Sony DVP-NS975V DVD/SACD Player
Ah, it seems like only yesterday that we reviewed the first DVD player that upconverted the video signal to 720p or 1080i. It was the defining feature in last year's first-generation players. Now, as second-generation models are announced, manufacturers are already asking upconversion to share the spotlight with other features like DVD recording, DVD/VHS combo drives, and high-resolution audio playback. Sony's first entry into the upconverting category is the DVP-NS975V, which adds SACD playback without adding much to the bottom line.
No Manual Here; Setup Is Automatic
The DVP-NS975V offers a lot of adjustments to tailor the picture and sound, yet it's extremely easy to set up and use—a good thing, since the owner's manual that arrived with my review sample was in French. Since je ne parle pas français, I decided to behave like every red-blooded American male I know and see how far I could go without a manual. Turns out, I could go all the way.
The first time you power up the player, it prompts you to perform Quick Setup, a process that goes into more depth than many "initial setup" procedures but is very clear in its direction. The menu asks you to select an onscreen language, pick your TV shape, and specify whether you're using a receiver and, if so, select analog, digital, or digital and 5.1 analog audio output. You also choose if you want to convert Dolby Digital and DTS to PCM and, lastly, select speaker sizes when using the 5.1 analog audio outputs.
Quick Setup may end with speaker size, but bass management doesn't. The Custom Setup menu lets you set bass management from the analog outputs for both DVDs and SACDs, including speaker/sub distance and speaker/
sub level, with a test tone that (hallelujah) you can turn on and leave on until you've got the levels where you want them. Unfortunately, the subwoofer test tone is very low; I couldn't hear it at its default level. Even when I raised it to its maximum setting, it was still too soft to match the speakers to its level. My advice is to match the speakers' levels and then use your ear to set the bass at a level you like.
While a handy front-panel button lets you turn the component video output's progressive scanning on or off, you have to go through Custom Setup to configure the HDMI output. Oh, silly me, did I forget to mention that this player makes the jump from DVI to HDMI output? I've yet to jump to an HDMI-equipped display, so I needed to buy a $30 HDMI-to-DVI adapter cable. If you have an HDMI-equipped receiver or TV, you can send both the video and Dolby Digital or DTS multichannel digital audio signals through the HDMI out, but not high-resolution SACD signals.
Your video output choices for HDMI are 1,920 by 1080i, 1,280 by 720p, 720 by 480p, 720 by 480i, or auto, which matches the output to your display's resolution, as long as the display includes a function called Enhanced Extended Display Identification Data. (All Sony displays with HDMI include E-EDID.) Some upconverting DVD players let you set the component video output for 720p or 1080i (at least with non-copy-protected material such as homemade video); the DVP-NS975V does not. I don't consider this to be a drawback, as you can't upconvert copy-protected content (i.e., anything remotely interesting) through the component video outs on those other players, anyway. Sony has removed the temptation to try and, in doing so, eliminated some setup confusion.
The DVP-NS975V's brushed-aluminum front panel has a clean aesthetic—just transport controls, a well-sized LCD, the aforementioned progressive button, and three lights that indicate an HDMI connection, SACD playback, and multichannel playback. The onscreen menu features some cryptic icons, but Sony has kindly supplied text at the bottom left part of the screen to explain what the highlighted icon stands for.
The player's navigation was solid, responding quickly to commands. Navigating MP3 and JPEGs was simple, although I found it odd that you can set MP3s to repeat but not to shuffle.
In terms of ease of use, the remote is the only weak link: It has a lot of small, similarly shaped buttons, many of which are black on a non-backlit, black background. A somewhat annoying omission is the absence of a setup button; to change settings, you have to hit "display" and then scroll to the setup function. The remote was also a bit too responsive, causing me to sometimes scroll past the onscreen icons I was aiming for.
Points for Consistency
If "easy" is the best word to describe the DVP-NS975V's setup and control functions, "consistent" best describes its performance. With Avia Pro's frequency-sweep patterns and our test gear, the player's resolution from the component video output, in interlaced mode, was solid through most of the frequency range, only dropping at the highest frequencies (–3 decibels at 6.25 megahertz and –6 dB at 6.5 MHz). In progressive mode, the resolution begins to gradually roll off at a lower frequency (around 4 MHz), but it doesn't roll off as much at higher frequencies (–3 dB at 6.5 MHz). I saw some definite banding in the 6.75-MHz circle test, which means the player can't resolve the finest details in a DVD signal. Overall, though, its resolution through the component video output was quite good.
In regards to processing, the DVP-NS975V didn't pick up the 3:2 film sequence in Video Essentials' Snell & Wilcox Zone Plate test as quickly as other players I've reviewed, but it picked it up nonetheless and did a better job than many players with the video-based sequences. I got similar results with the Silicon Optix test disc and our real-world demo material. Performance was good with film-based signals and above average with video-based signals.
We can't use our test equipment with an HDMI signal, so I eyeballed the resolution using the VE and Avia Pro resolution charts. With the HDMI output set to 720 by 480p, the resolution was about 470 lines per picture height; when I set it to match the Samsung SP-H700AE projector's 720p resolution, apparent resolution increased by about 10 lines. Avia Pro's 6.75-MHz circle revealed only a hint of banding, so the HDMI output should be able to reproduce a DVD's finer details. Processing performance was almost identical to that of the component video out.
One nice perk is that the component video and HDMI outputs are active at the same time, so you can send a component video signal to one display and an HDMI signal to another. When I switched back and forth between a 480p component video signal and a 720p HDMI signal, I was struck by just how similar the two images looked. There was perhaps a slight color difference, but I didn't see a noticeable step down in detail when I moved from HDMI to component. Both looked very good, and that consistency means even more setup flexibility for you.
The player provides multiple preset picture modes, as well as picture (contrast), brightness, color, and hue adjustments for both outputs, so you can make minor tweaks to the picture to suit the source material or your taste. Also, when you set it for a 16:9 screen shape, the player automatically detects 4:3-formatted material through both outputs and adds black bars to the sides of the picture so that it's not abnormally stretched across the screen.
Let's not forget about SACD performance. I use Sony's higher-end SCD-CE775 SACD changer on a daily basis, and I didn't hear any discernible drop-off in audio quality when I swapped it out for the DVP-NS975V in my home setup. It did a fine job.
The inevitable march of progress ensures that the performance of upconverting players will get better and, consequently, more similar to one another. As that happens, the value-added features begin to play a huge role in your selection process. Sony's decision to include SACD playback makes the DVP-NS975V an excellent source component for anyone looking to step up in both video and audio quality at a competitive price.
• Good performance through both the component and HDMI outputs
• SACD playback
• Extremely easy to set up and use