Shhh... The Show?EUR(TM)s Starting.

Published Date
01 - Apr - 2008
| Last Updated
01 - Apr - 2008
 
Shhh... The Show’s Starting.


A home entertainment system without a good DVD player would be like a soccer match without a football. We’ve tested 16
players, each with somthing unique to offer in the realm of digital entertainment. Here’s where you get to decide which one is the best for you…


We at Digit have always welcomed the dominion of digital entertainment. It’s a realm where hours are spent in blissful leisure, senses tuned in to the wonderful sights and sounds that only a 50-inch plasma screen coupled with a 500W RMS surround sound system can give you. But wait…besides that 5000:1 contrast ratio screen and that 12-inch subwoofer, aren’t you missing something? Unless you intend having your PC in your designer living room (ugh!) you’re stuck for a proper source. Simply put—what do you use to playback all your multimedia content? Well a good DVD player should do the trick. It can’t playback all the formats your Winamp / VLC PC combination can, but it does look a sight more at home in your living room where aesthetics is everything, and space is a premium ill afforded to such eye sores as an ugly beige box.

DVD players, as we call them for lack of a better term (for they are jacks of many formats and not just masters of one) are in fact one of the hottest selling consumer entertainment products, and having a sleek, black / silver box beneath your TV has become a de facto standard now, up from the status symbol it was years ago during the age of VCRs. DVD players have become the staple of many a movie junkie, and although they can be used for music and photo files as well, their major use was intended as (and is) playback of video. The VCD players of yester year have given way to DVD players—these players play dual layer DVD videos, (called DVD 9), as well as VCDs, as well as the more recent DivX and AVI formats. High Definition (HD) resolutions are supported by some players which will also generally have the designation HD Ready, HD Compliant or such. Although HD formats like TS, MKV and WMV are meant primarily for PCs, even DivX and AVI files can be encoded at HD resolutions like 480p, 720p, 1080i, or 1080p which are the most common resolutions for HD content.

The rear of your DVD player demystified

When buying a DVD player, it’s very important to also decide on the other components of your entertainment setup so as to maintain a synergy between components. Some DVD players come with bundled surround speaker systems like the Moser Baer MBI AV 780, which had a 5.1 setup bundled. For others, you may have to choose a set of speakers (refer to our speaker test in this issue). You will also have to choose a television, while regular 21- and 29-inch CRTs work fine for VCDs, they are unsuitable for viewing widescreen content. Throw in the fact that 95 per cent of all video sources today are widescreen and you have a serious problem of thick black bands appearing on the top and bottom of your CRT TV. Of course, such banding is also common on LCD and Plasma TVs, but it’s a lot better considering most of these TVs have aspect ratios of 16:10.

But that’s another story for another time, without further ado lets get into the thick of our test. Of the 16 DVD players we tested this month there were two very unique players—the LG DP271B and the Moser Baer MBI AV 780, both very different beasts but their exclusivity was enough to warrant them to get their own special box.

How We Tested
We divided our DivX players into the following categories on the basis of the resolution of content playback supported.

1. Native HD resolution players
2. DVD players

Features:

We tested mainly two aspects of features for each player:
1. Connectivity: includes the physical connects present on the player for audio, video and miscellaneous connects

2.  Formats supported: includes the codec and format support for audio, video and image files

Performance:

1. Video Playback: we played back VCDs, DVDs, and HD content (on players supporting HD) and checked for video quality. We also checked for skipping of frames, colour reproduction, as well as scanning problems. For HD content we used 720p and 1080p clips

2. Audio Playback: we checked for audio quality on MP3 playback. Our Test MP3s used were encoded from original SACDs at 320 Kbps at high quality settings

3. Image Quality: we used a variety of JPEG files, at different resolutions on our photo CD

4. We also checked the video formats that each player was capable of, in case a format is listed as played, we actually tested to validate this claim

We used a 32-inch 1080p supporting LCD panel from Vu Technologies. Colour, Contrast and Brightness settings on the display were kept constant throughout the test. Progressive Scanning was enabled throughout, as was 5.1 audio. For the Non-HDMI DVD players we used Component as our choice for video, while the HDMI port was used on players supporting it. The Altec Lansing MX5021 was used as our reference for music, while Logitech’s Z5500D was used as while benchmarking videos, 5.1 surround and Dolby DTS 2 were also enabled throughout the video tests.

