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GROUP TEST

 

DVD MEGA TEST

 

PRODUCT INFO


MAKE/MODEL            JVC XV-S302

Price                             £150

 

What's good                  a solid performer and a very fair price

What's bad                    no MP3 replay and odd cosmetics

Overall comment             behind the strange-looking front panel lurks a fairly ordinary entry-level machine but AV quality if fine and itís great value for a player from a leading manufacturer

 

Telephone JVC 020 8450 3282, www.jvc-europe.com

Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            no

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       1

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     no

Other features            3-mode picture control (Theatre Position), 3-D sound (2-mode), scene digest/strobe

 

Weight              2.4kg

Dimensions (WHD)  435 x 68 x 271mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            JVC XV-S302

£                                  £150

VERDICT                      4

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            good value entry-level machine

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              106

 

 

 

MAKE/MODEL             LG DVD 5095

Price                             £250

 

What's good                  classy looks, well specified

What's bad                    average performance

Overall comment            some interesting cosmetic touches, the mirror finish and dinky controls are definitely eye-catching and the general spec is quite generous but overall performance is fairly ordinary

 

Telephone LG Electronics 01753 50047, www.lginternetfamily.co.uk


Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            yes

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes      

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       1         

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     no

Other features            3D sound, LG TV remote, 9-scene marker, speaker setup

 

Weight              3.2kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 69 x 245mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            LG DVD 5095

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      3/5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            classy looks but average performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              106

 

 

Make/Model                  PANASONIC DVD-XV10
Price                             £250

 

What's good                  stunning design with performance to match

What's bad                    awful remote handset and lack of a coaxial digital output

Overall comment            kudos to Panasonic for daring to be different, itís a really bold design that shows that DVD doesnít have to be another boring black box technology, shame about the remote, though

 

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


Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            no

SCARTS                       1

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     no

Other features            2-mode picture control, 2-mode 3D sound & dialogue enhancer, bass boost, backlit LCD display, sound on 2x search

Weight              2.9kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 52 x 300mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            PANASONIC DVD-XV10

£                                  £250

VERDICT                      5/5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            Slick stylish and outstanding AV performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              106

 

 

Make/Model                  SONY DVP NS-405
Price                             £200

 

What's good                  smart, understated good looks, top notch AV performance

What's bad                    unexciting spec

Overall comment             another very sure-footed design from Sony but lacking some the usual glitz and pizzazz, but forget all that just sit back and enjoy the excellent picture and sound quality

 

Telephone Sony 08705 111999, www.sony.co.uk

Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            no

SCARTS                       1

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     no

Other features            4-mode picture control, 3-mode 3D sound, picture enhancer, multi-brand TV remote

 

Weight              2.3kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 62 x 255mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            SONY DVP NS-405

£                                  £200

VERDICT                      5/5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            routine spec but brilliant AV quality

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMPíNT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              106

 

 

 

Make/Model                  TOSHIBA SD220E
Price                             £180

 

What's good                  excellent picture and sound, great value

What's bad                    slightly dowdy looks

Overall comment            if youíve got a high end TV with component video inputs check out the multi-region versions, but definitely worth short listing in any case for the exceptional picture quality and very clean movie sound

 

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

Multi-Region            no

Built in decoders            no

NTSC replay                  yes

MP3 playback            yes

Picture Zoom            yes

SCARTS                       1

Headphone socket  no

S-Video output            yes

Component video     yes

Other features            4-mode picture control, 3-mode sound control

Weight              2.4kg

Dimensions (WHD)  430 x 69 x 222mm

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

MAKE/MODEL            TOSHIBA SD220E

£                                  £180

VERDICT                      5/5

STATUS                       

COMMENTS    

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        N

OUTPUT                       Dig

COMPíNT VID            Y

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE              106

 

BODY COPY

 

FEATURES AND CONNECTIONS

DVD has developed at such a rapid pace that itís difficult to tell if weíre into the third or fourth generation of players but it appears that most manufacturers have reached an unofficial consensus on what features the well-dressed entry-level and mid-market deck should have this season.

