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DVD or “Digital Versatile Disk” technology has revolutionised the way we watch, and listen to films; the latest Hollywood blockbusters, our own personal favourites, documentaries, and other content, in our own homes. The concept of home cinema in truly authentic, cinematic form is now a reality for the typical domestic consumer, with large, flat panel television sets, of LCD (“Liquid Crystal Display”) or Plasma design delivering bright, high definition, pictures, accompanied by immersive digital surround sound, reproduced on loudspeakers situated around the listening space. A DVD player is of course, an integral part of any such system, so it is important to choose an appropriate, fully featured player in the first instance, and to make sure that it is properly configured, and maintained.
DVD Formats & Beyond
In addition to standard, commercially recorded DVD, you may be interested in a DVD player which is compatible with recordable DVD+/-R, or rewritable DVD+/-RW, formats if you are in the habit of recording your own DVD content, and this may extend to MPEG1, MPEG2, DivX, and other, more unusual formats, such as VCD, or SVCD, if you import content of this type, or download it from the Internet.
Furthermore, if you do want to watch DVD content recorded in other regions of the world, you need to take into account the recording standard (principally the 625-line, PAL (“Phase Alternating Line”) system used in Europe, and the 525-line, NTSC (“National Television System Committee”) system, used in the United States, and elsewhere)of the country of origin. It is vital that a DVD player is able to perform an accurate conversion of either format to the number of lines of resolution that is appropriate to your television display.
Most modern DVD players will play DVD media recorded in PAL and NTSC, formats, but so-called “regional encoding” may present another complication. Regional encoding was introduced to allow film studios to control release dates, pricing, etc. from region to region, across the world. The United States and Canada, for example, were designated “Region 1”, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and Japan “Region 2”, and so on, and this information was recorded, in a single byte, on each DVD produced. Theoretically, this information would be read by a DVD player, and compared with its own regional code, for authenticity before permitting, or denying, the playback of any DVD. In practice, however, many modern DVD players are “multi region”, and allow playback of PAL, or NTSC, format media, from any region of the world.
The latest developments in DVD technology, of course, are Blu-ray, and HD-DVD, each of which offers up to six times the resolution of conventional DVD. If you already own a television set designated “HD Ready”, or “Full HD” – or, in other words, “720p”, “1080i”, or “1080p” – you may be able to take advantage of these new, high-definition formats, but do bear in mind that to get the most from a Blu-ray player, for example, you do really need a 1080p set. The “p”, here, stands for “progressive”, and indicates that the rows of picture elements, or “pixels” – 1,920 x 1,080, in total, that make up each frame of video are refreshed sequentially, every 1/60th of a second, creating a smooth flicker-free picture. Blu-ray and HD-DVD technologies are also still in the early stages of development, with no guarantee that one will ultimately take precedence over the other in the future. If you do opt for a high definition player, in the worst case you will be able to use it to play standard DVD media, but if you would prefer to wait until the situation is clearer, a progressive scan, or “upconverting”, DVD player (in the latter case, one that formats its video outputs into one of the HDTV formats) may be a more cost-effective alternative, in the interim.
A DVD player does not of course exist in isolation, and there are numerous different options for connecting it to a flat panel, LCD (“Liquid Crystal Display”), or Plasma, television set, for example, and other components of a home cinema, or entertainment, system. The type of connections that you employ depends of course on those available on your other components, but you should try to find a DVD player that supports the best video and audio connections available to you, in sufficient number to accommodate all of your equipment.
Popular analogue connections include component vide also known as “RCA”, or “Y/Pb/Pr” which employs three individual, colour-coded, sockets for the transfer of brightness and colour signals, S-video (“S” for “Separate”), which divides a video signal into luma (Y) and chroma (C) components and hence is also sometimes known as “Y/C” video, and SCART (“Syndicat des Constructeurs d’Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs”). So-called RGB (“Red, Green, Blue”) SCART, which splits a video signal into its individual colour components, can produce better results, particularly in combination with a gold plated SCART lead.
The problem with all these analogue connections however, is that they require the digital data on a DVD to be converted to an analogue signal using a device known as a DAC, or “Digital to Analogue Converter for transmission, and converted back again, before it can be reproduced. These conversion processes, inevitably, introduce the possibility of noise, and coding errors, which may affect the quality of the video you see, and the audio you hear.
An all-digital connection such as DVI (“Digital Video Interface”), or HDMI (“High Definition Multimedia Interface”) on the other hand, requires no such superfluous conversions, and delivers each bit encoded on a DVD exactly as per the original. HDMI for example is also capable of transferring purely digital video, and multiple channel audio, via a single cable, and has become the de facto standard for consumer electronics products. Indeed, some 200 million devices featuring HDMI are expected to ship during 2008. Some DVD players also feature DVI outputs (“DVI-D” permitting true digital video), and these are compatible with the HDMI inputs on a high definition television, for example, via a simple adaptor cable.
You may of course, wish to connect the audio output from your DVD player to a digital surround sound receiver, in which case you should, once again, look for the highest quality connections available to you. These may be in the form of coaxial digital audio outputs, which transfer audio through a copper wire – shielded with aluminium foil to prevent interference, and offering more frequency bandwidth than traditional RCA cable – but nevertheless allow full 5.1 channel surround sound signals to be carried by a single cable. So-called “optical” digital audio – also known as S/PDIF, or “Sony/Philips Digital Interface” – is another possibility, and this method transfers signals cleanly across a fibre optic cable. It may also be possible to acquire a converter for converting coaxial digital signals to optical, and vice versa, if need be. Do bear in mind however, that a coaxial or optical connection is required for 5.1 channel digital surround sound; Dolby Digital, for example, the industry standard for DVD, and HDTV broadcasting, and that traditional RCA connections are only suitable for stereo, or 2.1 channel, sound.
The aspect ratio of an image is simply the relationship between the width and height of that image, expressed as a ratio. Standard, analogue television pictures, for example, have an aspect ratio of 4:3, or 1.33:1 in other words, the image displayed is 4 units wide, for every 3 units it is high, or almost square – which accounts for the box-like appearance of traditional CRT (“Cathode Ray Tube”) television sets. HDTV and “anamorphic” DVD content however, is typically presented with a “widescreen” aspect ratio of 16:9 or 1.78:1 so it is important than a DVD player allows full control over aspect ratio, so that 4:3 and 16:9 content can be displayed without stretching or distortion.
DVD technology is of course, no longer limited to entertainment in the home, and many portable DVD players (which can, in fact, be used as substitutes for standard DVD players, in the home, or elsewhere) are available. Portable DVD players are typically, and by definition, compact and lightweight (exactly how compact and lightweight depends on the size of the screen and often the battery required) and can provide a valuable source of entertainment for you and your family. The use of a portable DVD player in a car where the player itself can be powered by a standard cigarette lighter socket, and attached to the front seat, or front seat headrest is popular, especially with families with young children.