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GROUP TEST

 

DVD GROUP TEST, HE101

 

AIWA XD-DV480 £180
The badge says Aiwa but this player comes from the same factory as the LG player in this group (and quite a few others in the wider world…). It’s a decent enough design, a little short on frills and glitz maybe but Aiwa has added a few distinctive touches of its own, like the neatly laid out front panel and the remote handset, which for once is a convenient size with large well-spaced and clearly labelled buttons.

 

Unlike its slightly more sophisticated cousin from LG the DV480 doesn’t have any surround sound decoding and there’s only one SCART socket on the back but the rest of the features, like 3D sound, MP3 replay, 2-stage picture zoom and a 5-scene bookmark are all familiar territory. The only other notable difference is the locked region code and none of the usual hacks work on this model. If one exists it had yet to emerge at the time of writing.

 

Our test routine begins with a check on whether a player can read recordable DVD formats as this could influence some users buying decisions. It displayed the menu on a DVD-R recording but wouldn’t play any tracks and it showed a ‘Check Disc’ message when fed with DVD+RW disc. On that basis it’s not going to be much use for playing home made discs if you eventually buy DVD recorder.  

 

Picture quality on regular DVDs was average to good, colours and shades are natural looking and it copes well with sudden changes in brightness – the space battle towards the end of Phantom Menace provides plenty of movement and explosions and the DV480 never faltered. We’re also interested in a player’s ability to reveal detail and texture in dimly lit sequences and a good test is the opening minutes in Batman & Robin, in the Bat cave and during Mr Freeze’s rocket escape; once again the DV480 gave a reasonably good account of itself, revealing hidden objects and movement in the shadows and darker areas of picture. 

 

Background hiss on the stereo output is no more than normal for a budget or mid-range player allowing analogue Dolby Surround effects to come through loud and clear. The bitstream outputs are very clean too with no noticeable difference between the optical and coaxial connections. Audio CDs lack the precision and depth of a top-end deck and MP3 tracks sound a touch muffled but overall it does a fair job and the DV480 stacks up well alongside mid-range CD players. 

 

Like its LG counterpart there’s nothing about the DV480 that leaps out and shouts ‘buy me’, it’s a wee bit pricey, for what it is but it has no significant vices or drawbacks.

 

Contact: Aiwa (0990) 902902 www.aiwa.co.uk

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, MP3 replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 5-scene bookmark

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The fact that many DVD players are all made by the same company is not a cause for concern or indeed anything new. It’s been happening on VCRs for years and the practice of ‘badge engineering’ is commonplace on many types of consumer products, everything from washing machines to cars. The only time it can get annoying is when you end up paying for a name, when two products with an almost identical specification are sold at widely differing prices, but that’s obviously not a problem in this case.

 

Picture Quality             4/5

Movie sound             4/5

Music sound                  3/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            3/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

AIWA XV-DV480 

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Decent enough budget model but few frills

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

 

ALBA DVD-113 £100
Words of warning, like only getting what you pay for should always be in the back of your mind when considering budget home cinema equipment and at just under £100 from your local Argos store the Alba DVD-113 is undeniably cheap but don’t let that put you off in this case. It’s housed in a big box (mostly full of air) with an almost VCR like control layout. However, considering the low price it is quite well featured, and not without a certain idiosyncratic charm. Take the four picture search speeds for example, for some peculiar reason they are displayed as percentages, and the forward-only slomo is downright bizarre with a choice of no less than eleven speeds (5 to 90%)!

 

It has a 5-scene marker and picture zoom – once you’ve managed to find the hidden button on the oddly shaped remote -- and the on-screen display is unusually sophisticated. It’s similar to the ones used on some JVC players, displaying the picture as a one-third sized insert in a page full of menu options and a bitrate indicator.

 

 

This is a very convenient arrangement as it means the displays are always clearly presented and easy to read, no matter what’s happening on the screen, and you get to see the whole picture. Definitely not the kind of up market feature you’d expect to find on a budget player…

 

 

Then there’s the region lock, or rather the lack of one… In spite of the Region 2 logos on the back panel and shipping carton, and a warning in the manual our sample played R1 discs straight out of the box.

