Consumer Reports - DVD-players

Jan 17 19:40 2007 Brooke Yan Print This Article

These devices play high-quality videos and CDs, and prices are lower than ever.

The DVD has come to dominate video even more quickly than the CD conquered audio in the 1980s. Along with changing what we watch--discs rather than tapes--DVDs are changing how we watch. The digital format makes it easy to go directly to desired sections of a movie,Guest Posting and the picture and sound quality surpass what you’ll get with a videotape. One DVD can store a complete two-hour-plus movie with a Dolby Digital or DTS soundtrack containing six to eight audio channels. There’s also room for extra material such as multiple languages, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and commentary by the director or actors. High-definition DVD players are expected to hit the market by the beginning of 2006.DVD players can play standard audio CDs, and some models fully support DVD-Audio or SACD, two competing high-resolution audio formats offering multichannel sound. While DVD players are playback-only devices,DVD recorders record as well as play. Prices of recorders have dropped considerably in the past few years, with entry-level models now selling for less than $200.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE

Apex, Panasonic, Sony, and Toshiba are among the biggest-selling brands of DVD players. Virtually all new DVD playersare progressive-scan models. When used with a conventional TV, these players provide the usual high DVD picture quality. With a TV that can display high-definition (HD) or enhanced-definition (ED) images, image quality is slightly better. That’s because HD and ED sets support the player’s progressive-scan 480p mode, drawing 480 consecutive lines on the screen. By comparison, with a conventional TV, every other line is drawn and then interlaced or combined, a resolution referred to as 480i. A player can be connected directly to your TV for viewing movies or routed through your receiver to play movies and audio CDs on your sound system. Progressive-scan models come in single-disc and multidisc versions. The few non-progressive-scan players now on the market are mostly single-disc models; these tend to be the cheapest type.Single-disc consoles. Even low-end models usually include all the video outputs you might want. Price range: less than $60 to more than $300. Multidisc consoles. Like CD changers, these players accommodate more than one disc at a time, typically five. DVD jukeboxes that hold 400 or so discs are also available. Price range: $100 to $800. Portables. These DVD players generally come with a small wide-screen-format LCD screen and batteries that claim to provide three hours or more of playback. Some low-priced models don’t come with a screen; they’re intended for users who plan to connect the device to a television. You pay extra for portability either way. Price range: $150 to $800.

IMPORTANT FEATURES

DVD-based movies often come in various formats. Aspect-ratio control lets you choose between the 4:3 viewing format of conventional TVs (4 inches wide for every 3 inches high) and the 16:9 ratio of newer, wide-screen sets. A DVD player gives you all sorts of control over the picture-control you may never have known you needed. Picture zoom lets you zoom in on a specific frame. Black-level adjustment brings out the detail in dark parts of the screen image. If you’ve ever wanted to see certain action scenes from different angles, multi-angle capability gives you that opportunity. Note that this feature and some others work only with certain discs. A DVD player enables you to navigate the disc in a number of ways. Unlike a VHS tape, most DVDs are sectioned. Chapter preview lets you scan the opening seconds of each section or chapter until you find what you want; a related feature, chapter gallery, shows thumbnails of section or chapter opening scenes. Go-to by time lets you enter how many hours and minutes into the disc you’d like to skip to. Marker functions allow easy indexing of specific sections. To get the most from a DVD player, you need to hook it up to the TV with the best available connection. A composite-video connection to the TV can produce a very good picture, but there will be some loss of detail and some color artifacts such as adjacent colors bleeding into each other. Using the TV’s S-video output can improve picture quality. It keeps the black-and-white and the color portions of the signal separated, producing more picture detail and fewer color defects than standard composite video. Component video, sometimes not provided on the lowest-end models, improves on S-video by splitting the color signal, resulting in a wider range of color. If you connect a DVD player via an S-video or component connection, don’t be surprised if you have to adjust the television-picture setup when you switch to a picture coming from a VCR or a cable box that uses a radio-frequency (RF, also called antenna/cable) connection or a composite connection.Two newer outputs found on some players, Digital Video Interface (DVI) and High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), are intended for use with digital TVs with DVI inputs. They may be used to pass digital 480p and up-converted higher-resolution video signals. These outputs potentially allow the content providers to control your ability to record the content. Another benefit of DVD players is the ability to enjoy movies with multichannel surround sound. To reap the full sound experience of the audio encoded into DVD titles, you’ll need a Dolby Digital receiver and six speakers, including a subwoofer. (For 6.1 and 7.1 soundtracks, you’ll need seven or eight speakers.) Dolby Digital decoding built-in refers to a DVD player that decodes the multichannel audio before the audio receiver; without the built-in circuitry, you’d need to have the decoder built into the receiver or, in rare instances, use a separate decoder box to take advantage of the audio. (A Dolby Digital receiver will decode an older format, Dolby Pro Logic, as well.) Most players also support Digital Theater System (DTS) decoding for titles using the six- or seven-channel encoding format. When you’re watching DVD-based movies, dynamic audio-range control helps keep explosions and other noisy sound effects from seeming too loud. In addition to commercial DVD titles, DVD players often support playback or display of numerous other disc formats. They include CD-R/RW recordings of standard audio CDs; the recordable DVD formats DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, and DVD-RAM; Video CD (VCD); and DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD). They can also play CD-R/RW discs containing MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) files and JPEG picture files. Make sure a model you’re considering plays the discs and formats you use now, or may want to use in the future.DVD players also provide features such as multilingual support, which lets you choose dialog or subtitles in different languages for a given movie. Parental control lets parents “lock out” films by their rating code.  

HOW TO CHOOSE

Buy a progressive-scan model unless the lowest price is your highest priority. Although you won’t see progressive-scan picture quality on a conventional analog TV, it’s worth spending a little extra for a progressive-scan player if you might get a digital (probably HD) TV at some point. You’ll have much more choice of products as well, since almost all new players are progressive-scan. It’s definitely worth getting a progressive-scan player for use with a digital TV, which is capable of displaying the smoother picture these players can deliver. Choose a multidisc model if you want continuous music. A single-disc player is fine for movies and CDs one at a time. But if you want this to be your main music player, consider a multidisc player. Note, though, that multidisc models are typically about 1 to 2 inches taller and 6 to 7 inches deeper than single-disc players. Make sure there are enough connections. Virtually all DVD players now have outputs for optimal connection to most TV sets. A few players have DVI or HDMI connectors that are compatible with some new TVs, though these don’t necessarily offer improved picture quality. If you want to use digital-audio connections from the DVD player to a receiver, make sure the DVD player’s digital-audio outputs match the receiver’s inputs. Some receivers use a coaxial input; others, an optical input. If you have an older receiver that lacks 5.1 surround-sound decoding, look for a player with a decoder for Dolby Digital.Consider which, if any, special playback formats matter. All DVD players can play prerecorded DVDs and CDs. Most models also play several types of discs you record yourself, such as DVD-R, DVD+R, and CD-R/-RW. Most can read DVD+RW, but the ability to read DVD-RW discs depends on how they were recorded. Some can also play DVD-RAM discs. Most models play CD-audio and MP3 music recorded on discs you burn yourself. You’ll need to shop around more if you want to play Windows Media Audio (WMA) files, video CD, and high-resolution SACD and DVD-Audio discs in their original format. Do you want to present slide shows on your TV? Then choose a model that can read the memory card for your camera or JPEG image files from a digital camera or scanner that you have burned onto a disc.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

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