Audio Test Files:

1. Guns and Roses—November Rain
2. Eagles—Hotel California
3. Eric Clapton—Layla
4. The Corrs—Brid Og Ni Mhaille

Video Test Files (Select Scenes):

1. Transformers (DVD 9 and 720p)
2. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (DivX, 1080p)
3. Sahara (DVD 9)
4. Pitch Black (DVD 9)
5. Underworld (DVD 9)
6. Eragon (VCD)

Images:

Various subjects shot at 7.0 megapixels (Canon A710IS) and 10.0 megapixels (Nikon D40x)


Non-HDMI Players:

Eleven of our test subjects were of the non-HDMI variety and we’ll look at them first. Onida’s Candy was one of the funkiest, and definitely the most chic looking player across all categories. A bright red colour theme—candy red, if you will—extends to the remote control unit as well as the top body of the player. The unique shape like a half cut cake simply adds to the overall look that Onida has tried hard for—cool, young and hip. That aside, the Candy sports all the hardware under its small hood to seriously vie for your hard earned cash. What we really loved was the option for changing country code that was available in the menu system—boon for playing DVD movies manufactured for playback in a different region. Also available, and easily accessible on the brilliant menu system were a lot of settings that are sometimes missing from such player setup menus like the ability to set and adjust Luma, Gamma, Saturation, Dolby compatibility settings, and even the filtering frequency for sound, individual channel volume adjust and channel delay. The Candy’s remote works at very wide angles, and functioned flawlessly at a range of 12 feet, which is more than we can say for some other players. Another nifty feature is noticeable while skipping chapters in a DVD—the Candy displays the total amount of time elapsed and the total duration of the video so you have an additional indicator—a very small boon, but a plus nonetheless.

LG DP271D—No Idiot Box, This
After last month’s PMP test we thought we’d seen it all as far as portable multimedia went. How wrong we were! Enter this little box. The DP271D is a compact DVD player, small and very cute-looking with the same piano-white finish on its lid that some of LG’s XNote laptops have. In fact the entire device looks like a miniature laptop. It’s got an eight-inch LCD screen that swivels much like a tablet PC. Stereo speakers provided on the lid are quite powerful but the housing does take up precious screen space (we figure LG lost an inch in screen size with a wide bezel and large speaker vents). There are two powerful headphone jacks—cosy! The build quality and fit is very good, no squeaks or loose joints, although the buttons feel a little hard, especially the four way navigation button. The menu is very linear, well laid out and intuitive, and rather feature rich. There’s a USB port provided—useful for playing movies off a removable drive, while an AV out ensures you can plug this in to a larger screen. The DP271D has a flip type DVD flap that is worked by a robust spring which we feel will bear the rigours of daily use well. Juice is provided courtesy a 2500 mAh clip on battery pack (much like a laptop), and our tests reveal battery life is good for two DVD movies of 105 minutes each—impressive.

Although the LCD doesn’t look a very quality unit (cost cutting we fear) it seems to do a fair if not great job. Our VCD, DVD and DivX tests found the DP271D a little shy on the full gamut of colours, we conclude the panel is a six-bit TN (Twisted Nematic) type. Other than that, contrast seems OK, although a little smattering of colour was noticeable on darker movies like Underworld. DVDs like Transformers looked very good, and it was easy to tilt the screen to orient the player any way to suit our convenience. The screen orientation can also be changed.

Music quality was pretty good, and the volume level surprisingly good—no PMP can come close to this on speaker volume, the earphone jacks are also adequately powered for most low-impedance headphones / earplugs. For an MRP of Rs 8,490 the DP271D is a good bargain, add to that the fact that you could probably shave off a thousand bucks or so (actual street prices will be lower), and this is a good buy. But it’s not a device for everyone. If you have a PMP and are happy with it, forget this. The hassle of carrying optical media with you will mean this isn’t suitable for short journeys like bus and local rides. However, if you’re going for a weeklong tour, and want to chill in your hotel room and watch a movie before getting some shut-eye, this may be just up your alley.