 

 

Needless to say it is important to remember that multi-region replay is an unadvertised feature and there is no guarantee that they are all like it, moreover it’s not unknown for manufacturers to change the firmware (the software that controls how the player operates) later in the production run, fixing the ‘loose’ region lock and rendering handset hacks useless.

 

 

 

Surprisingly it doesn’t play MP3 recordings and there are no audio extras, not even 3D sound. However, it will play DVD+RW recordings but DVD-R discs are not recognised. The DVD-113 is full of surprises and picture quality is not too bad at all. It has a very fair stab at extracting detail from darker scenes and shadows; the underwater city sequence and spaceship interiors in Phantom Menace are nowhere near as drab and murky as they can be on some budget players, though its treatment of delicate shades and flesh tones can sometimes be a bit heavy handed.

 

 

Bright and highly saturated colours really glow and there’s no smearing or fuzzy edges, which means it’s a dab hand with animated movies, like Toy Story. The road-crossing scene is superbly well rendered with the toys and the road cones cleanly picked out against the detailed and fast-moving backgrounds.

 

 

 

Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks come through unscathed on the coaxial and optical bitstream outputs. Analogue Dolby Surround, on the other hand -- carried on the stereo output -- is accompanied by a slightly higher than average level of background hiss. It’s not enough to be concerned about but it does tend to take the edge off quieter effects. Audio CDs are also saddled with a fair amount of background noise; it is not too serious on raunchy rock and pop tracks but makes its presence felt in lighter pieces.     

 

There’s been no attempt to dress up the DVD-113; it’s an honest to goodness entry-level player at a realistic price. Picture performance is fine and the analogue audio output is fairly average but hook it up to a 5.1 Dolby Digital/dts decoder and you’ve got the makings of a decent home cinema system.

 

Contact: Alba 020 8787 3111

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, picture zoom, 5-scene marker, SCART cable supplied

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The remote handset is a real mixed bag. We like the shape, it’s comfortable to hold and less frequently used controls and the numeric keypad are safely tucked away behind a sliding cover. However a couple of buttons, like Zoom and Return, are an odd shape ambiguously labelled and difficult to find, until you get used to it. The main transport keys – especially Play/Pause and Stop could also have done with being a bit bigger, and more widely separated, in the case of the picture search and chapter skip 

 

Picture Quality             4/5

Movie sound             3/5

Music sound                  2/5

Build                             3/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            4/5

 

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

ALBA DVD-113

£                                  £100

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Good performance, great value

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

BUSH DVD-1000, £145

Now that DVD is firmly established manufacturers are starting to experiment with player design and cosmetics. Bush is trying its luck with the DVD-1000, a ‘mini system’ sized player. It’s not the first but Bush are being quite brave by dispensing with a display and fitting only four front panel controls (on/standby, eject, play and stop), so don’t loose the remote!

 

Despite the lack of buttons it has a more or less full range of functions --for a budget player -- plus a couple of surprises, which we’ll come to in a moment.

The standard fitments include a 5-speed forward and reverse picture search and 5-speed slomo (forward only). It has a 2-stage picture zoom; 3D sound mode and it can play MP3 audio recordings. The unusual extras are all region replay (unadvertised, so check before you buy), and 3 'video' games. Don’t get too excited, Snake Mine and Tetris are all rather tame – the kind of things you find on mobile phones – but they can be mildly diverting when there’s nothing else to watch. 

 

The missing front panel display takes some getting used to, you’re never quite sure what it is up to, and it’s a pain when replaying audio CDs as it means the TV has to be on. Even then it’s not necessarily readable; the MP3 replay screen is obliterated by the Bush logo. Our sample happily played a DVD-R recording made on a DVD recorder but wrongly identified a DVD+RW disc as CD-RW and emitted a very loud hiss from the stereo output.

 

Colour definition is adequate, shades and skin tones tended to be slightly coarse in shadowy shots but in bright well-lit scenes they look fine and it’s well suited to the strongly saturated colours in animated movies, like Shrek. The contrast range is fairly narrow masking fine detail in darker areas of the picture and movies like Seven, which seems to have been most shot in a rainstorm. A good player will pick out the individual raindrops; on the DVD-1000 this kind of fine texture is lost in the mush.         

