CyberHome Prism DVD Player

By the time you read this, Paramount's two-disc special collector's edition of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home should be available. While it was never my favorite Star Trek film, the movie does offer some memorable funny-because-they're-true lines. One that I often quote occurs when time-traveling Scotty confronts a 20th-century computer. When he eventually realizes that he'll have to use a horribly outdated keyboard, he quips, "How quaint."

In this job, we've all felt the chief engineer's bemusement with seemingly antiquated technology. I haven't reviewed a DVD player in quite a while that didn't offer progressive-scan video output, let alone component video, but we here at HT aren't just a gaggle of high-end snobs. We're happy to sample any and all worthy hardware. Clearly touted as part of a budget line, the CyberHome Prism DVD player (model MP016-AW2) is an extremely compact, stylish component that can either disappear into just a bit of shelf space or become a conversation piece with its clear top window and snazzy blue interior light. As its name suggests, the Prism is realized in very deliberate angles, with a neat overall look. In fact, the only style point I disagree with is the spring-loaded push-to-open lid latch, which I inadvertently hit every time I moved the unit. I was rarely able to close it successfully on the first try, either.

The Prism passes encoded Dolby Digital and DTS signals via both optical and coaxial audio outputs, and it has composite and S-video outs, all selectable via the onscreen menu. You can also set this player for PAL compatibility, which makes it quite a hit over in Europe. MP3 music tracks on CD-R and CD-RW discs are no problem, and there's even a PBC function button for the interactive menus on videoCDs, version 2.0 and higher. CyberHome includes all of the necessary audio and video cables, along with an outboard AC adapter and a remote control with batteries.

For real-world evaluation, I popped in two well-mastered but quite different DVDs with which I am now intimately familiar, having watched each one more than 10 times front to back. First up was Superman. Even before the movie began, I suspected trouble: When I loaded the disc and hit the power button, the player jumped several minutes into the feature for some reason, bypassing all of the menus and setup options. The Prism repeated this phenomenon with my second test disc, as well. I noticed that I could use the chapter-skip function to go back to the beginning. When I began to play the movie again, the Prism sometimes froze for a second as if to catch its breath.

The Prism's picture quality is the real cause for concern, though. Likely the result of an inferior decoder, the video was distractingly noisy in every scene. It was very digital, with the kind of appearance that viewers might have overlooked in DVD's first generation or on computer DVD playback but which is tough to ignore in the living room. Instead of smooth gradations on the surface of the snowy, spherical planet Krypton, the Prism renders individual layers defined by hard lines. Pure black space and wispy clouds displayed horrible artifacting, in squares both big and small. Even the most basic material like shadows—and all movies have some—took on an unfortunate flickering geometric pattern.

On the other end of the visual spectrum is the purely computer-generated, state-of-the-art Monsters, Inc., and this vastly different demo material fared no better. Backgrounds and characters assumed an artificiality as the player again served up an array of digital noise that ruined the desired cinematic effect. Certainly, this presentation severely compromised the subtle textures that the filmmakers slaved to create. Just for the fun of it, I switched over to the composite video output via the onscreen menu (which, like those of other budget decks I've tried, features extremely plain graphics), hoping that the step down in picture integrity might actually help its appearance by obscuring some of the flaws. Alas, the artifacting was still painfully evident; and, worse, the Prism now introduced a series of faint vertical lines across the entire screen! I've been informed that CyberHome is aware of problems with the Prism's chipset and is working to improve performance in the next version of the product.

Now, I've reviewed plenty of audio shelf systems, too: compact, affordable gear that often puts aesthetics and the coolness factor above top-flight performance. For plenty of consumers, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some folks are just as concerned with how the gear looks aesthetically as with how well it delivers the audio and video. In all fairness, though, the Prism's analog stereo audio was clean and strong. As I was writing this review, I spotted another CyberHome model for sale at software retailer Suncoast in a local mall. This is definitely a convenient way for the uninitiated to jump aboard the DVD Express, and I suppose that the Prism just nudges the concept of an entry-level player in a slightly different direction. This player is for style-conscious newbies who don't fret over the finer points of home video. HT readers, however, would probably be better off gluing a model of the Luxor hotel onto any number of other low-end decks.


• Convenient digital optical and coaxial audio outputs, plus MP3/CD-R/CD-RW playback
• Below-average video performance, despite the hardware's flashy appearance