DVD Player
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DVD Player Technology

During 1999 the DVD player has become one of the fastest growing components in home theater. It provides far better resolution than either a VHS or cable television. It also can deliver incredible discreet six channel sound. Along with these features it permits multiple sound tracks so you can listen in foreign languages or hear commentaries by the director or actors while the movie is playing. It breaks the movie down into chapter so you can watch part of a film and pick up later The standards for the DVD player are tighter than most other parts of your home theater and therefore there will be less difference between models. These same standards are also well designed enough so that a wide range of equipment prices can be accommodated. Still, there are several factors you should consider before you buy a DVD player. If you are serious about home theater the question is not whether you will buy one, but how soon.

For full details about the DVD standards please refer to the section here on DVDs.

Sound Options

All DVD players must have PCM (Pulse Coded Modulation) and at least one other format of sound reproduction. Most have Dolby Discreet Surround, also called Dolby 5.1 or AC-3. This provides each of six speakers, two front, center, two rear and sub woofer, each with their own track. Another format growing in popularity is DTS, Digital Theater Sound. This format offers the same six discreet channels of sound but uses less compression. This means a DTS sound track will take up more room on the disc than the same soundtrack encoded in Dolby 5.1. What is usually sacrificed are the extras. What you gain is described by many as a better quality of sound reproduction, often described as having a fuller rear sound field. This is highly subjective and many people cannot tell the difference. If you need testing equipment to tell the difference, don't worry about it, trust your ears. Many DVD players offer both Dolby and DTS for very little difference in cost so it is best to look for that feature anyway. Be warned, however, many outlets do not carry many DTS titles since there are less of them out there and some online stores have delays in shipping DTS discs. The latest trend seems to be to include both Dolby 5.1 and DTS on one disc. Movies like 'American Beauty' and 'U-571' are excellent examples of this. You can check out a complete list of all DTS titles by clicking here! There is current trend for the studios to provide DTS soundtracks. This appears to be due in large part to customer demand.

Recently, some seven channel audio DVDs have started to appear. While they can be played on a regular six channel DVD player you will need a special seven channel receiver and decoder to enjoy the full audio information. My advice is to wait until there are more titles available in this format before committing to such an expense.

Decoder

In order to transfer the encoded soundtrack from the DVD player to a six channel home theater receiver you must first decode the signal. This requires a decoder. Some of the higher price DVD players have the decoder built into the player. While this increases the price of the player it removes the requirement of a separate purchase for the decoder. There are probably more pros and cons in this area than any other for selecting the DVD player for you.

Pros

bulletBuilt in unit requires less space
bulletBuilt in unit needs less wires or cables
bulletShorter path for the signal means slightly less loss of signal. (signal is usually digital and does not degrade that much)

Cons

bulletWhen new technology comes out you will need a new DVD player and a new decoder.
bulletGreater control of the sound is usually available with a separate decoder.
bulletDecoder and receiver are often packaged together for cost savings.

Make sure your decoder has more than one input jack. Many cable and satellite providers are now offering 5.1 sound and you may need the decoder to fully enjoy this mode. 

Cabling

If you are choosing a separate decoder you have to find out how the signal is carried from the DVD player to the decoder. If the player has six jacks that go directly into the receiver, for-get-about-it. Something is terrible wrong. You have to make sure the unit has a digital output. Now, there are two types of these outputs. The first is digital optical. Here a little fiber optic cable goes to the decoder. The second is a digital coaxial cable. I have used both and can not hear the difference.  It is also possible to by pass the audio track by directly connecting the two channel DVD output to your TV. For this you connect the DVD player much in the same way as you would a VCR. This method uses the typical red and white RCA connectors. This will only provide two channel sound. In this case it is better to run the two audio channels from the DVD player to the receiver so you can take advantage of audio processing such as Dolby ProLogic.

Next is the video cable. Here again there are two main choices. The first is a regular RCA cable (usual color coded yellow) that will hook into one of your TV's video inputs. The second and better choice is a S-Video jack. This is a little round jack that carries the red, blue and green signals separately to the TV. Often both the S-Video and RCA jacks are provided. There is little to no price difference so get both. You may want to try S-Video now or or may be upgrading to a S-Video TV soon. Another option is component video. This is the best around but also requires a television equipped for this type of connector.  Some of the higher end DVD players provide a composite video connector. Remember that a small investment early on can pay off later on. If you plan on upgrading your TV in the not so distant future make sure your new DVD can handle it.

You will also find, usually next to the yellow video jack, two audio jacks. They are coded Red for right channel and White for left channel. If you want to process any Dolby 2.0 DVDs through your receiver's Dolby Prologic circuits you will be using these analog channels. Since many DVDs only have a two channel sound it is a good idea to also make a two channel connection to the receiver, along with the digital six channel to the decoder, so you can enjoy the added benefits of ProLogic surround sound on two channel disks. Two channel audio DVDs are common with small budget independent films and DVDs made from TV shows. For more on DVD cables please click here.

Features

Here most DVD players are pretty much the same. They may call the features by slightly different names but the features are written into the standard. All will have parental control. All will have multiple sound tracks. All players have multiple angles and subtitles. One difference I have personally come across is some players allow you to bookmark a section of the DVD and return to it later. The models I have seen without this feature permit you to enter in a precise time location (e.g. 1:05:55) and go directly there. Flip a coin for this one. Personally, I like the direct time input. The only real new advance on the horizon is the DVD changer. With this player several discs can be loaded and selected at the same time. While the mechanics are already used with CDs I have heard that the failure rate of this type of DVD player is still a bit too high. For now, save your money and trek across your living room to change the disc.

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