 

Audio is limited to the format-standard stereo output and coaxial digital bitstream, so there’s not much to go wrong, even so there’s a slightly higher than normal amount of background hiss on the stereo soundtrack but Dolby Surround effects still manage to get through intact. It plays audio CDs but its not very satisfying and MP3 replay is really only suitable for background listening.

 

Unless you’re specifically after a mini sized component to go with your hi-fi system or you have a very serious space problem, for the same sort of money you would almost certainly be better off with a ‘proper’ player.

 

Contact: Bush 020 8787 3111

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, dts output, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, MP3 replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 3 games (Snake, Mine & Tetris).

 

S-Video out (mini DIN), composite video, mixed stereo and coaxial bitstream (phono), phono to SCART adaptor supplied

 

XTRA INFO

The DVD-101 clearly demonstrates that DVD players don’t have to be housed in VCR sized boxes, in fact the circuit boards and deck mechanism in most models only takes up around one third of the available space, but the DVD-1000 has taken minimalism to extremes. In particular it shows how important the front panel display is, especially for things like audio CD replay. In this case it is necessary to have the TV switched on, to show track number and what the machine is doing. 

 

Picture Quality             3/5

Movie sound             3/5

Music sound                  3/5

Build                             3/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            3/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL 

£                                  £145

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Unusual mini-sized player, very average performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       0

ISSUE              101

 

 

GOODMANS GDVD-125,  £160
Not a very good start! The disc-loading tray on our GDVD-125 test sample had become jammed and wouldn’t open more than a few millimetres. Normally we’d return the player and request a new one but after a close inspection the reason was fairly obvious. A strip of sticky tape, used to cover a small circuit board above the disc tray, had stuck to the drawer. It only took a few minutes to fix but does suggest a worrying design flaw, and a potential shortfall in the manufacturer’s quality control.

 

The specification is typical for a budget player; it has a basic audio system, multi-speed replay and slomo (both directions), 3D spatial sound, picture zoom and MP3 playback. The 125 is housed in a neat semi-slimline cabinet and there’s a rather annoying red light just above the loading tray, (the circuit board of which was the cause of the sticky loading tray). Fortunately it can be switched off in the setup menu. We suspect the region code can be hacked, most Goodmans players to date have had this facility, but none of the known hacks worked on this machine.

 

Our sample happily played both DVD+RW and DVD-R discs but that’s about the only bit of good news. Picture quality is quite poor, the most significant problem lies in its inability to process muted colours and low contrast scenes. Dark and gloomy movies like Seven come out very badly, in the opening minutes when the two detectives are investigating a murder in a run-down apartment, and in numerous other sequences, background surfaces become noticeably pixellated, especially in scenes when there’s little movement. That particular problem disappears in brighter scenes increase but the sluggish processing is still apparent when there’s any rapid movement, fights and crowd scenes in Phantom Menace are reduced to a blur and occasionally – quite randomly and for no apparent reason – slices of the picture breaks up into coloured blocks.  

 

Actually, it’s not all doom and gloom, the stereo soundtracks are okay with no more than average amounts of background hiss. The bitstream digital audio output is clean, audio CD replay is satisfactory and even MP3 recordings don’t sound too bad.

 

The GDVD-125 turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, more so as previous Goodmans players have been quite good. The problem with the disc loading tray simply shouldn’t have happened but we are much more concerned about the inferior picture. The performance gap between cheaper players and mid-range models has narrowed to the point where it can sometimes be hard to spot but the GDVD-125 is clearly only firing on three cylinders and there are plenty of better performing players available costing a good deal less.

 

Contact: Goodmans 023 9239 1100

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, MP3 playback, 3-stage picture zoom, glow-in-the dark handset buttons, SCART cable supplied.

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

Differences in the picture performance of DVD players tend to be quite subtle and not always obvious away from side-by-side comparisons. Digital video processing forces a certain amount of conformity on the chipset processors and variations are further reduced by the fact that only a relatively small number of companies around the world manufacture the key decoder microchips. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of opportunity for manufacturers to tinker around the edges with video performance and mid market players often have additional processing, noise reduction and conversion stages.

