Face Off: Step-Up DVD Players Philips DVD 940

Philips DVD 940
It seems only fitting that Philips, the company that helped bring us the CD format, be involved in our DVD Face Off. After all, this Dutch company contributed to the creation of the video format, as well. We were eager to review the DVD 940's features, ergonomics, and performance.

To begin with, we found the 940 to have as many output connectors as the other players, although not necessarily the same ones. Namely, the player forgoes the 5.1 analog audio output for dual audio and video outputs. I give this a big thumbs up for two reasons. One, you can send the second set of outputs directly to a VCR or second television, items that are found in nearly every home. In fact, if you add in the

S-video and component outputs, you could send the video signal to four different displays. Second, only a handful of people actually have 5.1-ready receivers, making the dual outputs a better expenditure of resources.

On the audio side, the 940 will internally decode 24/96 signals and will down-mix 5.1 Dolby Digital signals. In both cases, the stereo analog outputs will send the signal to your receiver. If you're using an outboard digital processor, the player outputs the 24/96 signal in the 16/48 format, but it passes Dolby Digital, DTS, and MPEG-coded audio unchanged from either of the digital connectors. Oh yeah, I almost forgot—the Philips comes with a detachable power cord, which can be extremely handy during installation.

Other convenient features can be found on the remote, although you'll have to look for them. Philips uses icons to describe the functions of each button, and the icons could be considered cryptic, at best. Once you decipher everything, however, you may find (as we did) that the remote's layout and feel are actually quite good. If you don't expect to use the player more than once a week, you may spend too much time relearning how to use the remote. On the other hand, while regular users might have trouble at first, they'll find that controlling the unit becomes second nature after a while. Be sure to spend plenty of time in the store checking this out for yourself.

Once you've mastered the remote, you'll have to decipher the menu. Again, hieroglyphic symbols and interesting monikers make this a challenge. For example, they call audio compression "night mode." Obviously, they expect you to compress the audio signal, which allows you to hear all the details without cranking up the volume, only at night when others are sleeping. Then again, you'll find some useful features, too. For one, there's a cool video-shift function that allows you to scroll the picture from left to right. Many DVDs have a thin, blank space on one side of the display because the studio hasn't centered the image properly. The video-shift control lets you readjust the picture to the center of the screen. Regrettably, you could shift the image all you want and you still wouldn't find full PLUGE test patterns. This shouldn't keep you from setting up your monitor's brightness level correctly, but it will make it a bit harder. However, Philips has included a black-level shift that offers better video dynamic range by dropping the black level below the normal level. This requires that the TV or display be able to adjust the brightness control accordingly, but it should give more punch and snap to the image.

Speaking of image quality, most of the panelists found the Philips player to perform well, although it didn't have the color saturation seen in the JVC's picture. Maureen actually preferred this and thought the overall color was exceptional and realistic. Clint ranked the Philips in second place, saying that only a slightly noticeable artifact around edges kept it out of the top spot. Mark ranked the Philips last, but he qualified that by saying that all of the players' pictures were extremely close. For him, choosing one over another was like splitting hairs, and I had to agree. Even when played through the $8K Faroudja video processor on a $25K Runco projector, the players exhibited subtle differences, at best. I'd be happy with any of them.

The Philips DVD 940 seems a good choice for movie buffs who watch movies on a regular basis. Occasional users may forget what the icons mean and may find the user interface frustrating. We strongly recommend that you play with the remote and check out the onscreen graphics on your own, and don't be shy about staying in the store for a while to do it. If you find that you like the way player functions, then rest assured it will perform as well as some of the best and has some excellent features, to boot.

• Dual audio/video outputs can send the signal to two TVs at once
• Player will internally process 24/96 audio DVDs (but not DVD-Audio)