SAST AEP-803 DVD Player

    The SAST AEP-803 DVD player is an entrant in the increasingly-crowded sub-$500 "does everything" DVD player market segment. Like many other players in this category, it plays DVDs, CDs, Video CDs, CD-Rs and MP3s. Like many other players in this category, it can easily be made Region-free and Macrovision-free. Like many other players in this category, it is not without its problems. Unlike many other players in this category, the problems are generally minor and the player generally acquits itself quite well.

What's In The Box

    The SAST AEP-803 is only available in Silver. It is unusually styled for a DVD player, with a very bold and sassy appearance. Personally, I found the look of this player quite appealing.

Front Panel

    The SAST AEP-803 has a remarkable-appearing but unremarkably functional front panel.

    The left side of the front panel carries a hard power on-off switch. The player does not have a stand-by mode. Underneath the power switch are two volume controls and two microphone jacks for Karaoke mode.

    The centre of the front panel carries a blue-green fluorescent display whose digits are reminiscent of old-style calculator displays. The display cannot be dimmed. Four thin orange lines run diagonally through this display and are mildly distracting when viewing the display at close range. Below the fluorescent display is the disc tray, which is quite noisy whilst the player is powering up and whilst loading and unloading DVDs. Fortunately, it is acceptably quiet in actual operation, other than for one DVD which will be mentioned later on in this review. Finally, an elongated red light that serves no functional purpose can be found below the disc tray. I would have expected that this light would have been distracting, but I found it strangely aesthetically pleasing.

    Immediately to the right of the fluorescent display are three small and little-used buttons; MENU, RETURN and PAUSE/STEP. Beside these, arranged in a very unusual and counterintuitive (but very stylish) fashion are the OPEN/CLOSE, PLAY and STOP buttons. Finishing off the front panel are FAST FORWARD, FAST REWIND, CHAPTER SKIP BACKWARDS and CHAPTER SKIP FORWARDS buttons, arranged in a cross.

Rear Panel

    The rear panel of this player is equipped with a reasonable selection of outputs. From left to right, we have;

    There are no component video outputs on this DVD player.

Remote Control

    The SAST AEP-803's remote control is very reasonably laid out and relatively pleasant to use. In the overall scheme of things, this is one of the better remotes that I have had the pleasure of using.

    The centrepiece of this remote control is the shaped arrow key arrangement with a central SELECT button, always a favoured layout in my book.

    Another plus for this remote control is the oversized PLAY button at the lower right of the remote. The other basic DVD navigation buttons can be found in this location of the remote, and are relatively easy to locate and use. Pleasingly, the STOP button is located away from this area, making it hard to press inadvertently.

    On the negative side, the SUBTITLE button is located away from its usual companions (the AUDIO and ANGLE buttons) and is not easy to locate. So too the MENU button is awkwardly located and not easy to find.

    The operating range and angle of operation of the remote control were acceptable, with the player seeming to respond to key presses quite promptly.


    The manual for the SAST AEP-803 initially looked quite good - well laid-out and well-presented. However, when you actually try and READ the manual, you are confronted with such important safety instructions as "Turn off this unit and unplug it while lines wear out" and "Do not situate this unit in shake slope". Obviously, quite a lot has been lost in the translation of this manual.

    On top of this, the manual is actually exceedingly light on for actual INSTRUCTIONS. Combine this with the poor English of the manual and the manual is in fact quite unhelpful. No mention is made in the manual proper of the MP3 functions of this player and how to use them.

Set-Up Menu

    The set-up menu of the SAST AEP-803 is text-based. Its initial spartan appearance is somewhat misleading, as a comprehensive set of options is accessible via this menu. Particularly pleasing is the full control afforded over the inbuilt Dolby Digital decoder, a rarity in DVD players of this type.

Video Playback

    All video playback tests were performed with the player set to 16x9 output mode, utilizing its S-Video output.

    The SAST AEP-803 provided a generally excellent image with fine foreground and fine background detail. The overall quality of the image belied the modest asking price of this player. No MPEG decoding anomalies marred the image, and the image was remarkably free of inserted video noise.

    There was one noticeable glitch with the video output of this player. Subtle vertical skips in the image occurred at approximately 5 - 10 minute intervals, marring the viewing experience slightly. These skips were not reproducible when rewinding and replaying the offending segment of the DVD. Whilst this glitch is of the "blink and you'll miss it" variety, it occurred with sufficient frequency to become somewhat annoying, at least to my eyes.

    The only major glitch that this DVD player exhibited was in the area of video system switching. In the set-up menu, three options for TV SYSTEM are presented; PAL, NTSC and SWITCH. As you would expect, setting this option to PAL forces the player to output PAL from all DVDs. As you would also expect, setting this option to NTSC forces the player to output NTSC from all DVDs. However, the SWITCH option does not function as you would expect. In fact, it does not function correctly at all, merely appearing to place the player permanently in NTSC mode.

    I have mixed feelings about the significance of this glitch. On the one hand, it is an appalling error on the part of the player's designers. On the other hand, it is a glitch that is not likely to be a problem during normal operation of this DVD player as most users will have the player's output set to PAL and will not be overly fussed by the resultant NTSC-to-PAL conversion artefacts for the odd NTSC DVD. Purists will not be pleased with this characteristic, as they undoubtedly would prefer that their display device displays the native video signal rather than a converted one, but then purists would not be looking in this particular market segment for a DVD player.