 

Picture Quality             2/5

Movie sound             3/5

Music sound                  3/5

Build                             2/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            3/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

GOODMANS GDVD 125

£                                  £145

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            poor picture and limited facilities

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

HITACHI DV-P315 £180, BADGE WINNER

The DV-P315 is a classy looking slimline player, the spec is quite modest but so too is the price, especially if you shop around and at the time of going to press it was selling on the net for less than £175. However, what makes this player a bit special is the fact that in common with several other recent Hitachi players the region code can be hacked, simply by pressing a few buttons on the remote handset (see Xtra Info).

 

Hitachi is almost unique amongst the major Japanese brands in this respect. Most of the others play by the rules with ‘hard coded’ region locks and in most cases the only way to play a Region 1 disc is to have the player ‘chipped’, which will invalidate the maker’s warranty. Hitachi’s aberrant behaviour is due to the fact that it outsources its budget and mid-range players from a well known Korean company. However, that’s of little consequence to most consumers, many of who are still a little wary of the facility, which sounds vaguely illegal (it’s not). The fact that it can be done on a player from a big-name manufacturer lends a certain amount of respectability and we can but hope it will encourage others to follow suit.

 

The 315 is an ‘entry-level’ model, which basically means it doesn’t have any Dolby Digital or dts decoders and fewer luxury features. In fact it does have a couple of useful extras, over and above 6-speed picture search (up to 128x) and 3-speed slomo. There’s a 3D sound mode a 2-stage zoom and Disc Navigation. The latter is a Hitachi regular that creates a visual menu of what’s on a disc with a set of thumbnail images ‘grabbed’ from the start of each chapter.

 

---new copy---

 

This is similar to the chapter menu on some, (though not all) discs and it makes jumping to a particular spot on a movie a whole lot easier, and quicker. However it is likely to prove very useful in the future, on discs made on home DVD recorders, which on the evidence so far will probably have only rudimentary ‘on-disc’ menus.

 

---end new copy ---

 

There’s good news for DVD recorder wannabees, our sample was able to play both DVD-R and DVD+RW test discs. This is a rare feat and to date only a small handful of players we’ve tested can do it. The on-screen results are most impressive, contrast balance is spot on and the picture is noticeably crisper than a lot of rival players, and that includes some dearer mid-market machines. The differences are most apparent in darker sequences, backgrounds in the Jedi Council meeting and the Senate Session in Phantom Menace come alive and the murder scene interiors in Seven reveals even more grisly detail than usual.  Skin tones look natural and it has no problems rendering shades, or rapid changes in brightness and fast movement, like the wormhole journey in Contact.

 

There’s very little background noise on the analogue stereo output, it’s well below average in fact and big set-piece Dolby Surround effects sound sharper and more focused than normal. The coaxial or optical bitstream outputs provide a clean digital signal for an external decoder and it won’t disgrace itself if used with a high-end amp and speakers. Audio CD replay is nothing special, however, it’s in line with most other budget players and on a level with many mid-range mini and midi systems, which is fine for casual listening but only on the borders of serious hi-fi.

 

What the P315 lacks in fancy features it more than makes up for with above average AV performance and sleek good looks, which is a good enough reason for making sure it’s on your shortlist but there’s more. The hackable region code lock is a definite bonus and the ability to replay the most common types of recordable DVD disc could prove very useful in the future.

 

Contact: Hitachi 0345 581455, www.hitachitv.com

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see Xtra Info), PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, Disc Navigation, 3D spatial sound, 2-stage picture zoom

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The region code hack for this machine is a familiar one and can be applied to a number of other players from Samsung and Thomson. Step one is to switch the player on (no disc loaded) and re-boot by pressing the Play and Stop buttons together. Select 1 for English language, switch off, then on again and on the handset press Menu, Repeat, 3,8,7,6,7. The current region code is displayed, select 1-6 or 9 for all region replay, then Open followed by Standby. To return from R1 to R2 substitute the code 2,9,3,3,4.

