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.
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
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;
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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;
If you need to connect to your TV via your VCR
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