In the nine short years since DVD was first introduced, it has gone from an exotic new technology to a mass-market commodity, making it the fastest growing consumer-electronics product in history. By the end of 2005, nearly 80% of American homes had DVD capability, and according to the Digital Entertainment Group, a DVD promotional organization, almost 5.6 billion DVDs had shipped to retail since the format was launched in 1997. Those early players cost close to $1000, and you can still pay that much and far more for a DVD player. But the majority of the market has dropped to a tenth of that in less than a decade.
And while player prices have plummeted, new features have popped up faster than error messages in Windows. I recall when everyone thought progressive-scan outputs were a big deal, but now they’re found on $40 players sold in supermarkets. Upconverting digital-video outputs were rare only a couple of years ago, but now they’re found on many if not most current models. And virtually all players are now compatible with one or more of the recordable varieties of DVD as well as discs with MP3 files and JPEG photos. The same is true of so-called “universal” players, which can render DVD-Audio and/or SACD high-resolution audio discs as well as DVDs and CDs. It is now painfully apparent that these high-rez formats have not been a big market success, possibly because of their opposing existence. Another factor is the ironic rise of MP3, a lower-quality format that offers much more convenience and portability, which many will take over quality every time.
I bemoan this state of affairs; I really enjoy listening to well-mixed, high-rez multichannel audio on a good surround- sound system. And there are, in fact, many great titles out there. Fortunately, there also are many universal players available today for as little as $130.
The size and scope of the DVD-player product category (indeed, any segment of the home-theater market) is so huge, it’s nearly impossible to make an intelligent buying decision without some help. That’s where TPV’s new Buyer’s Guide Plus comes in. Of course, all the magazines publish buyer’s guides, but they’re usually little more than vast tables of model numbers and specs that quickly cause the reader’s eyes to glaze over.
Our Buyer’s Guide Plus includes such a table, but with an important difference. We use our extensive experience and informed opinion to whittle the options to a manageable number, making it easier for you to choose wisely. For example, in the table, we do not list every manufacturer; instead, we select the makers that we believe matter most to shoppers. Also, we include only those specs that we believe are most relevant to a buying decision.
But wait—there’s more! Included with this and every BG+ is a description of each manufacturer’s product offerings, noting where major differences in features and price are found within the line. Finally, there’s a slew of “minireviews,” hands-on evaluations of representative examples at a wide range of price points. All this information is designed to help you, the consumer, make the best possible choice when shopping for a DVD player.
Unfortunately, the format war over high-definition optical discs shows no sign of abatement. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Toshiba announced the imminent availability of two HD DVD players—the HD-A1 ($499) and HD-XA1 ($799), both expected to ship in March—and Thomson introduced the RCA HDV5000 HD DVD player ($499, March). On the other side of the coin, LG, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Sony, and Samsung announced Blu-ray players, but most of their delivery dates were more vaguely specified as “summer,” and no one but Pioneer was willing to reveal list prices. (The Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 is scheduled to ship in May for $1800, though the price could change as details of other players emerge.)
At the show, it was crystal clear that the format war is in full swing, with neither side giving any ground, which could derail their success as it did with DVD-A and SACD. If you’re looking for a DVD player to use while that situation is sorted out, let our new Buyer’s Guide Plus help you quickly zero in on the best models for your needs and budget. Happy shopping!
some much cheaper competitors, but it’s actually pretty high quality and should be on the audition list of anyone shopping in this price range, especially if shelf space is at a premium. The Denon DVD-1920 has a clunkier black-box look, but is a better performer at a lower price. That should not be taken as a dismissal of the insubstantial-looking DVD-S97, however. It performs like a heavyweight. The choice between the two is primarily one of style.