contrast balance, which on our sample was skewed to favour brighter scenes, obscuring detail in dark and dimly-lit sequences and entire movies, like Seven, which is set in semi permanent twilight. When the lights come on the image glows with fine texture and vibrant shades, Buzz Lightyear's road crossing adventure in Toy Story 2 is a riot of colour. One other minor glitch came to light whilst using picture search, which was reluctant to wind back past chapter changeover points on some discs, otherwise it behaved impeccably. 

 

The analogue stereo output has a clean and wide response, which suits Dolby Surround effects just fine, even the softer ones which a good Dolby Pro Logic decoder should have no trouble extracting. Noise levels are about average, which is to say you'll only notice the hiss when the soundtrack goes quiet and the volume is wound up high. Audio CDs come out of it well and it could easily double up as a mid-range hi-fi component, even MP3 tracks sound less thin and insubstantial than usual. 

 

Somewhat pricey for what it is but if you don't mind the lack of frills AV performance is really rather good.

 

Grundig 020 8324 9400, www.grundig.co.uk

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, strobe replay, picture zoom, 3D sound, TV remote (Grundig models only)

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Trivial fact number one, Xenaro is the very first Grundig DVD player to emerge from its Welsh assembly plant. And staying with the nationality theme, as far as we could make out Xenaro is one of those completely meaningless words made up by marketing companies, and hopefully carefully researched to make sure it doesn't mean something rude or offensive in other languuages. Nevertheless, it does appear to be a not uncommon family and first (male) name in several South American countries. It could have been a lot worse…

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

GRUNDIG GDP-5102

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

 

 

 

HITACHI DV-P515

Appearances can be deceptive, take the really busy-looking front panel on the Hitachi DV-P515 for example. It looks for all the world like a highly specified top-end player but it's mostly window dressing, the features list is relatively modest, marking it out as a 'step-up' model.

 

Hitachi, in common with several other A-Brand companies now finds it more economical to outsource its budget and entry-level models and this one undoubtedly came down the same production line as at least one other player in the roundup, namely the Samsung M405, with which it shares a number of key components and features, right down to the handset hack that can switch or disable the player's region code lock, see Xtra info. Don't get us wrong, there's nothing wrong with this sort of arrangement. 'Badge engineering' as it is known has a long and honourable history and has been common practice in the consumer electronics industry for many years (even Hitachi do it…) moreover on the evidence so far it has done nothing to spoil Hitachi's well-earned reputation for build quality and reliability.

 

There's a full set of picture search and slomo speeds, a 2-step zoom, 3D sound, it comes with a multi-brand TV remote and there's an unadvertised ability to play MP3 tracks recorded on CD-R discs. Also included is Disc Navigation (aka scene digest), which produces a visual menu of thumbnail sized stills – nine at a time -- from the beginning of each chapter.

 

Hitachi hasn't allowed any compromises on picture performance to be made and the P515 does a lot of things well, including giving a useful lift to detail in lowlights and backgrounds. See chapter 2 of Men in Black when Kay shoots Mikey the illegal 'alien', you can see every drop of gloop splattering the bushes. It has no problems with fast movement either or sudden changes in brightness, like explosions nor does the decoder have any difficulty with bright colours or subtle shades and skin tones, which are all smoothly rendered.

 

Since the P515 doesn’t have any Dolby Digital or dts decoders all we can say on that score is that the optical and coaxial bitstream outputs deliver a clean output for an external decoder. There is a small amount of background hiss on the analogue stereo output but it is well below annoyance level and certainly no worse than average. Dolby Surround effects embedded in the stereo soundtrack sound fine especially low-level bass sounds so it should be worth your while investing in a decent sub woofer to really bring those effects alive. Whist it's not in the same class as component hi-fi the P515 does a fair job of playing audio CDs, it lacks the precision of high-end decks but given that most players will be used with amplifiers and speakers optimised for home cinema any relatively minor shortcomings are unlikely to be noticed.

 

The highish price is almost certainly down to the Hitachi badge but with that comes a certain reputation and solidity that many people are happy to pay for, moreover it's actually a very good performer and there's the novelty of a hackable region lock on a player from a big-name manufacturer and there's the added bonus that it doesn't affect the manufacturer's guarantee (just make sure you switch it back to Region 2 if it has to go in for servicing or repair…).

