Progressive Views: 4 Progressive-Scan DVD Players Page 2

Marantz VC5200

DIMENSIONS 17 1/3 inches wide, 4 3/4 inches high, 16 3/4 inches deep WEIGHT 12 1/2 pounds PRICE $650 MANUFACTURER Marantz, Dept. S&V, 1100 Maplewood Dr., Itasca, IL 60143;; 630-741-0300
It didn't come as a surprise to me that, as the group's lone changer, the Marantz VC5200 ($650) was the biggest player in the batch. A long tray slot and display window dominate the plain-looking front panel. To the left of the display, there's a group of five buttons for selecting from the DVDs or CDs you've loaded into the changer. To the right are the usual controls for play, pause, stop, and scan/skip in forward and reverse. The two remaining buttons are for skipping from one disc to the next during playback and for spinning the opened tray around when swapping discs.

The Marantz provides a standard group of A/V outputs, including two sets of analog stereo jacks. A back-panel switch toggles between the component- and S-video output, but selecting between an interlaced- or progressive-scan signal from the component output requires a visit to the player's onscreen setup menu.

Though solidly built and comfortable to hold, the changer's remote control proved difficult to use when the lights were dimmed and a DVD was playing. The keypad isn't backlit, and the most-used buttons are too small and close together - I had to resort to my pocket flashlight to pick them out. Also, the remote can't control a TV or any other component you might want to use with it.

The player's onscreen displays are simple, clear, and easy to navigate. Marantz eschewed fancy features like picture presets, aspect ratio control, and video noise reduction in the VC5200, so all you have to worry about is the basics, such as navigating DVDs and programming playlists for the CDs and MP3-filled CD-Rs you pop into its tray. But all DVD players should have at least one frilly feature, and on the Marantz it's a zoom button that lets you enlarge an image up to six levels in either play or pause mode and then pan across it using the remote's arrow keys.

A good deal of control is built into the player for scanning through discs and analyzing specific scenes. Fast-scan speeds range from 2x to 100x (reverse scan offers only 2x, 4x, and 16x). Compared with the other players here, the Marantz offered somewhat disappointing 2x playback. Instead of smooth, fluid fast motion, the double-speed picture often "stuttered."

The Marantz easily passed my progressive-scan video torture tests, delivering pictures with smooth lines and solid edges even in shots with vertical camera motion. It also handled bright colors, such as the heavily saturated reds and oranges of the animated '60s classic, Yellow Submarine, without adding any combing artifacts on edge transitions. As for picture resolution, the Marantz was pretty much nose to nose with the other players in this group.

Since it was baseball season, I decided to watch For the Love of the Game, director Sam (Evil Dead) Raimi's first - and I hope his last - foray into baseball-related drama. In the stadium shots early on in the film, the Marantz did a great job of delivering details like the texture of the players' uniforms and the craggy, rough-hewn faces of the fans shouting in the stands.

One issue that caused the Marantz to pale - literally - in comparison with the other players here was its overly bright video output, which washed out colors and flattened shadows, draining them of detail. Adjusting the brightness and contrast controls on my carefully calibrated reference TV (something I usually don't have to do when testing a DVD player) helped restore richness to the picture, but it still lacked some of the crisp, 3-D quality that the other players delivered.

Otherwise, though, video performance was essentially fault-free in both the interlaced- and progressive-scan modes. Add in the ability to play MP3 files from CD-Rs and the changer features, which give you the convenience of programming a whole evening's worth of listening, and the Marantz VC5200 has a lot to recommend it. And at $650, its price is reasonable.