Face Off: Step-Up DVD Players

Mike Wood Conducts a Five-Way Face Off of Step-Up DVD Players.

Christmas may be over, but tax day is only a few months away. You know what that means? Refunds! Assuming you file your tax return correctly (or cheat), you should be getting some money back, and we know just the way to spend it: Buy a new DVD player! This format has skyrocketed by leaps and bounds. By this, I don't mean the typical "Well gee, DVD has started off better than CD's or VHS's launch," even though it has. I'm talking the "according to one source, DVD sales are up at least 300 percent over last year" kind of skyrocketing. Three-hundred percent! Everyone else is obviously doing it, so why aren't you? If you haven't witnessed the startling visual and audio clarity available with the shiny little discs, you need to jump on the bandwagon.

To help sort out the possibilities, we assembled a daunting collection of midpriced players and pitted them against each other in a contest that would make Darwin proud. In theory, only one player would survive. Then again, Darwinism takes a few million years to weed out the weak. If nothing else, you should be able to find a player that meets your needs in considerably less time. Manufacturers who opted to participate include Hitachi, JVC, Philips, Samsung, and Zenith, with players in the $349 to $450 price range. Manufacturers who decided not to compete include, well, everybody else. PR firms for the latter group told us the manufacturers were between model years, didn't have available product in that range, or something equally creative.

The rules of the contest were pretty simple. I played the opening of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery on each player for a panel of distinguished judges. Our first panelist was the newly appointed editor of this magazine, Maureen Jenson. With years of experience at both Audio Video Interiors and Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, we figured she'd be perfect for evaluating new gear. Second up was Face Off veteran Clint Walker, editor of Home Theater Buyer's Guide, Digital Home Entertainment, and Home Theater Interiors. Last but not least, Mark Shaw, assistant photographer, volunteered to join us as someone who has no experience whatsoever with home theater gear. Then again, he evaluates image quality for a living.

We do our best to make things fair (matching levels where we can, defeating or enabling enhancements, and what not), but, for the most part, it's no-holds-barred. To help ensure consistency, we made a call to Monster Cable for some quality connections that we could rely on. We got outfitted with an assortment of digital and analog audio cables and some ISF-certified video cables. I hooked up our reference system (Parasound AVC-2500 preamp, Faroudja DVP-2200 video processor, and Runco DTV-991 projector), and we were ready to go.