 

 

Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

FEATURES 100

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, scene digest, 3-scene bookmark, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound, multi-brand TV remote, volume control

 

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

To play discs from other regions 'Cold Start' the player by switching on and holding down the Play and Play button on the front panel for a few seconds. The language selection menu appears; choose 1 for English then on the handset press Repeat 3, 8, 7, 6, 7. The number '02' – indicating the current Region – should appear on the screen. Enter the new Region code (1 to 6 or 9 for all regions), press Open/Close on the player and Standby on the Remote. To change back from R1 use the code 29334.

 

Ratings

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            4

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality            4

Value for Money            3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

HITACHI DV-P515

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              95

 

 

 

JVC XV-S42SL

It's not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with the XV-S42 but we had hoped for something a bit more exciting from JVC after what seems to have been a run of fairly lacklustre models. It's the company's latest entry-level player and you're left in little doubt about the basic specification from the sparse front panel and the fact that there's no on-board digital surround decoding.

 

Nevertheless it does have a sprinkling of widgets, like Theatre Position picture control, 3D Phonic sound and scene digest. There's also a Picture Strobe, which captures a sequence of 9 still 'snapshots', though to be honest we couldn't see the point.

 

The usefulness of the Theatre Position function is definitely open to debate, picture quality in the Off position is quite satisfactory, maybe it lacks the pin-sharp clarity of some of the better mid-market machines but there's little to complain about. However, all Theatre Position seems to do is degrade the picture by altering brightness and contrast levels, producing a duller darker image in all three preset positions. This shows up clearly in the Matrix, a moody movie at the best of times but even on brighter and more colourful material, like almost any scene from Toy Story 2 the effect is disappointing.

 

With Theatre Position switched off the picture is reasonably well balanced though lighter shades and skin tones can sometimes look a little heavy handed. It shows up in extreme close-ups, there are some good examples in Contact, towards the end in the Congressional Committee scene where you should be able to see the pimples, blemishes and 3 0'clock shadows on the actor's faces but the S42 tends to soften that kind of detail slightly.

 

JVC's proprietary 3D-Phonic pseudo surround puffs up the analogue stereo sound output but it's little different to the host of rival spatial sound systems in use these days. Dolby Surround effects make it through to the output stages in fine fettle and with slightly lower than usual amounts of background hiss. The digital bitstream outputs are both as clean as a whistle and audio CDs sound fine though its audio capabilities rates no higher than the average mini hi-fi system.

 

The S42 is okay, as far as it goes but right now it is up against some very attractive and well-specified players, for the same sort of money, or less.

 

JVC 0870 330 5000, www.jvc.com

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, scene digest, strobe, picture zoom, 3D sound, Theatre Position picture control,

 

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

 

BOX COPY

The labelling and functions of the remote handset buttons take a little getting used to. The key marked 'Choice' turns out to be system setup and several buttons have dual functions. There's some ambiguity between the Play button, which doubles up as 'Select' and the 'Enter' button in the middle of the cursor keys, moreover getting the player into and out of the Strobe mode seems a bit hit and miss. An interesting-looking pair of jack sockets on the back panel labelled AV Compulink turn out to be a bit of a tease and the instruction say they're for the future and currently unused…

 

Overall              3

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

JVC XV-S42SL

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

 

 

LG DVD-4710

Let's not mince words the LG DVD-4710 has to be one of the dullest DVD players we've seen lately. Don't get us wrong, that's not necessarily a bad thing, with DVD it's what's on the screen and coming out of the speakers that counts, but it's quite a feat to design a player that's so utterly devoid of character.

 

It's easier to list the features it doesn't have, for example there's no on-board digital surround decoders (despite what's implied on the box), it only has one coaxial digital output, it can't play MP3 files and the only 'extra' -- and even that's pushing it -- is a 3D spatial sound mode. Around the back there's just one SCART socket, though this can be configured for S-Video or RGB. It has no unusual playback facilities aside from standard-issue 2-stage zoom and 4-speed slomo and picture search (the latter being fiendishly difficult to control as picture search and track skip share the same buttons). The closest the 4710 gets to a luxury feature is the fact that you can switch off of change the region lock (see Xtra Info).

 

If you're expecting us to say it redeems itself with better than average picture and sound quality sorry to disappoint. It's okay, nothing more. Dark scenes, like the New York tunnel sequence in Men in Black reveals a fair amount of detail, which suggests the contrast balance isn't too far off. Colours are bright and natural looking, Toy Story 2 works its usual magic and lights up the screen but occasionally in light areas of the image there's some fine texturing. We also found that our sample had a low tolerance of grubby discs. It froze or went into a stuttering snail-play mode on several occasions on discs that play perfectly well on other decks. Heard through a good AV decoder the stereo output, which carries analogue Dolby Surround effects, comes across as sharp and lively and the digital bitstream output is squeaky clean.

