DVD Distinctions

Now's this for a cutting-edge shopping list: bread, milk, a dozen eggs, strawberries, zucchini, orange juice, chicken, sirloin, DVD player, spaghetti, ice cream, puppy chow. Yep, buying a DVD player these days can be as uneventful as picking up a quart of milk. And with low prices like $49, it is ridiculously tempting to pop one of 'em in your cart.

The many murky-looking scenes in the sci-fi thriller Equilibrium challenged the four DVD players' abilities to convey shadow detail.

But whether you're shopping for your first, second, or even third DVD player, you should consider spending a few extra bucks on one that offers more than just the basics. For instance, you could pick up a five-disc changer or one that plays DVD-Audio discs. Or you could get a DVD player that doubles as a VCR - or one that packs an all-digital DVI connection for the best possible DVD picture on your new HDTV. Wouldn't that be worth the extra money?

To find out, I rounded up four players that each bring a different twist to the DVD party: Panasonic's DVD-F87S five-disc changer ($130), which also plays DVD-Audio discs; the RCA DRC510N five-disc changer ($99), which also handles CDs with MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) music files as well as JPEG photo files; Toshiba's SD-V392 DVD/VCR combo ($130); and the V Inc. Bravo D2, featuring one of those spiffy DVI (Digital Video Interface) connectors ($249).

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