 

Picture Quality             5/5

Movie sound             4/5

Music sound                  4/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             4/5

Value                            4/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

HITACHI DV-P315    

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            basic facilities but excellent performance, good value

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

 

JVC XV-S57SL, £250

The XV-S57SL is one of a trio of new players from JVC launched in the past few months. It’s the step-up model from the entry-level XV-S42 (see HE95), with the addition of a Dolby Digital decoder plus more advanced multi-brand remote handset but from the outside you’d be hard pressed to see any differences.  It’s a slimline shape with a neatly laid out front panel and softly curved edges, very easy on the eye and, in the scheme of things, fairly priced for a mid-market player from an A brand manufacturer.

 

There are no real surprises on the feature list, there’s five forward and reverse search speeds and six slomo speeds, it has a picture zoom, Digest provides a thumbnail-sized still snapshot form the start of each chapter and there’s a rather pointless Strobe function that produces a screen full of frozen images. JVC’s proprietary 3D Phonic sound generates a wide spatial effect from stereo speakers and Theatre Position, which is supposed to jiggle brightness and contrast balance to suit different types of movie material.

 

Needless to say the region code on the S57 is locked up tight and we had no luck playing DVD+RW discs. It did however accept DVD-R recordings, though this was not wholly unexpected as this is the recordable format backed by JVC’s parent company Matsushita (which makes Panasonic DVD recorders). 

 

We found little to complain about on the S42 and the good news is that nothing seems to have changed on the S57, which also produces a crisp, well-balanced picture. Troublesome shadowy scenes during the opening minutes of Seven were packed with information, with none of the shading and blocky artefacts that affect some players.  At the other end of the scale brightly lit action sequences, like the Pod Race in Phantom Menace reveal lots of rich detail and texture on surfaces and background. The only small disappointment was Theatre Position, whose only purpose appeared to be to make the picture look dull, when it was switched on.

 

Dolby Surround from the built-in decoder works really well with all channels cleanly separated no significant background noise or processing artefacts and an ability to swing from subtle background sounds to loud explosions without any apparent effort. Noise levels rise a little on the mixed stereo output but it’s far from being a problem and only becomes noticeable during quiet passages, and only then when the wick is turned up. CD audio replay is good and stands comparison with mid-range hi-fi decks.

 

The S57 doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing and the price is nothing to write home about but it’s a solid workmanlike design with better than average AV performance, a useful set of features and you know and trust the name!

 

Contact: JVC 020 8450 3282, www.jvc-europe.com

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts output, multi-speed replay, scene digest, strobe, 3D Phonic pseudo surround, 3-stage Theatre Position picture control, picture zoom, multi-brand TV remote

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video (mini DIN), composite video, 5.1 channel, mixed stereo and coaxial bitstream (phono), optical bitstream (TOSlink), Compulink remote (minijack)

 

XTRA INFO

3D Phonic is one of the better spatial sound effect systems and produces a wide stereo soundstage, with greater than normal depth from ordinary stereo speakers. Unlike a lot of other pseudo sound systems 3D Phonic uses information from the built-in Dolby Pro Logic decoder, which helps to give greater emphasis to surround effects. Although this particular model has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder 3D Phonic sound is a quick and easy way of puffing up old movies with mono and early stereo soundtracks or when using the player with a stereo TV.  

 

Picture Quality             5/5

Movie sound             4/5

Music sound                  4/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             4/5

Value                            4/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

JVC XV-S57SL 

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Sharp styling, well featured, great picture and sound,

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

LG DVD-4950, £250
Whilst there’s usually nothing intrinsically wrong with LG's DVD players they have a tendency to be as dull as ditch water. The DVD-4950 appears to be an attempt to liven things up a bit, cosmetically at least, with a mirror-finish front panel and noticeably sharper styling.

 

The spec also looks a little more interesting, especially in the sound department. As the price suggests this is a mid-range model with an on-board Dolby Digital decoder though for some reason LG hasn’t seen fit to give it a dts decoder as well, which could take off the shine for some movie fans. There’s also a 3D spatial sound effect mode and it can play MP3 files on CD-R discs. There’s a fair assortment of picture search and slomo speeds and it has a 2-stage picture zoom plus a 5-scene bookmark but that’s about it for the official feature list.  However, there is an unadvertised feature in the shape of a switchable region lock – see Xtra Info for details.

