V, Inc. Bravo D2 DVD Player
Several years ago, I attended a David Copperfield show in Las Vegas and was invited onstage to be a part of one of his magic tricks. Sadly, it wasn't anything exciting, like being levitated or sawed in half. He just guessed my phone number after I wrote it down on a piece of paper and quickly burned up the paper. (No, he never did call.) Still, it was fascinating to try and figure out how he did that trick and the other more-impressive ones I witnessed that evening.
The thing about a magic show is, after the age of about eight, no one actually believes that they're witnessing acts of magic. The show's success is judged on the quality of the illusion. How well did that illusionist convince you that he just sawed his lovely assistant in half?
The upconverting DVD player is the illusionist of the A/V world. At this point, we certainly hope that no one believes this kind of player can turn a 480i signal into high-definition; however, if it appears to increase the resolution and still create a great DVD image, then we're sold. Based on that criterion, the new Bravo D2 DVD player is an expert illusionist.
The Bravo D2 allows you to view copy-protected DVDs at 720p or 1080i resolution from its DVI output; not only that, the DVI signal doesn't include HDCP copy protection, so you can view it on a DVI-equipped display that doesn't have HDCP recognition. In addition, the player will upconvert non-copy-protected DVDs to 720p or 1080i from its component output. (Copy-protected DVDs are limited to 480i or 480p from the component output.) There's not much meaningful DVD content out there that isn't copy-protected, though, so you should make sure that your display has a DVI (or HDMI, with an inexpensive adapter) input if you want access to this player's best features. The beauty is, that DVI connection also lets you bypass the player's digital-to-analog converters and send a purely digital signal to your display. It's double the pleasure, double the fun.
Out of the box, the player is set to 480i, analog audio, and a 4:3 screen shape. It took me only a few seconds to go into the user-friendly onscreen setup menu and make the necessary adjustments, such as choosing the type of output (DVI, component video, or composite/S-video) and the desired resolution (480p, 720p, or 1080i for the DVI or component output), depending on your display's capabilities. The remote's TV Mode button lets you quickly and easily scroll through the various output types and resolutions. If you accidentally select the wrong output type or resolution and lose the picture on the screen, you can use this button to get to the correct setting—or you can simply unplug the player, and it will return to the default settings.
The remote is a lightweight little number on which some buttons glow in the dark, an all-too-rare feature on DVD-player remotes. The only problem is, the main transport controls are not among the glowers, and they are awkwardly positioned at the bottom of the remote, which isn't the most intuitive location.
If you set up the Bravo D2 for a 16:9 screen, it automatically adds black bars to any 4:3-formatted DVD. This ensures that you can watch 1.33:1 material in its correct aspect ratio if your display doesn't let you adjust the shape of progressive signals. With nonanamorphic letterboxed material, you can use the remote's zoom button to expand the picture to fill the entire 16:9 screen without distorting its original aspect ratio. These are simple but great features that ensure that you won't ever have to watch anything in an incorrect shape.
In general, I found the Bravo D2's navigational functions to be quick and unobtrusive. It responds quickly to remote commands, the remote's search button lets you easily punch in a desired title or chapter, and the MP3/JPEG menus are fairly straightforward and simple to maneuver, although I've seen better.
Dig That DVI
Obviously, the DVI connection and its ability to display upconverted signals is the Bravo D2's primary selling point, so resolution and processing had better be top-notch from the DVI output. To test these functions, I set the player for 720p resolution from the DVI output and ran a DVI cable to Sharp's XV-Z12000 720p DLP projector.
The D2 measured out to the limit of the DVD resolution pattern in title 1, chapter 8 of the Avia Pro test DVD. This test pattern also has a 6.75-megahertz circle in which you'll see blurry patterns and black patches if a player is unable to reproduce the finest details; the D2 rendered this circle perfectly in 720p mode, which is further indication of its outstanding performance through the DVI output.
To test the DVI output's film processing, I cued up Video Essentials' Snell & Wilcox Zone Plate test pattern. The player was a tad slow in picking up the 3:2 film sequence, but it handled the signal nicely once it did. On the Colosseum flyover in chapter 12 of Gladiator, the player did a very good job of reproducing all of the complex rooftops and diagonal lines. However, it didn't fare so well when processing material that originated in the video domain. It never locked on to the video signals in the Snell & Wilcox test, and the video-sourced portions in the "Montage of Images" section exhibited numerous artifacts. The D2 also never figured out how to handle our incorrectly flagged DTS demo disc, which confuses most processors and causes them to jump between the film and video modes. In the end, film processing is more important, and the D2 was above average in this category.
As for real-world material from real-world DVDs like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Monsters, Inc., and the incredibly detailed Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2004, the D2's image was absolutely stunning from the DVI output. I viewed these images on an 87-inch-wide screen, sitting only about 3x the picture height, and I was extremely impressed with how detailed, rich, and natural the images were. I honestly could've watched the images, sans audio, all day.
A noteworthy perk is the ability to adjust the player's brightness, contrast, and color, regardless of the video connection you use, with the touch of a button on the remote as a film plays on the screen. This lets you make quick film-by-film corrections to suit your taste. This feature is especially handy if your display doesn't allow you to make these kinds of adjustments to its DVI input, as is the case with the Sharp XV-Z12000.
OK, so the D2 measures out to DVD's frequency limit in 720p mode. How does that prove that it creates the illusion of greater detail? Well, using the same projector and DVI cable, when I changed the player's output resolution from 720p to 480p, the lines in the Avia Pro 6.75-MHz circle weren't quite as cleanly delineated. With the Video Essentials resolution pattern (title 17, chapter 13), the D2's apparent resolution in 720p mode was perceptibly better than it was in 480p mode. During this test, video editor Geoffrey Morrison commented that it was the first time he'd seen a tangible reason to recommend an upconverting player. The same signal seemed to have better resolution at the 720p setting.
Now, what if you don't yet own a DVI-equipped display? How does the D2 perform through its component video connection? When I connected the player's component output to our reference Princeton monitor and set it for 480p mode, both resolution and processing took a slight hit. With the Snell & Wilcox test, the processor performed about the same as it did from the DVI output, but the Gladiator sequence had more stair-stepping and flicker. In terms of resolution, the VE test patterns revealed that the component output is flat to about 470 lines per picture height and rolls off at higher frequencies. There was noticeable banding in the 6.75-MHz circle on the Avia Pro DVD, indicating that the component output has more difficulty with the signal's finest details.
Likewise, real-world images were softer through the component connection. I happened to have a non-copy-protected version of a Blue Man Group concert DVD, so I could compare an upconverted 720p signal from the DVI and component connections. There was a slight but noticeable improvement in color and detail from the DVI output; it looked as if a thin layer of haze had been stripped away. When I compared the 480p component video signal with the 720p DVI signal, the improved detail was even more noticeable. It's not that the component connection was bad; in fact, its performance was above average and would likely satisfy most people.
Of course, videophiles aren't "most people." They want the best, and it doesn't get much better than the all-digital, beautifully detailed picture you get from the Bravo D2's DVI output. If you have a DVI-equipped display, this is absolutely the player for you. For $249, you can create the illusion of higher-def DVD and bring out the best in your home theater system. Just don't try sawing the D2 in half. I'm pretty sure that would void the warranty.
• Can play copy-protected DVDs in 720p or 1080i from the DVI output
• The all-digital DVI signal has outstanding resolution