DVD Distinctions Page 5

V Inc. Bravo D2V Inc. made a name for itself last year when it introduced the world's first DVI-enabled DVD player. The Bravo D2 is a follow-up to the original Bravo D1 and the heavy hitter in this quartet, with a price more than double that of the RCA. V Inc. Bravo D2

V Inc. Bravo D2

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 17 x 2 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches PRICE $249 MANUFACTURER V Inc., www.vinc.com, 714-668-0588

PLUS • Excellent picture quality with DVI output • Upscales to HDTV video formats

MINUS • Coarse picture controls, with no black level adjustment • Awkward CD readouts

Behind its very clean, mirrored (!) face is a simple but useful array of features. Highlights include picture controls for contrast, brightness, and color saturation, a slide-show mode for JPEG photos, and a menu for specifying audio, video, or photo playback that conveniently appears whenever you load a disc. The remote control is serviceable, with no special distinctions.

Like the other players in this group, the D2 plays MP3 and JPEG files, but it also adds DivX and MPEG-4 playback to the mix. Both of these compression formats are used mainly for sending video over the Web, but they can also be employed to burn video files onto CD-R using a disc-authoring program like Nero.

Unlike the other players here, the Bravo D2 has a high-tech vibe about it. Besides the ultra-modern look and cutting-edge DVI output, it has a menu button that lets hard-core enthusiasts check the version of the player's operating system. The owner's manual tells how to update this to add new features or correct any bugs.

So what's all the fuss about that little DVI connector on its back panel? Instead of using lowly analog connectors, it gives you the option of sending a digital signal directly to your TV - that is, assuming you own a late-model high-def set with a DVI input. The payoff - at least in theory - is the best possible picture quality you can get from a DVD. Why? Because the signal avoids a cycle of digital-to-analog conversion in the player and analog-to-digital conversion in the TV, a potential source of signal degradation.

V Inc. Bravo D2 remoteAnother feature of the Bravo D2 is that you can scale its video output to a format that best matches the TV it's connected to. In addition to standard 480i (interlaced) and 480p (progressive-scan), you can select the 720p or 1080i HDTV formats. Don't get too excited, though - picture resolution is limited by what's on the DVD, and 480p resolution is the best you can get from a DVD player. In other words, don't expect high-definition from your DVDs, although the Bravo D2's ability to send out a signal that matches your HDTV's display pixel for pixel should result in improved picture quality. However, when you use the analog component-video output rather than the DVI port, you can't upconvert copy-protected DVDs - which includes almost all movie releases.

Music Performance As usual, I started my performance evaluation with a well-known CD - Coldplay's atmospheric Rush of Blood to the Head - to verify that the player's stereo music chops were up to par. They were. But I was surprised and disappointed that track (and DVD chapter) numbers aren't displayed on the front panel, or onscreen for that matter. To see what track you're listening to, you have to press an Info button. And when you skip to the next track, the track-number display vanishes! CD playback was clearly an afterthought.

Movie Performance I liked what I saw of the D2's progressive-scan DVD performance through either its component-video or DVI output. In Chapter 4 of Equilibrium, an enforcer is caught reading a book, and he recites a verse of poetry - a cardinal offense. The scene is full of detail, all of it clearly visible. Hooked up via a DVIconnection to a DLP front projector with a display resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels, the Bravo D2 delivered very clean, crisp-looking images. It wasn't high-def, but a casual viewer might be hard pressed to tell the difference. My only criticism is that the adjustment steps of the player's picture controls are too coarse. You'll be better off using your TVs picture controls for making adjustments.

V Inc.'s Bravo D2 is the player to get if your HDTV is DVI-ready and you want to squeeze every last drop of picture quality out of your DVD collection. Trust me, you'll be impressed.

The Bottom Line So the next time you're at the grocery, you can give in to impulse and buy one of the DVD players stacked up next to the produce. Or you can do a little homework and step up to a player that offers a twist - or two. Depending on which features you can use, and how you weight them, each of these players offers something special for not a lot of money. And would you pick up a quart of milk for me? PDF: Features Checklist PDF: In the Lab