 

As usual we tried our sample with some home made DVD recordings; it managed to read the menu on a DVD-R disc and then promptly froze and it wouldn’t have anything to do with our DVD+RW test recordings. Fortunately commercial pre-recorded discs fared a lot better and general performance was mostly quite good. It managed to extract an impressive amount of detail from Seven, which can show up any shortcomings in a player’s contrast balance and ability to handle gloomy scenes. This movie is dark and moody from beginning to end but there’s always a lot going on and backgrounds are full of texture, like the dramatic and scary SWAT team raid in chapter 17, dank hallways and murky interiors, you can almost smell the rotting flesh… On a lighter note, it had no trouble with the bright highly saturated colours in Toy Story 2; the driving scene in Al’s Toy Barn can expose weaknesses in a player’s ability to process a lot of movement and sudden changes in brightness but the 4950 never missed a beat.

 

Movie soundtracks are cleanly rendered through the bitstream output and the on-board Dolby Digital decoder, the centre channel on the latter is well focused and the rear channels are livelier than usual. It needs a fair amount of fiddling on the speaker setup menu to get them back into line. Audio CD replay is fine, on a par with budget and mid range decks and MP3 replay is handy for providing background sounds at parties but it’s a little flat for serious listening.

 

Definitely an improvement on previous players but a shiny front panel and a couple of extra audio features still isn’t enough to make the 4950 stand out from the crowd.

 

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

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see Xtra Info), PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, dts output, multi-speed replay, 3D sound, MP3 replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 5-scene bookmark

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

This simple and mostly reliable handset hack seems to work with most current LG players. With the machine switched on, (but no disc loaded), press Pause then 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9 on the remote. The word ‘CODE’ should appear on the front panel display, followed by a couple of dashes; quickly enter the region code (1 to 6 or 0 for all-region) and the number should appear on the display. Press Pause again then switch off and wait for 5 seconds before switching the player back on.

 

Picture Quality             4/5

Movie sound             4/5

Music sound                  3/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            3/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

LG DVD4950    

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Improved looks but overall fairly average for the price

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       2

ISSUE              101

 

 

REOC A3 £100 BADGE WINNER
Whilst sub £100 DVD player are no longer a novelty they tend to be fairly basic, with AV performance to match. The Reoc A3, currently on sale in Safeway stores for just under £100 is an intriguing exception; it’s not much to look at, you could probably make a fair guess at the price from its appearance, and the unfamiliar name, but this player has hidden depths.

 

The general feature line up is unremarkable though, there are no audio extras, unless you count MP3 replay, it doesn’t even have a 3D sound mode, but there is a handy volume control and mute button on the remote handset. Trick play features are confined to a four-speed picture search that tops out at 20x, there’s a four-speed slomo, three-stage picture zoom and there’s a three-scene bookmark and that’s about it. Although billed as a Region 2 player the distributors make no secret of the fact that it can be easily handset-hacked for all region replay (see Xtra Info) the details, along with a useful FAQ and online manual can be found on the web at: http://reoc.keyservice.co.uk/a3/home

 

Things start to get even more interesting when you spin it around. On the back, in amongst the standard issue SCART and phono AV output sockets is a set of Component video output sockets. This feature is rare on a budget player and probably not that important to most users, but for anyone with a suitably equipped TV or projector it promises the absolute best way of watching NTSC discs.

 

The next surprise came during our performance tests, which begin with a check on a player’s ability to handle discs ‘burnt’ on a DVD recorder. To date the record has been fairly patchy with about two thirds of players able to play either DVD+RW or DVD-R discs – hardly ever both and often not very well – and the rest unable to play either. The A3 has the distinction of being one of a very small number of machines we’ve tested able to play both types of disc without any complaints, with full menu and control access. 

 

Picture performance is good for a budget player, it lacks the pin-sharp clarity of more up-market models but only just. The contrast range could do with being a wee bit wider, which would expose more detail in dark scenes. Shots of star fields, like those in the Phantom Menace and Contact, have little sense of depth. Interiors also tend to look gloomy. The scene in Watto’s Shop, in the Phantom Menace is a good example. On some players the busy and richly detailed, multi-layered set has an almost 3D quality but it just looks a bit lifeless on the A3. Things improve dramatically in brightly lit scenes, colours are vibrant and lifelike and it does a very good job with tricky flesh tones.

