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The Good, The Better, & the Best $1,500 and a Mission part 2

Next, you need to buy a DVD player. There are many, many under-$250 DVD players to choose from. The Toshiba SD-2700 is a good choice because it offers great performance for the money. For $230, you get component (Y/Pb/Pr), S-video (Y/C), and composite video outputs that are all active, all the time. No cheap component-or-Y/C switch here. There are also optical (Toslink-style) and coaxial (RCA-style) digital outs. If you want to save a few bucks, you can buy the lower-model Toshiba, which doesn't have an optical out, but I think this connection is worth the extra $30. The SD-2700 has a small, nonbacklit remote. Fortunately, the buttons are laid out in an intelligent manner.

1101gbb.6.jpgThe DVD player's picture quality is very good. The SD-2700 has excellent, accurate black levels and lively colors. When downconverting anamorphic images for a 4:3 set, it did create some mild artifacts. Nonetheless, it provided a very watchable image, especially on the accompanying Toshiba TV.

This brings us to the last buy: the TV. Toshiba has a set for $750 called the 32A41 (that brings the grand total to $1,480, for those who are counting). At 32 inches, the 32A41 might be a little small for some rooms; however, for the price, this is an excellent set. It has one component (Y/Pb/Pr) input and one S-video (Y/C) input. Both inputs also accept a composite source. If you're worried about inputs, the VR-507 receiver has both S-video and composite switching.

1101gbb.7.jpgThe TV's setup menu is easy to use, as is the remote (which is mostly backlit). The onscreen menus fill the entire screen, which makes calibration difficult. Conveniently, the remote's exit button takes you out of setup mode, while the menu button takes you right back to where you left off.

The 32A41's performance is excellent. Technical consultant Ron Williams, who doesn't usually like inexpensive TVs, said that this was a great set for the money. We both noted that, while it pushed red just slightly (most sets in this price range push red far harder), it did have a true yellow (which is rare) and excellent, accurate blacks (which made it a great complement for the DVD player). Out of the box, the controls are showroom-floor correct. That is, the contrast is all the way up, the sharpness is most of the way up, and the color-temperature control is set to cool (even on warm, the set is still slightly cool). You can use the Video Essentials DVD to adjust all of these settings. Truth be told, this is one of my favorite NTSC TVs. Colors just jump off the screen. The shadows and blacks, while pleasingly dark, never lose detail.

1101gbb.8.jpg

Together, the HTB-504, SD-2700, and 32A41 make a great entry-level system that will get some good mileage. If you aspire for more, you can eventually upgrade. My first recommendation would be to upgrade the speakers. The sub and receiver are great and deserve better companions. After that, there isn't much you'll need to touch until you decide to jump on the HDTV bandwagon (and you will have to someday). Then, you may need a progressive-scan DVD player to go with your new HDTV. The Kenwood receiver has 5.1 analog inputs, so you can take advantage of DVD-Audio and SACD if you want. The last two items to upgrade (way down the road) are the receiver and the sub. Maybe some separates and a 3-billion-watt, 15-inch-driver sub would work in your living room.

Until you have the money to upgrade (maybe to one of the systems featured later in this article), though, this system will please your friends, entertain the neighbors, and make you part of the home theater community—all for $1,500.—Geoffrey Morrison

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