With very clear DVD playback, no blurriness and distortion noticeable (other than what is normal for viewing DVD content on a large widescreen LCD) the Candy scores big time as a DVD player. VCD quality is about as good as a 352x240 pixel video can look on a 1366x768 resolution screen. The Candy passed our music tests without any hiccups, and without discernable issues. Onida gets their picture quality spot-on with the Candy, and our high-resolution images looked good with acceptable pixelation. After such a good showing on the performance figures we’d have loved to see some more connectivity options like a VGA / DVI connect or even USB—a big plus for those who want to play movies off their portable hard drives and thumb drives. With a six-month warranty, we figured Onida has been a bit stingy—especially at a price tag of Rs 3,400—not expensive for the performance on demand—but we wish it had a one-year warranty. Also, this player will not look at home in a suavely designed living room—it’s got too much attitude, and it shows.

Intex’s N-20VK was one of the plain-jane players—just a cool blue LED that illuminates the drive tray which is made of a translucent fibre based compound. We’re thoroughly tired of the blue lights on PC cabinets, notebooks, external hard drives and now DVD players, and we’re hoping some vendors are reading this! The Intex N-20VK sports a good finish and acceptable build quality—no complaints here. The ¼-inch jack means you can sing along with your favourite MP3s—a neat plus, considering this player is no slouch with MP3s. The N-20VK didn’t do badly at DVDs and we figured that while we’d seen better, we certainly hadn’t seen worse. However, we noticed the this player just lagging behind in some of the tests, and this added up when we looked at the price tag—just Rs 2,800—a lot of player for the price, to be sure, but definitely not the best performance out there. That said, the N-20VK has one terrific plus—a VGA port, meaning you can connect this to your PC monitor as well.

Moser Baer had a trio of players in this test and by far the most striking player was the Black Panther—first of all it’s half the width of a regular DVD player, which may or may not be attractive—it does make the player look a little bulky from the front. To further enhance this effect, Moser Baer has provided this player with high foot pegs—a real eyesore considering the sleek and wide look is in—is different bad? You decide. The Black Panther played back DVDs of any region somewhat like the Onida Candy, but the settings were visible, not changeable. The pathetic remote control unit seemed to have a problem at a distance of more than five feet, and within this distance, even slight angles will obstruct functionality. Other than that, we had no complaints whatsoever—the Black Panther really struts its stuff when it comes to any kind of video playback—all our VCD, DVD and DivX tests went off smoothly and without a hitch, and with good visual quality, minimal pixelation and good contrast. A good player, compact and feature rich, along with great performance—at a price of Rs 2,990, the Black Panther seems to have clawed all the good points into its kitty, it’s the second best performer too. Just make sure to look before you leap...er...buy, because the squat, burly look may not appeal.

Moser Baer MBI AV 780—Just Pop In A DVD
We have reviewed complete entertainment systems before. Such systems are tailored for people who can’t be hassled with component synergy but just want something that is built to perform perfectly together. The MBI AV 780 is an inexpensive attempt at the same—a DVD player plus 5.1 surround speakers bundled into one. The DVD player is the largest amongst all our test candidates, courtesy the inbuilt amplifier. Nevertheless, it’s a solid unit that exudes build quality, and has an attractive front, that looks very busy with quite a few buttons and a knob, and a lot of small print advertising its features. The speakers follow the same grey / black colour tone of the player, and the black mesh grilles on the satellites looks downright classy. The subwoofer felt a little too light to be really effective, it also looks like it has a rather small driver (four inches). The rear speaker cables are long enough for a small hall, but if your player is around 20 feet away from each speaker you’re going to have problems. With auxiliary RCA 5.1 outs and the 6 channel clip type connects for its own speakers, audio connectivity is taken care of. Optical and coaxial outputs are also provided. S-Video, Component and Composite outs should handle all your video needs (no HDMI here). There’s also a jack for an FM radio antenna, and with MW support added, this player is a full-fledged radio. Once again the remote unit although well built and with soft buttons just refused to work unless operated slap bang in front of the player—ridiculous and a very irritating problem, especially for couch lovers.