 

As an audio CD player it does reasonably well, there's not the breath or depth of a decent mid-range deck and you might want to think twice before using it to listen busy classical tunes but rock and pop comes out okay.

 

Whilst there's nothing actually wrong with the 4710 it's difficult to see why anyone would choose it over and above the dozen or more similarly priced players on the market, most of which have at least a grain of personality.

 

LG Electronics 01753 50047. www.lge.co.uk

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D spatial sound, 5-scene marker, SCART lead supplied

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Since the most interesting thing about the 4710 is that it can be persuaded to play Region 1 discs we thought we'd tell you how to go about hacking the machine. Make sure the disc tray is empty and switch on, press pause then the following code: 314159, the display now shows Code --, enter either 0 for all region playback, or the Region you want watch (1 to 6), then quickly press Pause and switch the player off, then back on again.

 

Overall              3

Picture              3

Movie Sound                  3

Music Sound                 3

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

LG DVD-4710

£                                  £170

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Dull but reasonably competent budget player

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

 

 

 

PANASONIC DVD-RV41

Panasonic normally has a very sure touch when it comes to consumer electronics in general and home cinema products in particular and at first glance the recently launched DVD-RV41 looks like another solid middle of the road design. It certainly looks the part and the front panel is encrusted with buttons – several of them light up -- and a large jog dial with a miniature joystick in the middle. Closer inspection of the features list reveals some curious anomalies, like the fact that this £300 player (all but) has a Dolby Digital decoder, but if you want to listen to dts soundtracks you will need an external decoder.

 

On the other hand the RV41 has a number of features that you don't see very often, like a full set of picture controls (brightness, contrast and colour) a picture equaliser for movie playback, sound on picture search and a dialogue enhancer. Unfortunately several of these functions, like the Cinema mode picture control and dialogue enhancer can only be accessed from the front panel, which can be very inconvenient.

 

There's one thing we can't quibble with and that's picture quality, it is excellent. However, it is the clarity and depth of colours that really make it stand out, especially on difficult scenes, like the beach sequence in Contact. The RV41 captures perfectly the unnatural light of the alien skies but without sacrificing resolution and you can see every single gain of sand. The Cinema mode function actually works and really makes a difference on moody material, tipping the contrast balance to favour lowlights and bring out detail.

 

The Dolby Digital processor is also a notch up on the norm, low levels effects, like the sound of shell cases hitting the ground in the lobby shooting scene in The Matrix are picked out cleanly against the backdrop of gunfire. The RV41 in common with most Panasonic players has a dual laser pickup to ensure optimum performance on both DVD and CD audio and it pays off, CDs have a clarity and focus that's missing from most budget and mid-range players, that's not to say it's perfect, it's not but it is in the same performance ballpark as some of the better hi-fi systems and components.

 

The Panasonic name undoubtedly commands a premium and the lack of dts decoding is a pain but you are getting top-notch picture and sound, and that has to be worth paying for.

 

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

 

FEATURES 100

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, multi-speed replay, VSS spatial sound, dialogue enhancer, video equaliser, picture controls, condition memory

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Sorry, no region hacks for the RV41, which like virtually all Panasonic DVD players these days is hard-coded, so the only way you're going to get it to play R1 discs is to have it chipped, with the consequent loss of the manufacturer's warranty. For some peculiar reason the UK version of the RV41 has been hobbled in other ways, models sold in the US and far East can also play MP3 files and players sold outside of Europe – including PAL countries like Australia and New Zealand -- are fitted with Component video outputs.

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 5

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PANASONIC DVD-RV41       

£                                  £300

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Pricey but worth the extra for superior AV quality

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              95

 

 

 

 

 

PIONEER DV-444

The DV-444 and its recently launched stablemate, the DV-545 are believed to be the thinnest DVD players in captivity, for the moment at least. Given that there's usually not much inside most DVD players this is hardly a major technological breakthrough but it does make a surprising difference to the look of a player, and almost entirely for the better so let's hope it becomes a trend. Most DVD players are not a pretty sight and we suspect that one of the reasons they're the size they are is because manufacturers production and assembly lines were tooled up for VCR-sized boxes. 