    Another minor and somewhat annoying operational glitch of this DVD player was that subtitles frequently defaulted to on with many DVDs that other players had no subtitle issues with.

    The manual indicated that the player was a Zone 1 player (sic), however the unit played only Region 4 DVDs in its initial review state. When I applied the supplied instructions to make this player multi-zone, it played the one Region 1 DVD that I tried with no problem. This player can be set to either multi-zone or to any specific zone via a hidden menu, which also appears to have the option of disabling Macrovision.

    The fast forward and fast reverse functions of this player are of average smoothness. 2x and 8x speeds are available.

    RSDL layer changes resulted in a short pause, typically of the order of 1/4 - 1/2 second.

On Screen Display

    The on-screen display is in the form of a yellow, basically textual GUI at the top of the screen. Two screens of basic playback information such as current chapter and current time are provided and can be manipulated.

    Subtitle and Audio track names that the player recognizes are shown as three character abbreviations, such as ENG or SPA. The player has a moderate knowledge of possible languages. Languages that the player does not recognize are shown as DEF. A minor annoyance with changing subtitles and audio options is that you have to press the DISPLAY key to hide the on-screen display bar after making your selection. Many other players have a time-out function which hides this bar after a certain time has elapsed, which is a much more user-friendly arrangement.

    Functional key-presses on the remote are accompanied by various icons appearing on-screen. The icons appear all too frequently, with the menu and play icons frequently appearing when navigating through menu structures or sitting through copyright messages.

Standards Conversions

    The SAST AEP-803 is capable of converting NTSC to PAL-50. It does this conversion well, with little in the way of conversion artefacts visible in the final image.

CDR & Video CD

    The SAST AEP-803 can play back CD-R media and Video CDs.

Audio Playback

    I only used this DVD player with its coaxial digital output and had no specific problems.

    Subjectively, there was the occasional hint at an audio sync problem. Objectively, the analogue vs digital delay was -12 milliseconds, which is consistent with this player exhibiting the most subtle of audio sync problems on the odd occasion.

    DTS digital output is supported by this DVD player. MPEG audio bitstreams are converted to Linear PCM.

MP3 Discs

    The SAST AEP-803 can play CD-Rs with MP3 files. The player managed to find all 108 MP3 files on both test CD-Rs that I used. However, it had a habit of doubling up on titles on the multi-subdirectory CD-R and hence playing back more than 108 MP3 files on this particular CD.

    The actual MP3 output was excellent, with no audible flaws. The On Screen display for MP3 playback is intuitive and logical with MP3 files arranged into Albums (directories) and Titles (songs). Filenames are not displayed, so you only have numerical access to each MP3 file.

    There appeared to be no shuffle function for MP3 playback, so playback will only occur sequentially, a potential problem for
those interested in this unit for MP3 playback.

Disc Compatibility Tests

    No DVDs that I tried on the SAST AEP-803 had any playback problems. The DVD transport was very noisy whilst the menu for Sleepless In Seattle: Collector's Edition was being displayed, but lowered to a more acceptable level once the movie actually commenced. No other DVDs exhibited this problem.


The Good Points
    Generally good image quality.

    Good quality NTSC to PAL-50 conversion

    Plays CD-Rs.

    Plays MP3s.

    Multi-Zone/Region switchable via menu.

    Macrovision able to be disabled.

    Well-designed remote control.

The Bad Points
    Flawed switching between NTSC and PAL output.

    Subtle image skips.

    Occasionally noisy disc mechanism.

    Excessive on-screen icon appearance.

    Subtitles frequently default to on inappropriately.

    No stand-by mode.

    No component video output.

Features At A Glance

Video Component Output RGB Output
Audio DTS Output MP3 Playback
Plays CDRs
Conversion PAL-50
Inbuilt Decoder Dolby Digital

In Closing

    The SAST AEP-803 is a reasonable DVD player, with some minor operational flaws. It is capable of producing a very decent image, albeit with some subtle skips in the image. It performs an excellent NTSC to PAL conversion and plays CD-Rs and MP3s. Its major flaw is in its inability to switch between NTSC and PAL video output appropriately, which may or may not be an issue when considering this player.

Ratings (out of 5)

Build Quality
In Operation
Value For Money

Technical Specifications (Manufacturer Supplied)

Product Type: DVD-Video, Video CD, Audio CD  and MP3 player
Region: Zone 1 according to the manual, however the player as shipped was set to Zone 4 and came with instructions on how to change the player to any individual zone or to automatic multizone playback.
Signal System: PAL / NTSC
MPEG Decoder: C-Cube ZiVA-3
Audio Frequency Response: 4Hz - 22kHz (48kHz sampling) 
4Hz - 44kHz (96kHz sampling)
Signal to Noise Ratio: >86dB
Dynamic Range: >79dB
Total Harmonic Distortion:  
Dimensions: 428 (w) x 340 (d) x 85 (h)
Weight: 5kg
Price: $499
Distributor: Review Unit Supplied By:
83 Glebe Point Road
Glebe  NSW  2037
Telephone: (02) 9660-3388
Facsimile: (02) 9660-1088

© Michael Demtschyna
17th October 2000