On the performance front, there wasn’t anything to complain about in the way of video quality and the MBI AV 780 proves that price and performance can coexist peacefully. The audio was somewhat of an issue with the underpowered subwoofer, although the satellites are powerful and movies feel really good, they aren’t for music where their tendency to be piercingly bright is immediately apparent. If its movies you want, the audio will satisfy you, we only wish for more power in the lower frequencies. Issues aside, what we have here is quite simply excellent value for money (Rs 7,490)—a fully ready home theatre. All you need is a large screen to go with it. If you are looking for a good DVD player and 5.1 surround speakers, why not kill two birds with one stone?


The other two Moser Baer players—the MBI 838 and the MB-6988S were very different lookers, the MB-6988S looks slim at first glance, but the bottom part of the body protrudes and so do the foot pegs, spoiling this effect. Luckily it won’t look so bad when placed on a flat surface, especially one that’s below eye level. The MBI 838 is slimmer, but both have equally tacky buttons that are hard to press, a shame, this, and annoying too. Once again, we had a few remote interface issues with these two, but the Black Panther has to take the cake in this regard. The front LCD display on the MB-6988S is bright and very readable but looks a little garish after some time, moreover it doesn’t exude that quality look that the displays on the Samsung and Philips models have. Both these models have USB ports—a real boon when you have all your DivX titles dumped on a 2.5 inch external drive. Even USB drives can be used, although if the drive is too slow, the movie will lag. In fact, any video files VOB (DVD), DAT (VCD), AVI and even MPEG4 can be kept on a thumb drive / external hard drive and watched at your convenience—very nifty and ultra utilitarian. The MB-6988S also supports memory cards like SD / MMC / MS so you can simply pop out your digital camera’s memory card, slot it into this player and enjoy your creations immediately. Of the two, the cheaper (Rs 2,990) MB-6988S impressed us marginally more in a few of the video tests, in other areas we’ll call it a draw. Overall, at the same price as the smaller and better performing Black Panther, the MB-6988S doesn’t make much sense to purchase, unless the lure of a memory card reader and USB port attract you.

Intex N20VK

Besides the excellent Candy, Onida had three other models, the DFX-5957, DFX-5988 and the DFX-5985 priced at Rs 3,100, 3,300 and 3,000 respectively. So the Candy is the most expensive model amongst the foursome and as our performance tests showed, by far the most suited for a quality home entertainment system. All three players sported a sleek look; no ugly protrusions (read foot pegs), and while the DFX-5988 was the best looking, with a steel silver / dark grey body, all three boasted of similar features. We were surprised to see the connectivity options—nothing extra it seems Onida meant for these to be plain vanilla DVD players. After the excellent candy we’d partaken in earlier, this we just couldn’t swallow, no matter how hard we tried. Photo images weren’t very good, and looked the most aliased and pixelated from amongst all the players. In terms of performance, all three DVD players are similar, making the model designations hardly significant (considering the very similar features), and quite simply put, your money is better spent elsewhere.

Onida Candy

Further down the line, two Philips players attracted us with their looks. The build quality that this brand imparts has to be seen to be believed. Smooth, brushed metal, attractive steel grey powder coating, sleek as a wind tunnel-designed thoroughbred, both the DVP3136 and the DVP5150X will draw at least a cursory glance, and that’s while switched off, although the latter is a better looking player. With sleek remote units, that look as good as they function (Ah, the joys of soft, yet firm buttons). Philips has got aesthetics covered to be sure. What we did miss was any sort of PC display connectivity (there’s no VGA). A new incorporation from Philips has been support for DivX Ultra, basically a standard for compatibility of various DivX standards as far as subtitles, sound channels and even the encoded video go. Besides Philips none of the brands in this test had support for this new and emerging standard. Both the players have no support for USB or memory cards, but performed quite well, and a few niggles aside, both make for good components in a home entertainment setup. Although the DVP-5150X costs a thousand rupees extra, besides the outer body finish, this isn’t really noticeable in any way once both get working. The DVP-3136 also supports Hindi as a setup language—a boon to be sure for people who are more comfortable with it. The stereo channels have spring clips, and not RCA ports. Both these players performed very closely to the leaders of the pack—the Candy and Black Panther—although the difference in quality won’t be noticeable unless you have both players running and are discerning enough. At Rs 3,999 and 4,999 for the DVP-3136 and DVP-5150X respectively, economy you will not get; which is the only blemish on an otherwise nearly spotless report card.

