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DVD player

READY TO PLUNGE INTO THE WORLD OF DVD?

We give a few hints and tips

Imagine taking your laserdisc into your favourite neighbourhood dry cleaner's, then discovering upon pickup that the 12" disc has been shrunk to the size of a CD, while its capacity has been increased substantially.

Welcome to the latest generation of video: DVD.

DVD discs not only up the laserdisc's 60 minutes per side to 133 minutes, but by adding another layer beneath the original one - and using both sides of the disc - you can have an amazing 8.7 hours in total on a CD-sized platter. And you get the best video and audio quality ever offered to a home theater enthusiast.

Naturally, however, you need a whole new player, which means a new search of the store shelves.

What do you need to know before making a buying decision? The few basics outlined here should help you make an informed choice.

Most current players have built in Dolby Digital decoders, for receivers that have the six channel inputs or hi-fi systems that offer separate amplifiers and preamps. Other units incorporate high end features such as component or multiple S-Video outputs, while some can play Video CDs or "home made" audio CD's. Some even offer a built in microphone mixer for the karaoke enthusiast.

So what really stands out from one machine to the other? Are there any differences in their picture and sound quality? How do they do for playing music CDs? And what does the future hold for the DVD format?

FEATURES AND BENEFITS

Simply put, DVD's picture quality is simply breathtaking and never has such consistency of picture quality ever been achieved in A/V components before: whether you purchase a relatively inexpensive player or a top of the line unit, you'll enjoy picture quality never before experienced in your home.

Certainly, there are feature differences to consider, but if frills aren't on your agenda we recommend purchasing a basic model from a well-known brand name.

Look at least for an S-connector output (even if your current television doesn't have it), because your next TV probably will have one. Most players today have the S-connector, which improves the image quality you get on your TV. There are a variety of I/O options as well, for hooking the player into your A/V receiver or amplifier. Our advice is to have a look at the back panel of your potential DVD player to make sure it will be compatible with your current or future A/V system.

"Component video" outputs are found on many of today's DVD players. These split your video signal into its components: the luminance (all video signals use black and white "luminance" as the basis for a picture), and the colour signals. This is a "high end" hookup that gives the best possible picture quality, without any smearing or noise - but remember that it isn't much good if your TV set doesn't have the corresponding inputs.

Even without component video, DVD gives you the best picture you'll experience in your livingroom today, but it's something you may want to keep in mind if you're planning to upgrade your TV.

COMBI OR NOT?

If you have a collection of Laserdiscs and your LD machine is on its last legs you may want to consider a combination machine. Pioneer is the only manufacturer doing this to date, and there probably won't be a lot more offered because DVD has, unfortunately, virtually killed the LD format.

As far as combination machines are concerned, we generally feel you can't really go wrong since it gives you access to the best of both worlds.

Another "combi player" is the DVD changer, which like a CD changer plays up to five discs! This can get a great way to feed your CD or DVD addiction - though it also makes for a long evening of movie watching!

DVD MUSIC MACHINE

Is the DVD player's sound as good as that from a CD player?

If you're looking for high end sound quality and you're willing to spend thousands to hear subtle sound differences between one machine and another, then we suggest purchasing a separate CD player. This way you will be assured of the best sound quality from the different formats. Generally speaking, if one can isolate disc the drive transport and the electronic circuitry from each another, there's less chance of impairing the sound quality.

Most people will be perfectly happy with the "all-in-one" DVD machine, though if you still want that little "bit" extra, look for the higher end DVD players in a manufacturer's lineup: the CD section will usually be upgraded.

Or…

DVD Audio

Many audio experts feel that a new, higher "sampling rate" (using the 96kHz format) will produce better audio quality than the regular CD format. This has led to the introduction of "DVD Audio," which offers "high resolution" multichannel sound.

This is a high end audio format that may never catch on with "mainstream" consumers - and not all DVD players are capable of handling the format. An increasing number of discs is being released, however, so you may want to take it into consideration if high end audio is a priority for you.

Remember, though, DVD's already give great sound even if they aren't "96K compatible."

DVD Player

INBOARD DOLBY DIGITAL OR OUTBOARD?

As with boating enthusiasts, the inboard or outboard debate has always been big in the world of audio and video. There are pro and cons to both, including those of your pocketbook.

Generally, it's more cost effective to purchase a "Dolby Digital and/or DTS" or "Digital ready" receiver. Remember, though, that a Dolby digital "ready" receiver means you still have to add either a separate outboard digital processor or buy a DVD machine with all the goods inboard.

The "high end way" to set up a Dolby digital system is to go with separate components, like preamplifier, surround processor, and five amplifiers, as opposed to the more mainstream method of getting everything built into one box (the trusty old receiver).

Whatever method you choose, make sure the DVD machine has all the capabilities needed to work with your audio set-up. Just remember that there are always trade offs when you choose to have everything built into the DVD player as opposed to what a separate processor may offer.

Don't be afraid to make a compromise (today's equipment is so good you'll probably be happy anyway) but be aware of what you're buying.

CAN YOU SEE THE DIFFERENCE?

You know this scenario: five people witness an accident and the police receive five different accounts of it. Luckily, in the DVD world, picture quality from one machine to another is so close that - relatively speaking - everyone's opinion is about the same: "Awesome!"

The DVD format has adhered to very close standards as compared to the wide variety of amplifiers and receivers in the marketplace. That isn't to say that there are no differences between a $700 and a $3000 unit, however, especially to the trained eye. The comparisons generally lie in the detection of "digital artifacts" which can cause a picture to shimmer or produce some jagged outlines in a scene.

RCA5200

Some manufacturers have increased their video processing abilities from 9 bit to 10 bit, which is supposed to minimize this problem.

Some machines may make the picture look a little softer than others, or you may find the contrast better on some. As mentioned earlier, you can find subtle differences among manufacturers, but you may not see $2300 worth of difference between the $700 and $3000 unit.

We can't stress enough to try before you buy - and trust your eyes and ears!

DVD EUPHORIA

DVD is a wonderful addition to any home theatre system and will enhance your enjoyment. If you're uncertain, rent a DVD player and a couple of discs to see for yourself.

We bet you'll never want to look at VHS again!

Good luck!

 

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January 31, 2006