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REVIEW

 

WHARFEDALE M3 DVD PLAYER,  £90

 

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When the history of DVD is finally written Wharfedale deserves at least a footnote in chapter one. Back in early 2000 it was one of the first companies to break the A-brand monopoly with the DVD-750. This no-frills budget player cost less than £180 at a time when the average price was still more than £300. It was also one of the first players to have a hackable region lock and the first to be sold in a supermarket – in Tesco -- much to the consternation of the consumer electronics retail establishment.

 

These days there are relatively few surprises in the budget DVD player market and the Wharfedale M3 is unlikely to be remembered much beyond its sell by date but that’s not to say it’s not a good machine. The slim line case and neat front panel design is a notch up on many of its rivals and although at first glance the feature list appears quite modest, dig a little deeper and there’s several genuinely useful extras, either hidden away or buried in the setup menus.

 

For obvious reasons there is no mention in the instructions that the player can be hacked, via the handset, to play discs from any region (see box copy) but Wharfedale has missed a trick by not highlighting the fact that it can display JPEG images on recordable CD-R/RW discs (a major bonus for those with digital cameras). That’s as well as playing MP3 music files, all current recordable DVD formats plus most other flavours audio and video CD. Other notable video extras include chapter and title digest, which shows the contents of the disc as a series of sub-screens; it also has a set of component video outputs though for some reason they’re only available on the SCART connector. The only minor gripe concerns fast picture search, which has a top speed of just 16x and that makes skimming through tedious scenes or movies more time-consuming than necessary.

 

The M3 has an unusually extensive set of audio options and as well as volume and mute buttons on the handset it has rudimentary tone controls, 3D sound with reverb, bass boost, super bass and clear bass modes.

 

Operationally the only real problem is the remote handset, which is poorly laid out and looks cheap and nasty. The main transport keys are loosely bunched together at the bottom but the Play button is a good thumb stretch away, in the middle of the cluster of cursor keys. It takes a long time to train your fingers to find them all, especially the picture search and chapter skip, which are too small and too close together.

 

Wharfedale would probably be the first to admit that its DVD players are not at the cutting edge when it comes to video performance but the M3, like its predecessors is still a very capable machine. Using an RGB connection the picture on our sample was crisp and well defined and it did a very reasonable job of rendering colours and shades in well-lit scenes. The only time it betrayed its budget roots was during darker moments, like the gloomy mine scenes in Eight Legged Freaks, where there was distinct graduations or ‘banding’ around bright lights, though surprisingly it was able to extract a fair amount of detail in backgrounds and shadows.

 

Although built-in Dolby Digital and dts decoders have become a common feature on budget players the M3 has just the format standard mixed stereo and coaxial and optical bitstream audio output. The stereo channels have no more than average amounts of background noise and carry the full range of analogue Dolby Surround effects without any difficulty. Similarly the digital outputs are very clean and won’t disgrace themselves when connected to a decent AV amplifier. It did an excellent job with the complex range of effects that pour from every speaker in the movie Insomnia. MP3 replay is fine for background music and CD audio is also typical of the breed with the same adequate but unremarkable performance we’ve come to expect from budget players and modestly priced music systems.

 

The M3 has plenty going for it, not least the Wharfedale name, which is one of the few that many newcomers to DVD will have heard of in the melee at the budget end of the market. Picture and sound performance is nothing to be ashamed of but it’s the extras that will appeal to a lot of buyers looking to replace an older machine or dipping their toes into the DVD market for the first time. We are impressed by its ability to play just about any type of disc and not and just Region 1 and recordable DVDs but all of the unofficial sub-formats like MP3 and JPEG that keep springing up, and all for a little under £90 

 

 

KEY FEATURES

Contact 01422 263272

 

3D sound and audio effects

Multi-region hackable

Chapter digest

 

VERDICT

FOR

A smart looking little player with good all round AV performance, some genuinely useful extra features and the ability play just about any type of disc, including Region one and recordable DVDs

 

AGAINST

It’s let down by a sloppily designed remote, the control layout is poor and it’s unusually tacky looking, definitely not the sort of thing you’d want to leave lying around

 

FEATURES 4/5

All of the usual convenience features plus some very welcome ‘hidden’ extras

 

PERFORMANCE 3/5

A very fair set of results, comparable with the best budget and some mid-range players

 

EASE OF USE 3/5

Could do better, the design of the remote handset spoils an otherwise well-designed player

 

VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5

Very good indeed and the extras are all worth paying for

 

OVERALL 4/5

Not in the same ground-breaking mould as its predecessors but still a very useful little player at a very fair price

 

CAPTION

One of the cheapest and nastiest-looking remote handsets we’ve seen in a while and in complete contrast to the sleek and well ordered front panel

 

 

BOXOUT – REGION HACK

The region code on this machine can be quickly and easily changed by accessing a secret ‘Service’ menu within the player’s on-screen display. Since this is a non-invasive technique – it doesn’t involve removing the lid or making any modifications to the player – and the feature is already built into the machine, (albeit hidden from view), it shouldn’t have any effect on the manufacturer’s warranty. It is also perfectly safe, though we have to stress that you try it entirely at your own risk and we can take no responsibility if you toast your player. Moreover, we cannot guarantee that it will always work as manufacturers change the ‘firmware’ (the software that controls a player) from time to time. 

 

Begin by pressing the eject button on the handset then quickly enter the following sequence: Setup, 8, 8, 8, 8. If all’s well then a new item ‘Version’ should appear. You have to do this first step quite quickly or the menu may disappear and you’ll have to start over from the beginning. If nothing happens you may have a different firmware version, in which case try this alternative code sequence: Setup 4, 9, 4, 5, 0.

 

When the Version box appears select it using the up/down cursor buttons then press the Play button. A new menu screen will be shown with Region Code about halfway down. Highlight it then press the right cursor button, then the up and down buttons to step through the options. Change it to 0 for ‘All Region’ replay or 1 for Region 1 discs with RCE (Region Code Enhancement) protection. The Same menu also has option for HDCD and VCD, both of which should be set to ‘On’ by default. To store the setting use the Cursor button to select Main Page, press Play then Exit Setup and Close the disc tray.

 

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2003, 1003

 

 

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