How to Choose a DVD Player

CHoosing a DVD player doesn't have to be complicated. Despite what sales clerks and manufacturers might say, standard-definition DVD players are alive and well, offering a real value for home entertainment. Blu-ray may be the shiny new technology, but consumers are quite happy with current DVD player resolution, even on HDTVs, which means that it's too early to give up on DVD as a format.

DVD Players and HDTV
Should you get a Blu-ray or a standard DVD player? If you're on a budget, replacing or upgrading with a new standard DVD player is the best value, and some consumers don't see a lot of difference between a standard DVD player and Blu-ray.

The size of your screen is one consideration. If you've got a 1080p screen that's 42" or larger, you'll notice the increased picture quality of a Blu-ray DVD player. At sizes between 40" and 32", the difference becomes subjective and depends on your eye. At sizes below 26" and on lower-resolution 720p HDTVs, you likely won't see any difference at all.

Another reason to consider a standard DVD player is content. While new releases are available on Blu-ray discs, older movies aren't, and may not be for some time. Fans of Star Wars and The Godfather will need to rely on a standard DVD player until Blu-ray discs are released.

Progressive Scan
A new DVD player should offer progressive scan. This feature enhances the picture by displaying every line of a single frame instead of every other line, which is commonly known as interlacing. A DVD player with progressive scan will give you a crisper image and more readable text because you're seeing all the information in each frame, not just half of it. The difference is noticeable on most HDTVs.

Another choice is an upconvert DVD player, which translates the 480i picture on a DVD to a simulation of one of the HDTV formats, such as 720p or 1080i. Although these DVD players were once common, the arrival of Blu-ray has put them on the endangered species list, and few models are still available. You'll get superior performance on an HDTV from an upconvert DVD player when compared with progressive scan, although an upconvert DVD player won't give you the same clarity as Blu-ray.

One overlooked feature that can give a big boost to image quality is 3:2 pulldown. Film and video are shot at different speeds, so movies need to be adjusted to video speeds when they're put on DVD. This can result in distortion and jagged images, especially when they camera is moving. A DVD player with 3:2 pulldown processes playback to approximate the 24 frames-per-second speed of film, which greatly reduces this distortion. Some HDTVs offer 3:2 pulldown, but you'll get the best picture by letting the DVD player do the work.

All but the most advanced upconvert DVD players can be bought for less than $100. The least-expensive Blu-ray DVD player retails for around $300, and Blu-ray movies cost about $30 each, compared with standard DVDs that sell for as little as $4. Blu-ray is backwards compatible with standard DVD, so the best solution is to get a standard DVD player now and wait for Blu-ray prices to drop in a year or two.

DVD Player Features
Every DVD player supports the same basic functions, including playback, pause, fast forward, rewind and chapter skip, which allows you to navigate through a movie or TV show to find your favorite scenes. Most DVD players also offer a "resume" feature, which lets you stop the DVD player and start watching at the point you left off.

Beyond the basics, spending extra on a DVD player will get you additional features and image enhancement. Almost every DVD player offers a crisp picture, but some players include digital noise reduction that eliminates jagged edges and other artifacts that are common to the data compression used to fit movies on DVDs.

You'll also find that some DVD players are better at displaying smooth slow-motion video or crisp single frames. Since it doesn't cost much to get a standard DVD player, you won't break the bank for more control.

Another thing to consider is the formats supported by a DVD player. While all players will handle commercial DVDs and CDs, they're less forgiving of homemade CD-Rs and DVD-Rs. Check the specs on a DVD player to be sure it supports the formats of the discs you frequently use.

Take a look at the remote too. You'll be spending a lot of time controlling your DVD player from across the room, and you want a remote that makes it easy to find and use various features. Look for large, well-spaced buttons. Backlit buttons are a plus if you like to have the lights down while your DVD player is running.

Connectivity
If you're considering a Blu-ray DVD player, make sure it has an HDMI output for the best possible picture and sound quality. Standard-definition DVD players now come with HDMI outputs as well, but the truth is that these devices don't push enough data to make the extra capacity of HDMI necessary.

To get the best picture from a standard-definition DVD player, all you need is a composite video connection to an HDTV. This cable splits the signal into red, blue and green channels and carries it through RCA cables. DVD players also have a standard RCA video out connection, which is ideal for older televisions that don't have HDMI or composite video inputs.

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