DVD In The Fast Lane Page 4

Pioneer packages a very basic remote control with the DV-444. Its keypad isn't backlit, and the small, poorly differentiated buttons don't glow in the dark, making the remote hard to use in dim environments. On the plus side, you can set it up to control your TV - though given the remote's deficiencies, I'd prefer to use my TV set's remote to control the player.

Playing The Avengers through the Pioneer's interlaced component-video output, I saw very detailed, robust-looking images. When Sir August de Wynter (Sean Connery's character) tosses poison darts at his fellow teddy bears in the boardroom scene, the texture of the costumes came through clearly, and the colorful fur looked crisp and free of video noise.

When I switched over to viewing DVDs through the player's progressive-scan output, I wasn't nearly as impressed. The picture was comparatively soft, and I could see a small amount of noise in flat patches of color. When I watched some of my progressive-scan torture-test DVDs, such as Chapter 8 of Dragonheart, I also noted a fair amount of artifacts on the edges of objects and in areas of fine detail. Such flaws are the result of a line-doubling circuit that lacks 2:3 pulldown (often called 3:2 pulldown, but 2:3 is more accurate) to compensate for the different frame rates of video and film. On the plus side, the Pioneer's progressive-scan output was free of the color streaking that we've observed in the images from a few other, more expensive progressive-scan players we've tested.

Pioneer packed a number of interesting features into the DV-444, and it performed fine through its interlaced output. But the one feature that really comes as a surprise for a player in this price range - its progressive-scan output - failed to deliver all the goods. Still, if you're looking for an ultra-slim DVD player that offers MP3 playback along with everything else, this Pioneer model might be for you.

Panasonic DVD-RP91
DIMENSIONS 17 inches wide, 4 inches high, 10 1/2 inches deep
WEIGHT 7 3/4 pounds
PRICE $800

Panasonic, Dept. S&V, One Panasonic Way, Secaucus, NJ 07094; www.panasonic.com; 800-211-7262

With a faux brushed-aluminum faceplate and angled front-panel display, Panasonic's DVD-RP91 looks like the kind of component a rich guy would drop three grand on without batting an eye. So if you do happen to get sucked in by the RP91's styling, you'll be glad to know that it's priced at an earthbound 800 bucks. In a world of very inexpensive DVD players, that may still seem like a lot - until, that is, you peek under the Panasonic's hood. Not only does the RP91 deliver progressive-scan video signals with 2:3 pulldown, but it also plays DVD-Audio discs, CD-R and CD-RW discs encoded with MP3 files - it even plays DVD-RAM Type 2 discs, like those used in DVD camcorders and DVD-RAM recording decks.

The front-panel controls include the usual assortment of play, stop, pause, and scan/skip buttons. In addition, there are buttons to select interlaced or progressive-scan output, switch off the video circuits for listening to CDs or DVD-Audio discs, and turn digital video noise reduction on or off. Another button labeled Re-master upconverts CD audio tracks to an 88.2-kHz sampling rate. Interesting feature, but I couldn't hear any difference.