 

Background noise levels on the stereo output are low and Dolby Surround soundtracks retain all of their impact. The A3 has a coaxial bitstream output, which might be a problem for the owners of some 5.1 amplifiers and TVs with optical only inputs, but the signal it delivers is squeaky clean. Audio CDs fare quite well and bear comparison with many budget and mid-range decks. MP3 replay sounded even more cramped than usual and there was an annoying ‘tick’ in the background on some test recordings.

 

The A3 turns out to be quite a find. Picture and sound quality are a notch up most rival budget players but it’s the little extras that impress and the very unusual ability to play just about any kind of DVD.

 

Contact: your local Safeway store

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, dts output, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, 3-stage picture zoom, 3-scene bookmark, volume control, SCART lead included

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The regional coding A3 can be quickly and easily changed or disabled and the information is readily available.  It’s all done from the remote control handset; the procedure is to open the disc tray and then key in the following code: 8,4,2,1 (there’s also an alternative code 9,9,9,9). The current Region Code should now appear on the screen. To change it repeatedly press the Enter button, to enable all region playback select 9. To store the setting just press Open/Close, and that’s really all there is to it!

 

Picture Quality             4/5

Movie sound             4/5

Music sound                  3/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            5/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

REOC A3

£                                  £100

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Good performance, excellent value, some useful features

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

 

SONY DVP-NS300 £180

The DVP-NS300 suggests that Sony is not really comfortable competing at the budget end of the DVD market, but these days’ needs must and as one of the leading brands and innovators of the format Sony must be seen to have a full range of models. In some respects it’s a most un-Sony like product, parts of it look cheap and it has been stripped bare of features, connectors and style. Fortunately if you delve deep enough the Sony quality is still there but we suspect it won’t satisfy hardcore Sony fans who will have look higher up the range to find what they want.

 

Running through the list of features doesn’t take long. It has three picture search speeds (2x, 10x & 30x) and two slomo speeds, there’s a wide spatial sound effect and 3-stage digital picture noise reduction. The manual includes a long list of media it cannot play and that includes CD-R and CD-RW discs, though as we shall see, you shouldn’t believe everything thing you read. Unlike most recent budget decks it can’t play MP3 recordings and it doesn’t have any extra convenience features, like picture zoom, which is another almost standard fitment these days.

 

Whilst there’s no specific mention of DVD-R and DVD+RV compatibility in the instructions it actually plays both types, albeit in a half-hearted way with chapter skip and some menu selection functions disabled. Our sample also played audio recordings on CD-R though at dangerously high volume levels. All is forgiven when it comes to picture quality; it’s outstanding with every tiny detail precisely captured. You can count Qui-Gon Jinn’s hairs and C3PO’s wires in The Phantom Menace and there’s no loss of clarity, blurring or any processing artefacts during the action scenes. It has a wide contrast range, which suits murky sequences like the dragon attack in Shrek, but it doesn’t just favour animated and computer generated footage, delicate shades like skin tones – on both the living and the dead -- in Seven provide a gruesome reminder of the makeup artist and special effects crew’s art.

 

Dolby Surround effects pass through the analogue stereo output without any problems, picking up only very small amounts of background noise along the way and sounds, big and small, retain all of their impact. Audio CD replay has always been a strong point on Sony DVD players and the NS300 doesn’t disappoint, it’s borderline serious hi-fi, picking out nuances and subtleties that are lost on most budget and middle-ranking players.

 

Inside that uninspiring box is a very capable player but in an effort to keep the price down it has been pared to the bone and lost a lot of the Sony character. However, if you’re interested in performance and on a tight budget it has to be worth considering.

 

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

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3D spatial sound, 3-mode picture noise reduction, Sony TV control functions

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

The NS3000 remote handset is a mixture of good and bad. Points are awarded for the convenient shape, the layout of some frequently used buttons and control functions for Sony TVs, but other buttons, like picture search and track skip are much too small and close together and there’s no numeric keypad so you can’t jump to specific chapters or tracks. There’s also room for improvement with the on-screen display, especially for picture search and slomo speeds, which follow no logical pattern (2x 10x and 30x are represented as 2x, 1 and 2…). 