 

All five players in this roundup have a more or less standard assortment of trick-play facilities; only the Toshiba SD-220 lets the side down with forward only slow motion. Panasonicís XV10 has sound on 2x picture search. Sadly itís unintelligible and therefore utterly pointless, but weíll forgive that sexy, slinky and very shiny machine almost anything but if you get one just make sure you wear gloves, the mirror finish looks awful covered in finger marksÖ

 

Picture controls, that jiggle contrast and brightness to suit different types of material can be quite useful so the LG 5095 drops a couple of points for not having any but it makes up some lost ground with trendy mirror-fronted cosmetics and the on-board Dolby Digital decoder. However be warned that 5.1 surround is of limited value since pretty well all AV amps have the decoders built in nowadays. For similar reasons the component video outputs on the Toshiba SD-220 fails to impress. Only a tiny handful of high-end TVs and projectors have the necessary input socketry and even then it really only benefits NTSC material, most of which is coded for US Region 1 and therefore of little value to the most users, unless they opt for a Ďchippedí version of this machine. Incidentally, all five players are firmly locked to Region 2; previous LG players have had hackable region locks but no codes for the 5095 had emerged at the time of writing.

 

Pseudo surround or 3D spatial sound is common to all five, support for picture zoom is patchy however, and Sony and Panasonic has seen fit to do without it on the NS405 and XV10. Toshiba are big zoom fans though and the SD220 has three stages of magnification and a curious Ďshrinkí option. MP3 replay has been a popular add-on this year, the only dissident in this group is the JVC XV-S302 but it is the only player with Scene Digest, which is a quick and easy way of navigating discs with a poor or non-existent scene selection. It also has a picture Ďstrobeí, a close runner-up to Panasonicís sound on search and picture Ďshrinkí in the useless feature stakes. A multi-brand TV remote control is a bonus on the Sony NS405; the DVD-5095 handset can also control basic telly functions but only on LG TVs.

 

Aside from the component video connections on the Tosh player and the LG 5095ís 5.1 channel outputs the only back panel oddities are a separate sub woofer socket on the Panasonic XV10 -- this is tied in with a 2-mode bass-boost Ė and a pair of Compulink jacks on the JVC S302, used to link it up with the remote controls on other JVC AV components. All of the players have a SCART socket configurable for composite or RGB video, and in some cases S-Video as well but they all have separate S-Video output connectors.  Coaxial and optical bitstream digital audio output sockets are fitted to the LG, Toshiba and Sony players, the Panasonic player is optical output only and itís coaxial or nothing on the JVC S320.

 

JVC XV-S302                 4/5
LG DVD 5095                4/5
Panasonic DVD-XV10     4/5

Sony DVP NS405              4/5
Toshiba SD220E                        4/5

 

EASE OF USE

Although setting up a DVD player is a doddle -- compared with a VCR -- inevitably some players are easier to configure than others and in this roundup the Sony DVP-NS405 and Panasonic XV10 show how it should be done. At switch on for the first time they display ĎQuick Setupí menus, with simple help screens covering operating language, TV shape, video and audio connections. To be fair the others are all reasonably straightforward and for the most part the only things most users need to worry about is selecting the correct aspect ratio -- to match their TVs -- and select the optimum video connection, which on all models (and in ascending order of quality) is between composite video, S-Video and RGB. Toshiba and LG thoughtfully provide SCART leads whilst the others stick with cheapo triple phono-to-phono AV cables.

 

Thereís very little to choose between the instruction manuals for these players; first-timers will probably find them all a little daunting but theyíre all well illustrated and providing they get read Ė preferably before the players are plugged in -- most users are unlikely to experience too much difficulty.

 

Front panel controls on DVD players get relatively little use Ė unless the remote goes AWOL Ė and this persuaded a lot of manufacturers to play around with minimalist designs and dispense with all but the bare minimum of transport controls. The exception here is the Toshiba SD220, which has a very busy front panel with a full set of menu and function buttons. The LG 3095 is at the opposite extreme with just a row of near microscopic mini buttons though their location is pinpointed by a set of little blue lights, nevertheless it does make finding the eject button in a semi-darkened living room a bit of a chore. The front panel displays on the Toshiba, Sony, LG and JVC are all much of a muchness but the wafer-thin Panasonic XV10 has prompted the designers to use a tiny backlit LCD panel, which looks quite smart close to but itís almost impossible to read more than metre away.