 

So far Pioneer has avoided getting embroiled in the cut-throat price wars at the budget end of the market and it's clear that it is not about to start now. The DV-444 comes with  £300 price ticket, which on the surface looks like a fair whack to pay for a player that counts as 3D sound, MP3 replay and an RGB output as its main attractions, feature that have become fairly standard fare on the cheapest players these days. It's worth adding that the DV-444 has some preset (standard, cinema and animation) and manual picture adjustments (fine focus, contrast, sharpness, hue & chroma level) and individual settings can be stored in one of three picture memories. Even so there's not much to get the pulse racing here, until you see it in action!

 

If picture and sound quality are your main concerns then the price might be about to start looking a little less threatening. With the picture control set to animation Toy Story 2 never looked better. The sequence where the Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toys set out to rescue Woody from Toybarn Al's dastardly clutches begins at dusk yet you can clearly see that the animators made absolutely no compromises in the complexity and textures contained in the backgrounds. We can't wait to see what it will make of The Shrek! More challenging material -- when Poison Ivy breaks Mr Freeze out of the Asylum in Batman & Robin -- involves lots of fast movement and extremes in colour, brightness and contrast which the DV-444 takes in its stride. Fine tuning is there if you need in the shape of all those picture settings but our sample ran perfectly well on the factory defaults.

 

It sounds almost as good as it looks and the digital bitstream outputs are extracted in immaculate condition and the analogue stereo soundtracks carries only a tiny amount of background noise. Dolby Surround effects are given free reign and deserve to be heard through a decent AV amp and decoder, preferably with the assistance of a meaty sub woofer to really let rip bass effects. Audio CDs sound great and the DV-444 passes muster as a hi-fi component, maybe it's not in the top echelon but it compares favourably with most mid-priced systems and component decks. MP3 replay is not too bad either, though the flip-side is that exposes the flaws in the high level of compression that dulls the edge of many recordings, which have a tendency to sound thin and lifeless.

 

The sharply styles thin cabinet has to be worth paying a bit extra for, however it's fair to say that in DVD land price doesn't always equate to performance but in this case you pays your money and you get stonkingly good player!

 

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

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, TruSurround 3D sound, MP3 replay, manual and preset picture adjustments

 

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

 

BOX COPY

Pioneer has been making DVD players almost since day-one so it would have been somewhat surprising if it didn't know a thing or two about designing remote control handsets. The one supplied with the DV-444 is a near textbook design, it is not too large, the buttons and keys that matter – transport and cursor -- are all a good size and they are well labelled – in English and with legible grey on black lettering – moreover they are actually placed where you expect to find them and it does as it's told. Other manufacturers take note – you know who you are!

 

Overall              4

Picture              5

Movie Sound                  5

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            5

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PIONEER DV-444

£                                  £300

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Pricey but superior picture and sound,

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

 

 

SAMSUNG DVD-M405

Samsung's first generation players were largely unremarkable but over the past year or so it has put its name to a succession of very decent models, including this one, the M405. It's quite a looker too, the smart slimline case has an uncluttered brushed ally fascia, the control layout is functional with a large jog dial on the far right and it wouldn't look out of place alongside costlier top name brand machines. (Ironically some of them have near-identical innards, see the Hitachi DV-P515 review elsewhere in this group test…).

 

The 405 is a fully featured mid-range player, the qualifying features being a full set of built in Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 channel digital surround decoders. As an added bonus it also has MP3 decoding plus an assortment of secondary and convenience features like multi-speed replay controlled from a jog/shuttle dial on the remote handset (see Xtra Info). For good measure it has a 2-stage picture zoom, a bookmark facility, 3D sound and the big remote handset can control the main functions on TVs from more than a score of other manufacturers. Another welcome extra is Screen Digest, this produces an on-screen menu with a set of stills – nine per 'page' -- taken from the start of each chapter. It works like the chapter selection feature on most DVDs but it is more convenient and on some recordings it can actually be a bit quicker.

 

On screen colours are rich and natural-looking and fine detail is cleanly rendered. The night time scenes towards the beginning and at the end of Family Man, when it starts to snow is a tough test and the M405 copes well, picking out the detail and managing to avoid adding to the murk. At the other end of the brightness scale all of the vibrancy and movement is deftly captured in the fast-paced street crossing scene in Toy Story 2; here too the M405 succeeds in reproducing the rich colours and textures but it works just as well with more delicate shades and hues, including skin tones, which as some manufacturers have clearly demonstrated in the past, can be very difficult to get right.

