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Sony DVPS9000ES

Pretty Pictures from Progressive Scan DVD

By Jim Bray

Since DVD player are about as cheap as VCR's, why would anyone spend $1500 on one?

The answer, as evidenced by the stratospheric Sony model with which I've been playing, is "You get what you pay for."

Still, that high end player had better do some big time singing and dancing if it's going to separate consumers from their dollars. Fortunately, Sony appears to understand that.

The $1500 DVPS9000ES is Sony's first video product to carry the "ES" label the company has traditionally reserved for its highest end audio products. The reason is that the 9000 is more than just a high end DVD video player; it also handles Super Audio CD's (SACD), the Sony/Philips high end audio format that's competing with the incompatible (of course) DVD Audio format.

SACD discs are about as common as hen's teeth, but Sony was kind enough to send me a couple - and they blew me away. Both were jazz recordings with audio that sounded so real I almost felt as if I could reach out and poke the singer in the eye. Better still, SACD discs are backward compatible so, unlike DVD Audio, they'll play in any CD player. DVD Audio discs will play in any DVD player, even if it isn't a true DVD-Audio one, but not in CD players.

Naturally, the 9000ES also handles Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround sound with aplomb, and it sounds fabulous.

Where I was really impressed with the DVPS9000ES, however, was its video performance. This was my first experience with the 480P progressive scan output, and I'm hooked.

Progressive scan eschews the "interlacing" of normal TV (where each frame is broken up into two "fields" displayed one after the other) and, as with most of today's computer monitors, outputs the entire frame at once. The result is a richness and depth of color that, while generally quite subtle, is also lovely to behold. It isn't really noticeable on some DVD's, particularly animated movies, but at times the picture looked so real at times it looked almost 3D.

So, since it never actually made the picture look worse, if I had my druthers I'd opt for progressive scan any time.

On the other hand, another family member couldn't see the difference at all.

You need a TV that accepts progressive scan signals, of course, but Sony has made the player's output switchable between interlaced and progressive scan, so it can be used on any TV with video input jacks, whether they be conventional RCA type, S-video, or component.

Audio outputs include the traditional analog RCA jacks, as well as coaxial and optical digital terminals.

Such flexibility is only the beginning of the stuff Sony has crammed into this rather ugly box. As befitting a high end deck, there's a cornucopia of adjustments that let you tailor the picture and sound to your liking, and even something called Playback Memory, which remembers your preferred settings for up to 200 different discs so that every time you play one of them, the player sets itself automatically to the set-up you prefer (including Audio, Subtitles, Video EQ, Digital Noise Reduction, Digital Cinema Sound modes and even Camera Angle).

Setting these up for 200 discs must be a real treat!

Sony's Dynamic Focus Pickup (part of its Precision Drive system), even helps you get the most out of defective DVD's. A disc that refused to play properly on two other DVD players worked fine on the ES without the unit so much as breaking a sweat or giving any evidence that the disc was less than perfect.

As delightful as this DVD player is, however, it isn't without warts. The biggest omission I noticed was the lack of playback for homemade CD-R discs and DVD Audio. While I can understand why Sony would prefer DVD-Audio would go away, a $1500 player should handle as many formats as possible.

I also didn't like the very shallow disc tray, which makes it difficult to seat a disc when the lights are subdued, and the front panel controls and labels are so small they're practically useless. Fortunately, the remote control is well designed and executed.

Despite these caveats, however, this Sony ES DVD player is a remarkable machine that offers the best DVD video playback I've seen so far, with matching audio quality.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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Updated May 13, 2006