DVD Player Buying Guide
Finding the right DVD player can be a really confusing thing to do, since there are just too many options, and attractive ones at that, not only in terms of price, but also seemingly in terms of features. However, as with any other product, you must not go for the outer glam factor, and really delve into the technology to understand which player is the right one for you.
DVD players and picture quality
There could be a lot of questions regarding the fact that how can there be picture quality differences among DVD players if the disk being used is a DVD and comprises of digital data? The answer lies in the usage part. How do you want to use your DVD player? Is it going to be connected to the entire home theatre system or just the TV? How big is your screen, or for that matter, what kind of a setup do you have of a home theatre system?
Further, DVD players need to convert the digital data on a DVD into analog signals, which requires digital-to-analog conversion, and similar forms of video processing. This is precisely the reason why picture quality differs between players of different brands. This difference might not be visible on a screen of a 27-inch size or smaller, but grow when one goes to larger sizes.
Besides being equipped to play DVDs, many DVD players are also capable of playing audio and video CDs, HDCDs, SACDs, and CD-Rs & CD-RWs. Hence, based on your requirements, you should choose a DVD player that can play the format you are most likely to play. For instance, if you want to use it mainly for audio CD playback, do not think twice regarding the quality as compared to a full-fledged music system, since DVD players also give a fantastic quality, particularly if you have a home theatre system.
Going ahead, one must give due attention to not only the picture a DVD player displays, but also additional features that make the viewing experience truly extraordinary.
Usually, DVD players use 10-bit digital to analog converters and 27-MHz video processing chips for an ideal display. This is because the former gives a striking resemblance to the picture source with respect to the fine line gradations and colours fidelity, while the latter ensures detailed decoding of the compressed video signal (generally in an MPEG-2 format). However, DVD players having this configuration will still produce display that is different, due to the video processing needed in case of a 4:3 aspect ratio display. Thus, you might need DVD players with a faster processing speed and a better converter.
Moving picture modifications
Almost every DVD player available in the market today will allow the user to pause and resume the video. Some also feature forward and backward scanning with multiple speeds so that you can skip or go back to your favourite scene in a jiffy. There are also models that let you go slow-mo or with frame-by-frame advances, with a select few also offering the same in reverse.
Some of the latest DVD players also have the zoom function, which allows varied magnification for a particular picture/scene, so that you can see all details on an enlarged level. A select few might also give you the provision of panning up, down, left and right on a still screen at the enlarged level. Further, in case you have a 4:3 ratio TV, some models can also give you a zoom customised for that. This feature enlarges the letterbox format display and gets rid of the black bars at the bottom as well as top of the screen.
Progressive scan is another feature that is provided in some DVD players, and is a functionality that allows one to generate pictures in a simple pass, like in a computer monitor. Two passes are required in interlaced scanning to generate a picture, with the first one for odd numbered lines and the second for the even ones. An analog TV has interlaced scanning, having a picture refresh rate of 30 times per second. Progressive scanning is exactly double this rate, and goes at 60 times per second.
A DVD player capable of progressive scanning gives a progressive scan video signal having 480 lines of horizontal resolutions. The result is a picture that is more vibrant, better in quality and barely having any regular picture problems like jagged edges. To get the best quality, one should purchase a DVD player having progressive scan with a 2:3 pull down feature (aka ‘3:2 inverse pull down’ or ‘3:2 pull down’), as it works on film based video sources and compensates for their 24 frames per second as against progressive scan’s 60 frames per second.
DVD players give the best picture when the optimum video output connection is made available. For instance, if you are having a digital TV, it might be having component video inputs. Hence, one must buy a DVD player that has component video output, as it gives the best picture quality. In case that is not available, one can look for S-video input jacks, which are also good in terms of quality, although the colour fidelity is not up to the mark of the component video. And in case even that is not available, one can settle for a composite video connection.
In case of old TVs, one might have to use an RF modulator with the composite video output of the player to connect to the TV antenna’s input.
- Digital to analog conversion
24-bit audio digital to analog conversion is used by a majority of the present DVD players to give optimum audio quality, since this ensures that the maximum audio resolution from the DVD’s soundtrack is extracted. However, this is useful in case the analog outputs, like the 5.1 channel analog output, are the connecting media between the DVD player and the TV, a digital/5.1-channel ready receiver, or a stereo/Dolby receiver. It is not needed in case an external Dolby decoder is used through any of the digital audio outputs.
- Surround sound
All players have support for Dolby Digital surround sound, since it is a standard requirement, and all players at least have the ‘raw’ digitally-encoded signal out via one or more digital audio outputs. Some DVD players can also do on-board decoding of the Dolby Digital signal, and transmit the 5.1 channel analog signals. However, this is useful only in case you have a digital/5.1-channel ready receiver. If you have a Dolby digital preamplifier or receiver, one of the digital audio outputs must be used, with the preamplifier or receiver being left to do the decoding part.
DTS surround sound compatibility is also featured in all the latest DVD players, which basically means that they can transmit the ‘raw’ DTS audio signal for outboard decoding by a DTS preamplifier or receiver. Alike surround sound, this provision is also useful only if one has a digital/5.1-channel ready receiver.
- Audio outputs
A DVD player must include both the types of audio outputs, i.e., optical and coaxial, as this allows it to transmit the ‘raw’ digital audio signal for DTS /Dolby Digital surround sound decoding be a receiver/preamplifier. Further, a digital audio connection is the optimum one, sine the digital audio signal does not degrade as much as compared to the analog one. In case a DVD player has in-built Dolby Digital decoding, it would be having a ‘digital ready’ or ‘5.1-channel’ receiver, which is not having digital audio inputs. If you are not having a surround sound system, the analog stereo output jacks should be used to connect the TV or stereo system.
So, before you go ahead to finalise the DVD player of your choice and requirement, make sure to check its compatibility with all the above points, according to your need. It’s always better to purchase a piece of technology when you know something about it!