 

Picture Quality             5/5

Movie sound             4/5

Music sound                  4/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             3/5

Value                            4/5

 

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

SONY DVP-NS300 

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Great picture and sound but otherwise rather ordinary

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

TOSHIBA SD-110 £180 BADGE WINNER
Some companies have adapted to the fast-changing DVD market better than others and whilst initially Toshiba avoided producing budget players the recently introduced SD-110 proves it can get down and dirty with the best of them. Incidentally, if this machine takes your fancy shop around, several Internet sites had it listed at less than £150 at the time of going to press.

 

Someone has clearly put a bit of effort into the design of the slimline two-tone case, helping it to stand out from the ranks of bland black and sliver boxes. The spec too is a cut above the norm, it has most of the usual playback facilities (multi-speed search, both directions and three-speed, forward only slomo), plus an unusual three-mode picture zoom with a ‘shrink’ facility, though quite why anyone would need such a thing escapes us. There’s also two sets of picture and sound controls called EPM and EAM (electronic picture and audio management), which have presets for changing brightness and contrast levels and enabling 3D sound and dialogue modes.

 

In common with most recent Toshiba players the SD-110 also has a Component video output (in addition to normal composite, S-Video and RGB connections). Unfortunately this is of limited value, to begin with it can only be used with a suitably equipped TV or projector, and secondly, component video is designed to work best with NTSC recordings, which means the machine will have to be ‘chipped’ to play R1 discs, though there are a few Region Free NTSC movies available. Our sample played DVD-R discs without a hitch but rejected DVD-Rs as unplayable.

 

The on-screen results are stunning, close to the performance of several top-end decks in fact, with a crystal clear picture, free of any processing artefacts or noise, but it’s the extra wide contrast range that gives the picture an almost cinematic quality. Darker areas and shadows are no longer fuzzy and indistinct, colours are true to life with plenty of depth and texture and there’s no blurring or loss of cohesion when a person or object moves across the screen. Scenes in the Phantom Menace that merely look good on most DVD players -- such as the big set-piece battles on Naboo in chapter 36 -- are nothing short of spectacular on the SD100 and cry out to be seen on a big wide screen. It exposes extra layers on really difficult, dark movies like Seven and Batman and Robin and bright and colourful animated movies, like Toy Story 2 and Shrek almost jump off the screen. The EPM picture controls vary the brightness and contrast levels to some degree but we found the off position usually gave the best results for the various movies and display devices used in our tests.

 

Audio performance compliments the superb picture. The stereo output is on top form with unusually low levels of background noise, this gives an added boost to low-level Dolby Surround soundtracks, and it really should be heard through a good quality amp and speakers, though hopefully most users will take advantage of the near-perfect bitstream output and use it with a beefy 5.1 surround system. Toshiba have been slightly remiss by only fitting a coaxial output, the lack of an optical connection could inconvenience some users. As far as CD audio is concerned we suspect most users couldn’t tell the difference between the SD100 and mid-range hi-fi CD deck.

 

Whilst most budget DVD players do a fair job they tend to be either unfamiliar brands or drastically stripped down versions of more advanced models. The SD110 breaks the mould, the Toshiba name needs no introduction and AV performance is as good as anything you’ll find on a DVD player this side of £500.

 

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

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, multi-speed replay, 3-stage picture zoom/picture shrink, 4-mode picture control (EPM), 2-mode 3D/Dialogue sound control (EAM)

 

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

 

XTRA INFO

Component video is the preferred connection system for US home cinema fans. It’s also the system of choice for NTSC TVs and projectors with a progressive scan display facility. Unfortunately a component video connection has little or no effect on European PAL encoded discs. If you want to take advantage of the component video output on the SD100 you will have to get a ‘chipped’ version (there are no handset hacks for this model), that can play Region 1 discs, though be warned, it will almost certainly invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty.

 

Picture Quality             5/5

Movie sound             5/5

Music sound                  4/5

Build                             4/5

Style                             4/5

Value                            4/5

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

TOSHIBA SD-110

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Top of the line performance at a budget price

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMP’NT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              101

 

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2002, 1102

 

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