a DVD Player: Bells, or Whistles?
do you Really Need?
by Jim Bray
Since we're supposed to get back into our normal spending habits despite
the war, you may have decided to buy a DVD player this fall.
If so, what features do you really need, and what's merely icing on the
Progressive scan is one of the best features, and it's all the rage right
now. Progressive scan DVD players send a picture of "non-interlaced"
frames to your TV as opposed to the interlaced "fields" (which
are only half a frame each) of typical DVD players and televisions. Color
reproduction is remarkable, and there are no scan lines in the picture.
The problem is that a progressive scan DVD player is useless on a regular,
non digital TV that doesn't have progressive scan video inputs, so unless
you're planning to upgrade your TV as well, or want to fight "planned
obsolescence" down the road, there's no point in spending the extra
The same goes for component video output, which is the best way short
of progressive scan to watch a DVD. Component video breaks down the picture
into its primary components before sending it to the TV, but there's little
point if your TV doesn't have component inputs. More and more lower end
players offer this feature, however, so it could be worth getting if you
plan to upgrade your TV soon.
And don't forget: you'll need a video input jack on your TV (even a standard
"RCA-type" Video In jack will do) for any DVD player; otherwise
you have to patch the DVD player through your VCR and daisy chain the
connections that way. It'll work, but it isn't nearly as good.
Better than the RCA jack, but not as good as component video, is the
S-connector. This is also common on DVD players today, and can be a reasonable
compromise if you have the S-input on your TV.
The question of whether your DVD player should offer DTS audio as well
as Dolby Digital is pretty well moot now. Most players offer both, so
don't sweat it excessively.
You should know the difference between the two formats, though. In a
nutshell, DTS is considered by many to be a "higher end" audio
format that supposedly offers better overall sound than Dolby Digital
(or, as it used to be called, "AC-3"). If you're buying mainstream
equipment for a typical home theater, however, you may never notice the
Not only that, but if you're buying a DVD player to plug into a "Dolby
Digital-ready" receiver (one that has the separate inputs for the
audio channels, but no onboard Dolby Digital decoder), it makes sense
to buy a DVD player with its own onboard Digital Surround decoder and
audio output jacks. This may limit you to Dolby Digital, but I'm willing
to bet you won't care. The only time you might is if you buy a DVD audio
disc that has been encoded only in DTS. These are the exceptions rather
than the rule, however.
Then there's the age old question "Should I have an optical or a
coaxial digital audio output?" Fortunately an increasing number of
players now offer both, so this also makes the question moot to a certain
Unless, of course, you're trying to hook the player into a receiver or
preamp that doesn't both, or either, input. Don't forget to check your
audio system before heading to the video store!
How about a five disc changer versus a single disc player? This is also
more of an audio consideration than a video one, unless you like sitting
through five movies at a stretch. If you're going to use the DVD player
for playing your compact disc library, and you like the convenience of
a CD changer, the DVD changer may be your best bet.
Don't forget to check out the various players' remote controls and onscreen
menus. If all else is equal between players you're auditioning, buy the
one that's easiest to learn and use.
And remember those menus when you get the player home. The audio output
of many DVD's defaults to old fashioned Dolby Pro Logic, rather than the
far superior Dolby Digital -- so if you want to enjoy the all-digital
signal (assuming your audio equipment has the capability) you'll have
to switch to it manually using the setup menu.
Jim Bray's technology
columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.
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