How To Choose A DVD Player

    You've made the decision to take the plunge into the wonderful world of Home Theatre. You've decided that you want a DVD player. You've gone to a few retailers, listened to their respective spiels, and you've come back with your head full of terms that you don't understand and facts that you are unsure of. You are confused and bewildered and don't know where to turn to for impartial advice. Welcome to the wonderful world of Home Theatre!

    In this article, I will attempt to lead you through the jungle of jargon and features that is DVD so that you end up with the right DVD player at the right price.

Step 1: Determine Your Budget

    DVD players can readily be split into a series of price ranges. Fortunately, quality is not directly proportional to cost, so that a player that is twice the price of another will not be twice as good.
Less than $500
    For under $500, you can quite comfortably purchase a budget DVD player. It won't be a well-known brand name DVD player. It will most likely be an unknown brand Chinese DVD player. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many of these players are based around a very solid design created by Zoran, and often these players will have a whole raft of features despite their modest price tags.
Between $500 and $800
    For between $500 and $800, you can purchase a good quality, name brand DVD player. Usually, these players are the basic models in their respective brand name ranges, but what they may lack in features they certainly make up for in quality, reliability and back-up support.
Between $800 and $1200
    For between $800 and $1200, you can purchase the more fully-featured name brand DVD players.
Above $1200
    The $1200 and above realm of DVD players is not where I would recommend you look if you are a first time buyer. These players command a premium price for their premium features, but they do not represent good value for money for the first-time buyer.

Step 2: Determine how you will connect the video from the DVD player to your TV

    The next step in working out which DVD player is the most suitable for your requirements is to work out how the DVD player will be hooked up to your TV or display device. DVD players offer a variety of connectors of varying quality so that you are best able to match your DVD player to your TV, however not all DVD players have all types of connectors. Your TV's manual will probably be helpful in determining what connectors are available on your TV.
    If your TV only has an antenna or an RF input, then you have a bit of a problem. No DVD player has this type of output, so you only have a limited number of options available to you;
  1. You could purchase an RF modulator which accepts an input video and audio signal from the DVD player and then allows you to connect to the TV's antenna input. These are relatively hard to find, but are inexpensive. Jaycar Electronics has a suitable unit. Using one of these units will significantly decrease the image quality obtainable from your DVD player.
  2. You could connect the video output of the DVD player to the video input of your VCR. This approach is potentially problematic as many DVDs are protected with the Macrovision protection scheme. Such DVDs, when played back via your VCR will exhibit a dramatic brightening and darkening of the resultant image, making the image unwatchable. If this is your only option for connecting a DVD player to your TV, then you will need to be sure that the DVD player you purchase has been or can be modified to disable Macrovision.
  3. You could purchase a TV with more suitable input connectors. This is, in fact, your best option if you can afford it, as either of the above two methods of connecting a DVD player to your TV will result in very significant image quality degradation.
    If your TV has a composite video input connector, which is usually a round, yellow connector, then you can hook any DVD player into your TV without a problem.
    If your TV has an S-Video connector, then you are really in luck, as the quality available from an S-Video DVD connection is very good indeed. An S-Video connector is round and has 4 pins. Almost every single DVD player that is available on the market today has an S-Video connector, but it is wise to verify this before purchase if you require this connector.
Component Video
    If you TV has a component video input, then you are in DVD Nirvana, as this is the best type of connection to utilize when connecting a DVD player to your TV. Component video inputs are typically 3 RCA sockets which are colour-coded. They are usually labelled as one of the following; Component Video Input, YUV Input, YPbPr, YCbCr, or simply YUV. Make sure that you do not confuse Component Video Inputs with the more common Composite Video (Yellow) and Audio (Red and White) input connectors which look the same but which will be labelled differently.

    If you know that your TV supports Component Video Input, then you most certainly should make sure that the DVD player that you purchase supports Component Video Output. Not all DVD players do, particularly at the lower end of the DVD price range.

RGB Video
    If your TV has an RGB video input, most commonly found on a SCART connector, then you should endeavour to find a DVD player which also outputs RGB, either via a SCART connector for easy hook-up or via RCA connectors which can be connected to your TV with a suitable adapter cable. This severely limits your choice in DVD players, but the end results are well worth it, with superlative RGB video images being the reward for your persistence.