Decision Maker
If you’re looking for:


A cheap DVD player that performs adequately then look no further than our Best Buy award winner, the Intex N-20VK. At Rs 2,800 and with a good feature set and performance to boot we’d guarantee satisfaction here.


Something that’s connected, and HDMI and digital audio are your primary needs, but at the same time the player should perform well and equally importantly look good, then Samsung’s DVD-1080P7 will easily do the trick. With sleek supermodel looks and the performance of a thoroughbred you can’t go wrong with this player. Add to that a sweet price of Rs 5,990 and this is your best bet. Did we mention it’s our performance winner in the HDMI player category?


No hassles, a DVD player with complete surround setup
. The Moser Baer MBI AV 780 will surely satisfy. It’s got oodles of performance, is reasonably feature rich, and comes complete with subwoofer and punchy satellites all for a modest price of Rs 7,490


Something portable that plays DVDs, and not a PMP. We just may have what the doctor ordered! LGs DP271D is a very compact fully functional DVD player with a very cute remote, and an eight inch LCD screen. Its powerful loudspeaker is much better than any PMP and with two headphone jacks it’s a cinematic experience for two. The good battery life is a plus, and with a number of settings available and very acceptable performance the DP271D bears our highly recommended moniker. The price—Rs 8,490 makes this device an absolute steal. Just remember to carry your DVDs safely!


Samsung’s DVD-P172 was the only player from the Korean giant in this category. The quality of plastics used is top notch. The entire dark grey / black and silver tone goes well, this player suits nearly any décor. We liked the soft-buttoned remote control which Samsung claims will work with any of their flat-screen displays as well. Even the DVD tray exudes quality, a nice slow action, not a jerky motion like most other players. The LED panel has a soft light that is quite easy on the eyes, while retaining legibility. Like the Philips players Samsung also does without memory card and USB connects. In terms of performance, Samsung’s DVD playback quality was as good as we’ve seen in this category, while VCD quality wasn’t a touch behind what we’d call really good. With a good showing on the performance front, a good price—Rs 3,400—and undeniably good looks, the DVD-P172 makes for a good buy especially if both the best performers’ looks fail to inspire you.

Our Choice

Our Best Buy award goes to the Intex N-20VK. Excellent value for money at Rs 2,800, it’s well built, reasonably feature-rich and a decent performer. If you’re on a shoestring, here’s your player. Our best performer in this category is the Onida Candy. A sterling little performer at Rs 3,400 with funky looks that will definitely attract attention (even if it’s the wrong kind). Some may think it garish, some may think the design’s weird, but it puts its critics to rest when you fire up any sort of compatible movie. Moser Baer’s Black Panther also deserves mention here. It’s a little more sober than the eye catching Candy, and marginally trails on the performance front. For Rs 2,990 the Black Panther most definitely deserves to prowl our markets and makes a very good buy if you should decide on something better performing than the N-20VK but cheaper than the Candy.

HDMI Players

This category consisted of just three players spanning three brands. HDMI and HD are big buzzwords in the market—everybody looking for a home entertainment system wants to ride the wave. Very little is known, however, about HD content, and just like any technology in its nascent stages of early growth HD isn’t without its fair share of niggles. On the PC, players like VLC make short work of playing any HD video regardless of resolution or file format, DVD players (even 1080p-supporting DVD players) had issues. Sadly, HD content on these players will only play if the file (mostly AVI format) is actually encoded in a supported HD resolution like 720p (1280x720 pixels, progressive scanned) or 1080i (1920x1080 pixels, interlaced). If the file is encoded at any other resolution, however minute the difference, the DVD player will cough up an error. Since HD videos are best enjoyed on a digital output signal, HDMI is the preferred connect when viewing any high definition content. Note that the HDMI connect will also carry audio signals, and you have to use your television’s audio out to route these to the necessary speakers.

