Face Off: Step-Up DVD Players What Do You Think?

What Do You Think?

Ah, my first Face Off. I must tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The theater/listening facility that HT has long-utilized is a perfect space for this type of viewing experience. Mike Wood was our ringmaster and instructed us not to evaluate sound quality from the five DVD players in question, but only to ascertain picture quality, color, clarity, brightness, etc.

I actually thought the differences were a little more measurable than the guys, although I did think that all the players provided really wonderful clarity and color. I would've been happy having any one of them in my home theater, and the prices…well, it just doesn't get any more reasonable.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was our demonstration material of choice. Straight away, the Philips and Samsung units looked the most similar and were equally pleasing visually. The colors were bright and vibrant, and the picture was crystal-clear. During the opening sequence, when the go-go dancers were twisting and bopping with our '60s hero, their dresses, tights, and shoes bursted with color and detail.

The JVC seemed to take what Philips and Samsung accomplished and turn it up a notch. Actually, I thought they turned it up a little too much. The colors were so bright that they looked a little artificial, and some of the black detail got lost in all that brightness, although the guys loved that.

With the Hitachi and Zenith units, the closeups of the models and, unfortunately, Powers himself revealed realistic skin tones. I found the depth of black detail on these units to be impressive, but the colors didn't seem quite as vibrant. A good example of this was a green service van that rounded a corner during the opening credits. On the Samsung and Philips players, the van was a nice olive color; with the Hitachi and Zenith players, the van was more of an army green. Although I thought clarity and detail were good on all of the units, I'd have to go with the Philips and Samsung as my favorites. —Maureen Jenson

I always like to do "blind" challenges like these because it's truly the most accurate way to consciously gauge each product on its capabilities, rather than subconsciously on its name.

Of the group, the JVC stood out during the Austin Powers opening scene because of its bright and boomy colors. On the other side of the color wheel, though, black levels were very poor and seemed almost nonexistent.

Although the Samsung put up a tough fight, the Zenith, Philips, and Hitachi eventually surpassed it because of its lack of detail. During more-complex scenes, the Hitachi and Philips both displayed artifacts around window edges and in scenes with trees. The Zenith had the best overall picture quality and color balance.

For the money, I think each of the units would get the job done in an average household (with the exception of the JVC); however, I'd rank the Zenith first, the Hitachi second, the Philips third, and the Samsung a very close fourth.—Clint Walker

If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a big DVD fan. Although I loved laserdiscs and still have a substantial collection of them, DVD is really the next biggest (little) thing. One thing I've noticed, however, is that the performance differences between players, while noticeable, is incredibly small compared with the difference between, say, the average DVD player and the best VCR. The only exception to this would be the JVC player, which is only appropriate in certain circumstances because of the quirky black-level setting. For the other players, the real differences are in the features and user interfaces.

Since the other panelists have more or less covered performance, I'll get more into this latter category. Although I liked many of the features on the Zenith player, especially the onscreen graphics, I just couldn't use the remote. The Hitachi player had a much better remote and a simple onscreen display that did the job just fine. Both the Hitachi and the Zenith players offer 5.1 analog outputs for those users with digital-ready receivers, but neither unit offered enough control over this output to make it useful in all situations. Samsung handled this output much better, offered a number of other features, and had a decent remote, to boot. Philips offered a good compromise between the remote, graphics, and features—with only the hieroglyphic symbols being a deterrent. If you use the player a great deal, this one could be perfect.

In the end, I'd probably lean toward the Samsung player, with the Philips being a close second. With good marks in all areas, you really can't go wrong with either one.—Mike Wood

Seeing as I'm new to the world of high-end home electronics, I was excited as I entered Mike Wood's listening room, a small facility packed full of electronics and cable that immediately brings the Bat Cave to mind. Personally, I own a two-head VCR, sans remote, and a borrowed, 20-year-old television with a green spot on the screen. However, I thought I could bring to the table a fresh perspective. Being a photographer by trade, I know what a good image looks like and am not swayed by brand name or reputation. I can call it like it is.

Of the five DVD players we compared, some had very similar picture quality, although a couple immediately stood out in both color and sharpness. The JVC and Hitachi were the better of the bunch, with the JVC sneaking into the top spot for its truer blacks, sharper image, and better overall color saturation. The Zenith unit also fared well, having slightly better resolution than the previous two but falling behind in color. The Samsung and Philips units also had decent resolution, but the colors were considerably duller, with the skintones and shadow detail suffering.The Samsung fared a little worse than the Philips did.

I noticed a definite overall trend with these DVD players: Units that had better color saturation lacked in finer details and vice versa. Compared with my old VCR, all the DVD players were fantastic, but the extra blast of color from the JVC won me over. —Mark Shaw