DVD In The Fast Lane

The DVD format advanced from a high concept to a hot commodity blindingly fast. Navigating the crowded aisles of their local video stores, DVD enthusiasts - who just yesterday felt like elite, high-tech trailblazers - today rub shoulders with increasingly large crowds of new converts. And as models of DVD players have multiplied in number, so have their features and capabilities. With the format in its fifth year, there's something to meet the needs of just about everybody, from bargain hunters seeking to score a player at a rock-bottom price to hard-core audio/ videophiles looking to add progressive-scan playback and DVD-Audio capability to an ever-expanding system.

One of the nicer consequences of DVD's rapid rise has been that the price spread between basic players and feature-packed high-end models has narrowed. Today, a little more than a hundred bucks is all you need to get into the game, while $800 or so can buy you a truly state-of-the-art machine. We rounded up four DVD players that illustrate today's broad range of options - and prices. Our goal wasn't to compare the four players with each other so much as to gauge each one on its own merits while seeing what additional dollars can buy as you step up the ladder.

Oritron DVD 800
DIMENSIONS 14 inches wide, 2 3/4 inches high, 10 3/4 inches deep
WEIGHT 6 1/2 pounds
PRICE $220

Oritron Products, Dept. S&V, 11733 Missouri Bottom Rd., Hazelwood, MO 63042; www.oritron.com; 314-731-5677

Unboxing Oritron's DVD 800, my first thought was, "Doesn't look bad for an inexpensive player!" While its official list price is $220, we're told that at some large discount stores it sells for not much more than half that. Only 14 inches wide, the DVD 800 is noticeably more compact than the average player. Its attractive silver-toned case looks so good, in fact, that it was only after plugging it in that I began to feel I'd descended into DVD's bargain basement.

The player's display is limited to a green LED that glows when it's turned on - there's no readout for the disc title, chapter number, playing time, or any of the other informational amenities you'd find on other players. (You can access the information onscreen, though, via the remote's Display button.) If not for the large Oritron logo on the front, I'd have sworn it was made by Fisher-Price!

The forlorn feeling I got staring at the barren display only deepened when I picked up the remote control. Small and flimsy, it provides a smattering of tiny, poorly labeled buttons. At this price, I wasn't expecting a backlit remote, but its buttons didn't even glow in the dark. Then again, none of the other players in this group had backlit remotes, and only the most expensive one had a remote with glow-in-the-dark buttons.

Features Checklist In The Lab