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SONY DVP-S315, £500, ****

Why’s it here: The DVP-S315 is the second Region 2 DVD player for the UK launched by Sony in less than six months but on paper at least it looks quite similar to the DVP-S715, reviewed in the August issue of HE. So what's going on?  The most obvious differences are on the outside. The smart brushed aluminium fascia and silver box has been replaced with a more formal all-black livery. There's been some relatively minor changes to the spec; gone are the switchable digital noise reduction system and the shuttle ring speed control on the remote handset has disappeared, but the most significant change has been to the price with the DVP-S315 selling for around £100 less than the S715. This puts Sony much closer to where the action is at the moment, with the majority of new players coming on to the market priced at between £450 to £500.

 

Any unique features: Sadly no, as we've said the S315 actually has fewer features than its predecessor, and that was fairly modestly equipped by current standards. In the absence of any glitzy widgets or extras, like AC-3 or MPEG Audio decoding the main points of interest become relatively mundane things like the menu-driven on-screen display. It's not the prettiest we've seen but it is functional and easy to access. Connectivity is good too, there's a pair of SCART sockets on the back -- configured for RGB and S-Video output -- there's also a separate S-Video output socket and mixed stereo output plus it has a headphone socket on the front with it's own level control. The remote control handset is a bit of swine with over 50 buttons for heaven's sake. Part of the reason for that is the multi-brand TV functions, but it really is very awkward to use, especially in a darkened room.

 

How does it perform: The S315 starts to make more sense as soon as it's up and running; picture quality is quite simply excellent, and that's without the additional noise reduction of the S715. Watching Batman and Robin again for the umpteenth time is a revelation; on some players a lot of information is lost in the gloomy cinematography, on this one the wider than normal contrast range actually seems to enhance fine detail. Rapid movement, bright colours and dark scenes can be a breeding ground for digital artefacts. Not on this machine. Colour fidelity and registration are both spot on and subtle shades are faithfully rendered.

 

The mixed stereo output is almost entirely free of background hiss and it carries Dolby Surround soundtracks with consummate ease. Low-level background sounds and effects that we had previously missed on Jumanji appeared from nowhere and it is a definite notch up on its rivals when it comes to playing audio CDs, the S315 might even raise a flicker of interest amongst serious hi-fi buffs.

 

Our Verdict: Last Summer we gave the S715 a warm welcome and we see no reason not to do the same for its new stablemate. The feature list isn't very long -- there are some very well specified players for the same sort of money -- but the bottom line has to be AV performance. In that respect the DVP-S315 has success written all over it, and not just for DVD playback, this is one of the few machines on the market that gives a good account of itself with audio discs as well. Worth considering.

 

Sony UK, telephone 0990 111999

 

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Features                     multi-speed replay, comprehensive on-screen display, multi-brand TV remote, parental lock, headphone level

Sockets                       Rear: 2 x SCART AV out, mixed stereo line out, composite video & coaxial digital out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), optical digital out (optical jack). Front: headphone socket (jack)

Dimensions                 430 x 98 x 325mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Hitachi DV-P2E £450, Pioneer DVD-505 £500, Samsung DVD-907, £500

 

Captions

·        Any colour you like as long as it's black… at least the display panel is bright and easy to read

·        The shuttle dial on the front panel is handy for reviewing a recording but it would have been more useful on the handset

·        There's not much to see around the back, just a couple of SCART sockets and a fairly routine assortment of AV connectors

·        More than 50 buttons, count 'em… The remote handset is a bit of a nightmare to use, especially in a darkened room

 

 

HEAD

PHILIPS VR800, £300, ****

Why’s it here: Philips has gone from strength to strength in the VCR market, they're the leading brand in Europe, and determined to keep it that way. The VR800 is its latest entry-level NICAM VCR, it's not the cheapest or best specified stereo hi-fi machine on the market, but Philips are going for the quality angle and stressing the effort they've put into improving performance and ease of use.

 

Any unique features: It's not Philips style, at least not these days, its VCRs tend to be fairly conventional under the skin, though they have tried to be different with the cosmetics. The VR800 is not without its quirks, auto switch off after 5 minutes, is one of them. Philips claims it is to save power, maybe so but if you forget about it and the screen suddenly goes blank it for no apparent reason it can be downright annoying. There are plenty of good points though, like a very efficient auto install system, manual audio recording level control, the multi-brand TV remote and the SCART lead included in the accessory pack.   

 

How does it perform: Picture quality is actually very good, our sample managed to resolve just under 250 lines without any difficulty. Whether it's the laser cut heads or the snazzy tape tuning and noise reduction systems we can't say, but they add up to a very clean picture with crisp, accurately aligned colours. It's stable too, there's negligible jitter and trick play is very steady. Noise on the audio soundtracks is just a whisker below average but the response is wide and flat, just right in fact for home cinema applications.

 

Our Verdict: It's a fine machine, no doubt about it, and we'd certainly be happy to use it as a home cinema component but these are difficult times for VCR buyers. For another £50 there's the very tempting prospect of a Super VHS video recorder from JVC, and the for the same amount of money as a VR800 there are some quite well specified machines from the likes of Sharp and Hitachi, even so, it's still worth shortlisting.  

 

Philips, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

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Features                     NICAM stereo sound, Video Plus+ timer with PDC, auto installation, NTSC replay, NexTViewLink, manual audio recording level control, child lock, continuous playback, syncro edit, multi-brand TV remote, auto power off

Dimensions                 430 x 290 x 100mm

Sockets                       Rear: 2 x SCART AV in/out, stereo line audio in/out (phono), RF in/out (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono), syncro edit (minijack).

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys            JVC HR-J655 £280, Panasonic NV-HD630 £330, Sharp MH-731, £300

 

CAPTIONS

·        The front panel styling is distinctive with a whiff of mini AV system through in for good measure

·        Two SCARTs and a set of line audio sockets means this machine is very well connected

·        The remote handset is quite compact and can control the main functions on several dozen brands of TV

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1998, 1111

 

 

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