 

The burden of controlling these players naturally falls to the remote handsets and on-screen displays and here we find quite a wide variation between the best and the worst. The Sony NS-405 does quite well, important transport and function keys are mostly accessible and the menus are well presented and easy to understand, The JVC and Toshiba handsets are also quite neatly laid out. The one supplied with the LG 3095 looks quite promising too but itís let down by the fact that chapter skip and picture functions share the same buttons and itís all too easy to inadvertently get them mixed up and skip, when you meant to search, and vice-versa. The buttons on the Panasonic XV10 handset are tiny and packed closely together so they can be quite tricky to find, even after youíve trained your fingers.

 

JVC XV-S302                 4/5
LG DVD 5095                3/5
Panasonic DVD-XV10     3/5

Sony DVP NS405              4/5
Toshiba SD220E                        4/5

PICTURE QUALITY

Selected scenes from the Harry Potter movie, Phantom Menace, Moulin Rouge and Se7en formed the basis of our picture quality checks in this roundup. They were chosen to highlight differences in the players ability to extract detail under difficult conditions, reproduce colours, particularly subtle shades like skin tones and cope with rapid movement and sudden changes in brightness.

 

We also check each machine for compatibility with a number of non-standard discs, including DVD-R and DVD+R recordings made on DVD recorders and a DVD camcorder. Whilst this may not be terribly important to most users at the moment it could be a deciding factor in a couple of years when DVD recorders become more widespread. For the sake of consistency the bulk of the checks are carried out using an S-Video connection between our test TV and monitors and is the type of connection that most users will (or should) use. We also look at the RGB video output but not all TVs have this facility and on those that do the results tend to be more variable.  

 

The LG 5095 turned in what can only be described as an average set of results. There were no serious flaws as such but it was the least able when it came to dealing with dark or gloomy sequences, revealing little of the background detail or textures that players with a wider contrast range manage to extract. Interior shots in chapter 4 in Se7en are a stern test in this respect and whilst the torchlight scene in the darkened apartment didnít create any block noise Ė a common failing on budget players Ė you could see it was struggling.

 

Bright and highly saturated colours look okay but fine graduations are muted Ė there are plenty of lingering close-ups and head shots in the opening chapters of Harry Potter, good opportunities for pimple counting on actorís faces, but they end up looking just a little flat and featureless, on the plus side though it has no problem with fast action and explosions. 

 

As a matter of interest the LG5095 was the only player that had difficulty with a DVD-R test recording made a while ago on a Panasonic DVD recorder, however, it was able to play a more recent recording made on a Hitachi DVD camcorder. All five models played DVD+R recordings without problems.

 

Skin tones and delicate natural colours suffered from a slightly heavy-handed treatment at the hands of the JVC S302, though to a much lesser degree than the 5095 and the contrast balance was noticeably better. Moulin Rouge, which is pretty dark throughout, retained all of its vibrancy and energy, especially the dance sequences and the tricky chapter 19 ĎLike a Virginí number. The Pod Race in Phantom Menace and the highly detailed crowd scenes came across really well confirming that it has no difficulty with fast movement and fine detail.

 

The picture on the Sony NS405 was crisp and generally well balanced though we detected a very slight mushiness in darker backgrounds. Detail in brick and stonework at King Cross station and Hogwarts in Harry Potter, for example, looked a little softer than it might otherwise but in all other respects it did very well, and it never missed a beat with the fast-paced battle scenes in Phantom Menace, cleaning picking out every burst of laser fire and bits of flying debris from the many explosions.

 

We had an incredibly difficult time choosing between the Toshiba 220 and Panasonic XV10 and in the end, such minor differences as there were virtually cancelled each other out. Quite simply picture quality on both machines was superb! What separated them from the other players was an almost indefinable 3D quality of the images. Colours appear to have extra depth and lustre, you quickly become more aware of tiny and often obscure details, like falling raindrops in the opening minutes of Se7en and feathers on the owls in Diagon Alley in chapter 5 in Harry Potter. Night-time scenes and shadowy sequences really open up, exposing deep rich textures and graduations in the lighting.  The sumptuous colours of the dancerís dresses in Moulin Rouge blaze out of the screen, and on a big screen fire and explosions will have you ducking for cover, just try sitting still during the big set-piece battles towards the end of the Phantom Menace.