    As a general rule, European DVD players are more likely to output RGB Video, and Japanese DVD players are more likely to output Component Video. A word of warning to the unwary: Do not assume that a DVD player outputs RGB video just because it has a SCART connector on the back, and do not assume that a TV supports RGB input just because it has a SCART connector on the back. Verify this from the manuals or from the manufacturer.

Step 3: Determine your audio requirements

    The basic question that you need to consider when selecting a DVD player's features is whether or not you want or need the DVD player to decode surround sound. If you have an amplifier that decodes digital surround sound, then you will not need the DVD player to do this. If you have an amplifier that is "digital ready" and has a 5.1 channel input, then you will want to consider buying a DVD player with an inbuilt surround sound decoder.
Inbuilt Surround Sound Decoder
    If you require a DVD player with an inbuilt surround sound decoder, there are a number of specific issues that you need to be aware of and consider when deciding which specific DVD player is the most suitable for your requirements.

    Firstly, if a DVD player has an inbuilt surround sound decoder, it will most likely only decode Dolby Digital surround sound. This may well be all that you require the decoder to do, but you may also want the decoder to also decode DTS surround sound. DTS is a far less popular surround sound format than Dolby Digital, but if you have any interest in this format at all and require your DVD player to have an inbuilt surround sound decoder, then you should make sure that the DVD player that you choose has a decoder that actually decodes DTS instead of merely passing the DTS signal out through the digital audio output. Inbuilt DTS decoding capacity is currently a rarity in DVD players, and requiring this will severely limit your choices in DVD players.

    Secondly, you should make sure that the inbuilt surround sound decoder is able to be fully adjusted. The specific things that you should look for are whether or not the decoder can have speaker sizes changed, speakers removed from the 5.1 configuration, individual speaker levels adjusted, and speaker distances adjusted. If you cannot perform all of the aforementioned functions, do not purchase that particular DVD player, as you will not be able to correctly set up and calibrate the surround sound decoder. Most of the cheaper DVD players with inbuilt surround sound decoders do not allow you to adjust their decoders fully.

Digital Audio Output
    In regards to the digital audio output of a DVD player, there are basically two things that you need to look for.

    Firstly, is the digital audio output connector on the DVD player suitable for connection to the digital audio input of your receiver? Almost every single DVD player has both a coaxial digital audio output and an optical digital output, but a small number have only one or the other.

    Secondly, do you need the DVD player to output DTS audio in digital form? The great majority of current model DVD players output DTS, but a small minority do not. If you do not see the DTS logo on the front of the DVD player, it almost certainly does not output DTS digital audio.

Step 4: Do You Need To Read CD-Rs?

    Most DVD players will not read CD-R discs. If you have an absolute requirement to have your DVD player play back these discs, then you will significantly limit your choice in DVD players. Many of the name brand DVD players will not read CD-Rs. Many of the cheaper brand players will.

    If CD-R playability is important to you, then make sure that you test this with a CD-R disc before buying a DVD player, or at least confirm with a reputable source that the DVD player that you intend purchasing does play CD-Rs.

Step 5: Do You Need To Replay MP3s?

    A small number of DVD players are capable of playing back MP3 files. These are generally players at the low end of the market. No brand name player is capable of MP3 playback. If playback of MP3 files is essential to you, then you will severely limit your choice of DVD player. It goes almost without saying that if you require a DVD player to play back MP3 files that you should make sure that it can read CD-Rs.

Step 6: Do You Need Multi-Region?

    The ability to play back DVDs from anywhere in the world is a significant advantage to you as a DVD consumer. With over 7,000 DVDs available in the US, and less than 1,000 available in Australia, you deny yourself the opportunity to access many DVD titles if you purchase a machine that is not region modifiable. Whilst you may not be keen on having your DVD player modified now, it is wise to ensure that you purchase a DVD player which can be modified down the track if you so desire. Fortunately, the great majority of DVD players that are available today are able to be modified.

Step 7: Do You Need Macrovision Off?

    There are two specific scenarios in which you would need a player that can be modified to not output macrovision;
  1. If you need to connect to your TV via your VCR
  2. If you need to connect to a projector which is incompatible with Macrovision


    Once you have worked your way through the above steps, you should be in a much better position to go DVD player shopping, and should end up with a DVD player that will satisfy all of your requirements for a long time to come.

© Michael Demtschyna
5th August 2000