Mitashi’s DHD-911 is a rather plain looker made a little better by the proud brand name embossed on to the top metal cover. The remote control was anything but plain—grey body with bright blue buttons—a little gaudy but we liked it. Buttons are reasonably soft, imparting good positive feedback during use, and the unit works flawlessly at a distance of 12 feet. Connectivity wasn’t on short supply either with the usual HDMI, S-Video, Composite, Component and audio RCA being accompanied by both USB and Memory card support. This would have to be Mitashi’s highlight—the sheer connectivity options, and the other advantage we see is the transparency of settings in the setup menu, very similar to the Moser Baer Black Panther. So what’s the downside here—performance? No! The DHD-911 is an excellent performer, and is highly recommended for any sort of DVD- or HD-viewing—especially at the bargain price of Rs 3,990—it’s a lot of player for the money spent.

Mitashi DHD - 911

Philips’ DVP5986K was the second HDMI ready player we tested and it had quite a few tongues hanging out with its design. The remote was suitably curvaceous and functional for all its looks. For once Philips, dropped in a USB slot—very appreciated. Another nifty feature is the addition of an audio in for karaoke. DivX Ultra support is another little bonus, though it’s not of much use right now. We’d have liked separate RCA audio outs (useful for floor-standing speakers) and an optical out—neither was available. Comparing the DVP5986K to the DHD-911 proved interesting—the former is definitely superior in nearly all the tests, and the margin of victory ranges from hairline to runaway victory. Rs 5,999 isn’t cheap, but neither is the product you acquire for the price. It’s the perfect companion for all your movie entertainment escapades, but read on to finally decide.

On to the final contender and an even better looking player (if that is possible). Samsung’s DVD-1080P7 is an example of metal machined to perfection. Although opinions were divided about the overall winner for the best looking player, the DVP5986K and DVD-1080P7 are both very good looking, and deserve a living room makeover. With a similar remote to its cheaper sibling DVD-P172 (which isn’t a bad thing) the DVD-1080P7 makes no bones about its purpose. A 1080p ready player with HDMI, Samsung forgot to include surround sound RCA connects, so you’ll have to make do with stereo or use 5.1 channel via HDMI—not very convenient, but we’ll reserve judgement for now. This was the only player without USB support; memory card reading facilities were also absent—we’re still being lenient but our patience is being tested now. The remote control was a pleasure to use, but after Mitashi’s transparent menu system, the menus on the Philips and Samsung players do leave a lot to be desired. Oh, they’re well laid out, intuitive even, but they haven’t got the options...

Samsung DVD-1080P7

Performance was by far this player’s forte—with brilliant image, video and sound quality the DVD-1080P7 makes an ideal companion for a high-end home theatre setup. For DVDs and HD content, we haven’t seen anything better—and the HDMI output does really propel the display quality beyond the realms of what Component connects are capable of. At Rs 5,990 this player makes a sensible buy, and we don’t feel cost should be a restraint in this case—given the quality you get. Although the difference in performance between this player and the previous Philips model (DVP5986K) is less than 10 per cent, the price is nearly the same making your decision a no-brainer.

Our Choice:

Our Best Buy award goes to the Mitashi DHD-911—unbeatable at Rs 3,990. It’s got connectivity, features, lots of available settings and great performance to boot. The slightly costly Samsung DVD-1080P7 is all about exclamations when it comes to describing its performance. It’s quite simply the best performer on show here, trailed closely by the Philips DVP5986K. We’re awarding Best Performer to the, well, best performer—the DVD-1080P7 gets its just reward.

Contact Sheet                                                                         DVD Players

Brand   Company
Phone NoWebsite
Intex            Intex Technologies (India) Ltd 919313441213www.intextechnologies.com
LG          LG Electronics India Pvt Ltd0120-2560900www.lgindia.com
Mitashi          Mitashi Edutainment Pvt Ltd022-25006661www.mitashi.com
Moser Baer      Moser Baer India Ltd.1-800-111-113 / 011-40594512 / 13http://moserbaer.com/consumer_overview.asp.
Onida      MIRC Electronics Ltd.( Onida)022-28200435 / 66975777http://www.truthatonida.com/beta/home/home.asp
Philips         Philips Electronics India Ltd1800 180 1111 / 011 66001111www.philips.com
Samsung           Samsung India Electronics Pvt. Ltd.011-41511234www.samsung.com/in

Michael BrowneMichael Browne