 

JVC XV-S302                 4/5
LG DVD 5095                3/5
Panasonic DVD-XV10     5/5

Sony DVP NS-405                   4/5
Toshiba SD220E                        5/5

 

SOUND QUALITY

Since only one of our five review machines has a built-in Dolby Digital decoder we have concentrated on the quality of the analogue mixed stereo output, with only passing reference to the bitstream outputs, in any case since we started testing DVD players we have found comparatively little variation in the performance of the latter on budget and mid-range players since it is raw digital data and the end result is largely dependent on the abilities of the decoder and amplifier used to process the signal. We use the same set of test discs for the DVD checks and these are supplemented with a small selection of audio CDs and a CD-R containing a mix of high and low bitrate MP3 tracks.

 

Bangs and explosions are a staple ingredient in all good action blockbusters and all of the players gave a good account of themselves in the lightning storm on the remote island in Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and throughout Phantom Menace but small differences started to emerge on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, which switches with alarming speed between raunchy music to quiet and highly atmospheric moments.

 

The LG 5095 was the least involving, of the five, it did a workmanlike enough job, and background hiss was well suppressed, but it wasnít the sort of sound to rouse the emotions and it was slow to respond to some of the really subtle effects, like the almost subliminal tinkling sound that begins as Satine descends on her swing in the Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend sequence. This particular effect was picked up earliest by the Sony NS405 and Toshiba 220, with the Panasonic and JVC players chiming in a just a fraction of a second later. The Dolby Digital decoder in the LG 5095 works well Ė at least as good as the decoders in most budget and mid-market AV amps  -- with all channels cleanly separated and with minimal background noise.

 

The best all round performances came from the Sony and Toshiba players, which were consistently better than the other three at extracting low level sounds and this helped to create a big dynamic soundfield with lots of movement and sharply focused effects.

   

Audio CD replay was a slightly different story. Once again the Sony player came out on top but it was closely followed by the Panasonic XV10 and these two machines can hold their own against mid-range hi-fi components. The Toshiba SD220 and JVC S302 certainly didnít disgrace themselves though, but they lacked the precision and clarity of the other two. The LG 5095 wasnít far behind either but once again there was a slight mushiness that took the edge off its performance.

 

MP3 performance on the four players that have it is not too bad at all though the high-levels of compression are always apparent, nevertheless the facility to cram several hours worth of music onto a single disc means these machines have a useful role as providers of party music.

 

JVC XV-S302                 4/5
LG DVD 5095                3/5
Panasonic DVD-XV10     4/5

Sony DVP NS-405                   5/5
Toshiba SD220E                        5/5

 

VALUE

Thereís little doubt where the £250 for the Panasonic and LG players is going. On the XV10 it pays for top-grade picture and sound but above all an extraordinarily eye-catching case design that youíre either going to love or hate. Itís a bold move for Panasonic, which is tends to be quite traditional when it comes to styling but we think itís stunning and hope that it will persuade other manufacturers to try their hands at something a bit radical.

 

The design department at LG has also been working overtime and the mirrored front panel and titchy buttons are not without a certain charm, but itís mostly window dressing and behind the mirror lurks rather conventional player. Of course you also get a Dolby Digital decoder but, as weíve said before, on many occasions, we prefer to have the decoder separate or built into the amplifier; apart from anything else itís a more flexible arrangement and simplifies connections, but those with older decoderless AV amps should certainly give it the once-over.

 

Two hundred pounds seems like a very fair price indeed for the excellent Sony NS405, it performed consistently well in every one of our tests and turned out to be a most agreeable machine with few, if any drawbacks. Much the same can be said of the Toshiba SD220, itís another highly competent player thatís going to win a lot of friends. Component video output is being touted as a key feature and itís definitely not something you see every day on a DVD player costing less than £200, but before you get too carried away do bear in mind what we said about the need for suitable sockets on your display device, and the regional coding issues.

 

By any reckoning the JVC XV-320 is remarkably good value for money and it may well be the cheapest player yet from an A-brand manufacturer (though not for long we suspect). You sacrifice almost nothing, unless you count MP3 replay as an asset, picture and sound quality are within a whisker of most of itís dearer contemporaries, itís a shame about the front panel, though. Letís not mince words, it looks cheap and ugly and slapping lots of little badges and logos all over the place does nothing to improve its appearance. 

 

JVC XV-S302                 4/5
LG DVD 5095                3/5
Panasonic DVD-XV10     4/5

Sony DVP NS-405                   5/5
Toshiba SD220E                        5/5

---end---

 

R. Maybury 2002, 1006

 

 

 

 

 

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