 

Dolby Digital decoding on this player is comparable with many middle market AV amplifiers, delivering a set of sharply defined channels, negligible amounts of noise and a solid, gutsy bass on the sub-woofer output. The dense layers of surround effects in the movie Seven, especially subtle sounds like rainfall, are bought into sharp focus. Analogue Dolby Surround on the mixed stereo outputs has just a trace of background hiss but it's not enough to be concerned about and the front and rear channels have plenty of depth. Audio CD performance is fine though like a lot of DVD players it favours raunchier rock and pop tracks. MP3 replay is a bonus, though is best for providing background sounds and at parties (you can cram upwards of 12 hours worth of music on a CD-R disc) rather than serious listening.

 

It's hard not to like the M405, from the sharp styling to the better than average AV performance, it's a thoroughly refined, well thought out player without any significant vices or foibles. Even the price is fair, it can even be hacked to play Region 1 discs (see Xtra Info for the Hitachi DV-P515), definitely worth considering.

 

Samsung 0800 521652

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital and dts decoders, MP3 replay, multi-speed replay, scene digest, 3-scene bookmark, 2-stage picture zoom, 3D sound Screen Fit option, multi-brand TV remote, volume control

 

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

Jog-Shuttle dials are slowly finding their way onto DVD players but it only really works when the deck in question has a decent set of multi-speed replay options. The M405 has no problems on that score with x2, x4, x8, x32 and x128 fast picture search – in both directions – and x1/8, x1/4 and x1/2 slomo. The only minor quibble concerns the central 'jog' dial on the handset, which is hampered by the fact that there's no reverse ' frame step' mode, making the whole thing a bit pointless.

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SAMSUNG DVD-M405

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Likeable mid-range player, good specs and performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              95

 

 

 

SHARP DV-620

The DV-620 is one of only a tiny handful of 'mini' DVD players, so far, which means the front panel is only 270mm wide so it can stack or sit alongside similarly sized hi-fi components and systems. That's the only distinguishing feature otherwise it is a fairly routine entry-level player with a 3-stage picture zoom and 'QSurround' spatial sound effect but no unusual or special features to speak of.  

 

Don't expect it to solve all of your space problems though, whilst the case is narrow it is actually deeper than a lot of recent players. One beneficial spin-off of the design, though, is the very tidy-looking front panel with a large jog dial on the right. Use this with care; it's set by default for chapter selection, you have to press the Pause button first, to access the slomo and search speeds.

 

Sharp used to have quite a thing about advanced picture control features, like gamma correction, which redresses the contrast imbalance of recorded video but of late these have slipped behind the scenes. Fortunately it lives on and the DV-620 does a great job of lifting detail in dull scenes but without washing it out when the brightness increases. Contact includes precisely those extremes, often in the same chapter, the sequence when Ellie pilots the Japanese 'Machine' veers from dank gloom to bright flashes but the DV-620 never misses a beat. The picture is crisp and strong and moderately saturated colours are faithfully reproduced though skin tones and textures can appear a little hard. Layer change, which on most players you hardly notice these days, is fairly relaxed on this machine taking almost half a second on some discs. 

 

Unencumbered by on-board surround decoders the only audio outputs to be concerned about are the analogue stereo and digital bitstreams, which have nothing added, and nothing taken away. Some noise creeps into the background of the stereo output but it's at a very low level and you'd be hard pressed to hear it at normal listening levels on most soundtracks. If you've already got a decent CD player in your hi-fi system you'll probably want to hang on to it but the DV-620 certainly doesn't disgrace itself and it does a fair job on rock and pop tracks.

 

The size and shape could be a selling point for some users and AV quality is up there with the best of them but it's fairly basic and a bit pricey, for what it is.

 

Sharp, 0161-205 2333, www.sharp.co.uk

 

FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3-stage picture zoom, 'QSurround' virtual Dolby Surround,  SCART lead supplied

 

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

 

BOX COPY

The mini-sized form factor is not difficult to achieve on a DVD player, indeed most standard sized machines are at least twice as big they need to be. The reason they're the shape and size they are is mainly historic and early on manufacturers reasoned -- probably rightly -- that consumers would find the technology easier to accept if it was packaged in VCR sized boxes, with the same familiar type of panel layout and control layouts. Hopefully, now that DVD has become established manufacturers will be a little more adventurous.

 

Overall              4

Picture              4

Movie Sound                  4

Music Sound                 4

Build Quality            4

Features                       3

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SHARP DV-620

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Mini sized player, pricey but good AV quality

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              95

           

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 23

 

 

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