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REVIEWS

 

ZENIX Z-615L-S, £150

No, we'd not heard of Zenix before but we don't let that put us off when it comes to DVD players, we've been very pleasantly surprised by several machines with unfamiliar names in the past few years. The Z-615L-S looks very smart in its silver slim line case and the price is quite reasonable for a player that boasts on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders, so far so goodÖ

 

Trick replay options are limited (2x, 4x and 8x picture search and forward slomo only) but it has a fair selection of secondary features, including a five-scene bookmark, picture zoom, volume control, MP3 replay and it would seem a loose region lock as our sample happily played R1 titles without any messing around with handset codes. 

 

It's all looking quite hopeful on the design and facilities front but now we come to the other important bit, playing back DVDs. Our sample proved to be somewhat unstable in that respect and repeatedly locked up for no apparent reason. No end of button pressing or switching on and off would get it going again, or eject the disc. The only way to rescue a disc was to unplug the machine from the mains and plug it back in again to force it to reboot. There didn't seem to be any pattern, like taking a dislike to certain discs or scenes, of course there's a chance it could be confined to our sample but it's a concern nonetheless.

 

Even more worrying is what appears to be a processing glitch. Every five seconds or so the picture 'staggers' ever so slightly. It's a very subtle effect, blink and you'll miss it, literally, but once you're aware of it, it's hard to ignore and it becomes very annoying indeed. It affects all discs and it is most noticeable on scenes with continuous smooth movement, like the opening minutes in Contact, in the long pull-back shot from Earth, through the solar system and into intergalactic space. More bad news, a couple of times the centre dialogue channel just disappeared and wouldn't come back until the disc was reloaded.  Oh, and by the way, it runs quite warm. Not a happy machine...

 

Picture quality is fairly average, it's not as sharp as we'd hoped and it's fairly contrasty with some detail lost in darker scenes and shadows. Lighter well-saturated colours are generally okay but shades and skin tones lack fine graduation. The 5.1 channel decoders work well enough and the analogue stereo output has no more than average amounts of background noise; audio CDs don't sound too bad either and they're on a par with budget and mid-range mini hi-fi system decks.

 

Most of the problems we encountered can be put down to flaky processing and firmware and should be fixable but sadly, as it stands, apart from the smart case and cosmetics there's very little to commend the Z-615L.

 

Verdict

2/5

Zenix, 01494 730380

 

Ratings

Overall              2

Picture Quality            2

Sound Quality            4

Features                       3

Ease of Use                  3

Build Quality                  4

Value for Money            3

 

Pros

Fair value and it looks quite smart

 

Cons

Indifferent picture and sound, flaky and unreliable

 

Rival Buys

Azuda DVD- 862 £150, Lecson DVD-900 £170, Minato DVD-G1 £130

 

Quote

'Even more worrying is what appears to be a processing glitch. Every five seconds or so the picture 'staggers' ever so slightly'.

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

ZENIX Z-615L-S            £150

VERDICT                      2         

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Good looks but some worrying processing glitches

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE                          HE99

 

 

 

PIONEER DV-646A, £500

The on-going format battle between DVD-Audio and SACD shows no immediate signs of reaching a peaceful settlement. Early adopters, eager for a taste of high quality multi-channel digital sound, will be taking a gamble whichever way they go but it's worth noting that there are significantly more DVD-A players to choose from, including this one from Pioneer.

 

The DV-646A is a surprisingly plain-looking black box it doesn't even get the low profile case treatment that has been a feature of Pioneer's two most recent mid-market DVD players. Only the £500 price ticket indicates that it's out of the ordinary. DVD features are run of the mill though it does have a set of picture controls and a condition memory, that stores user preferences for noise reduction, focus, sharpness, white and black level, hue, chroma and gamma correction. In short there's plenty to play with, and no excuse for not getting the picture exactly right for you and your display.

 

In common with other recent Pioneer players it has a number of audio extras, such as built-in Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 channel surround decoders, 4-mode Legato Pro processing (restores high frequency information lost during CD-Audio and DVD mastering), MP3 replay and a 3D spatial effects mode. Additionally it has a good range of trick play options, a nifty jog dial and a rather fiddly joystick type cursor control on the handset, which also has a set of transport keys that light up.

 

All those controls and time spend fiddling are worth the effort and it's possible to get a superbly well-balanced picture, shadows and dark sequences have real depth and are full of texture. The battle sequence in The Phantom Menace is nothing short of spectacular, with every tiny detail crisply rendered, fast action is smooth and rapid changes in brightness and explosions retain all of their impact. Colours are clean and natural looking, and that includes delicate skin tones.

 

The 5.1 channel decoders do an efficient job with all channels crisply defined and cleanly focused, at least as well as most mid-range AV amps in fact. The analogue stereo output is also well up to the mark and it handles big dynamic soundtracks with ease. Audio CD replay is into middle-market hi-fi territory, but it's DVD-Audio we're really interested in, and that we are pleased to say, sounds excellent. Stereo recordings mastered for DVD-A appear to have extra layers of sound and you become much more aware of little sounds in the background. Ironically the multi-channel recordings in our test repertoire are not so dramatic and come across as slightly artificial, but the overall effect and feeling of space and movement is still very impressive. 

 

If you fancy a punt on multi-channel audio then you could do a lot worse than the DV-646A. It's a convincing vote for the DVD-A format, the price is fair and even if the tide goes against it you are still left with a great DVD player

 

Verdict

4/5

 

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

 

Ratings

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            5

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            4

 

Pros

Top-notch AV and a very convincing argument for DVD-Audio

 

Cons

Rather ordinary looks and awkward handset controls

 

Rival Buys

JVC XV-D723 £500, Panasonic DVD-RA71 £450, Toshiba SD-500E £600

 

 

Quote

' All those controls and time spend fiddling are worth the effort and it's possible to get a superbly well-balanced picture'

 

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

PIONEER DV-646A,

£                                  £500

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Another convincing argument for DVD-Audio and a great all-rounder

TYPE                            DVD-A

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE                          HE99

 

 

 

---end---

R. Maybury 2001, 2510

 

 

 

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