Categories: Video Playback / Recording Devices
Whether you are at the local movie store or video rental house, you'll quickly discover that DVDs have become the standard for viewing commercial movies. DVDs are a huge step forward in providing home users a superior viewing experience compared to past formats. If you're still clinging to your VHS player, you should know that DVDs have a lot more to offer. Some benefits of the DVD format include:
- Better quality picture - DVDs provide nearly twice the detail of VHS tapes, with no static or snow.
- Unlimited playback - Unlike VHS tapes, DVDs do not wear the more they are played.
- Special features - DVD discs often contain special features like deleted scenes, director's commentary, behind the scenes, and cast information that is not available on VHS. Some DVDs also include games and special content playable on your PC.
- Widescreen presentations - Most DVDs include the original widescreen presentation of the film, which allow you to see the entire movie instead of a cropped version to fit on a square TV. Often, these discs are enhanced for playback on widescreen TVs.
- Direct access - Like the move from cassette tapes to CDs, DVDs allow direct access to any scene with the push of a button.
- No tapes to rewind - You never have to rewind the movie.
Choosing the Right Model
Selecting a DVD player can be a confusing experience. There are, literally, hundreds of different models from which to choose. Each model has its own set of features, outputs, and options that can vary the price dramatically. Really inexpensive DVD players start al low as $30, while high-end models can reach in upwards of $1,000.
When selecting a DVD player for use on your primary TV, take some time to find a good quality machine. Inexpensive DVD players may not provide you all the tools you need for a truly rewarding experience so think twice before purchasing one. It might make more sense to choose an inexpensive model as a secondary DVD player, say for your children to use.
Understanding DVD Features
Learn about the many different features DVD players can offer you before you begin shopping for specific models. This can really help you narrow down your choices. The list below covers a few of the major features you may want to consider when purchasing a new DVD player.
Progressive scanning means putting the interlaced image of a DVD back together and display it as one whole image on the screen. Progressively scanned images tend to look smoother and have less image artifacts than interlaced ones. However, you need to have a digital TV to take advantage of this feature.
Although this used to be a bigger differentiator between DVD players, this feature can currently be found in a wide variety of players. However, how well DVD players do implement advanced processing will vary across models. Better DVD players usually have superior processors for this feature, and will yield much better images on digital TVs.
Another important feature in progressive scan/upconverting DVD players is known as 2:3 (or 3:2) pulldown. This feature allows the DVD player to compensate between the frame rate differences of film and video. Rather than go into how this works, just know that it's important. Motion in DVD images will tend to look choppy, especially in horizontal and vertical camera pans, if this circuit is not doing a good job.
Be aware that if you own a really nice digital TV, using a low quality player's upconverting/progressive scan feature can make the image worse. Experiement with your TV
Another trend for manufacturers is up-sampling/upconverting DVD players. These players incorporate processors that output the signal in a high-definition display format like 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. Think of up-sampling as another step beyond progressive scan, but not one that will yield dramatic differences in image quality. Contrary to popular belief, up-sampling DVD players do not magically "transform" the image into a high-definition quality picture.
Multiple Disc Formats
Any DVD player will be able to play commercial DVDs as well as audio CDs. However, not all DVD players will read recordable disc formats like DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD-RAM, and CD-R/RW. If you record music onto recordable CDs, or home movies onto recordable DVDs, be sure the DVD player you buy is capable of playing the formats you use.
Some DVD players will play high quality music formats as well. DVD-Audio and SACD are rival formats which far surpass the audio quality of any other music format in history, and are each vying to one day replace audio CDs, though both formats lack widespread industry support. DVD-Audio and SACD only provide benefit on players designed to support them. You'll also find that some DVD players are capable of playing compressed music formats, such as MP3 or WMA files. If you burn many of your favorite songs to a CD and play them in your DVD player, make sure the model you choose is capable of decoding your MP3 or WMA files.
Advanced Video Outputs
Component video has been a staple of DVD players since their introduction in 1997. The component video connection transmits the different picture components (luminance, red-difference, and blue-difference) over separate cables to ensure the best picture quality possible. DVI and HDMI are newer outputs found on DVD players. These outputs establish a digital connection to the display, and ease hookup by using only one cable for the picture instead of three. To utilize the progressive scan feature, you need to use one of these connection methods. If your DVD player up-samples as described above, you'll need to use DVI or HDMI.
One of the best parts about DVD is the sound. DVDs hold the exact same digital soundtracks used in movie theaters, usually mixed in 5.1 channels. Most surround receivers sold the past few years are designed to playback these digital surround formats in their full fidelity. In order to get the right sound from your surround system, figure out what kind of receiver you have.
If you still own an older Dolby Pro-Logic receiver, you will not be able to take advantage of digital sound until you upgrade your receiver.
If you own a "Dolby Digital Ready" receiver, look for a DVD player that builds in a Dolby Digital and DTS decoder. You'll often find that the DVD players which play DVD-Audio and SACD discs usually support this feature. DVD players of this type have a six-channel audio out on the back of the unit, which passes the six channels of discrete sound to your receiver.
If your receiver has the digital decoder for Dolby Digital and DTS built in (most likely), make sure the DVD player you purchase supports both optical and coaxial digital outputs to maximize your connection flexibility.
Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)
Also available are DVD players which build in a digital video recorder, like a TiVo. These units add the flexibility of hard-drive based television recording, with a built-in DVD recorder to make a permanent copy of the show if you wish to keep it. Keep in mind that there are usually monthly fees associated with many of the different DVR units. Also, like all combination units, the whole device must be sent in for service if only one part of it fails.
DVD has been one of the fastest growing formats in electronics history. To be sure, VHS has served us well over 20 years, but DVD is truly better in just about every way. The experience DVD has to offer is well worth the investment. Nearly all commercial films ever made, as well as seasons of your favorite television shows are available on DVD. With thousands of titles available for less than $10 that are far superior in picture and sound quality to VHS, there is very little reason not to move into the world of DVD.