Progressive Views: 4 Progressive-Scan DVD Players Page 5

Yamaha DVD-S1200

DIMENSIONS 17 3/4 inches wide, 4 inches high, 11 inches deep WEIGHT 7 3/4 pounds PRICE $999 MANUFACTURER Yamaha, Dept. S&V, 6660 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, CA 90620;; 800-492-6242

There are times when things aren't exactly what they seem, and there are times when things turn out to be more than they seem. In the case of Yamaha's DVD-S1200 ($999), the second scenario applies. At first sight, the S1200 is just another black-boxed DVD player. Its front panel sports only a few control buttons, plus a headphone jack with volume control and a button to activate the progressive-scan output. But once I started using the Yamaha, I realized that it's very similar to a Panasonic player I had recently reviewed and liked very much. Things were starting to look up.

The Yamaha's feature set reads like a laundry list of current technologies. In addition to DVDs and audio CDs, it can play DVD-Audio discs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs loaded with MP3 files, and DVD-RAM discs (a rewritable format supported so far only by Panasonic and a few other manufacturers). It even played a DVD-R disc that I burned on a Macintosh G4 computer (see "Make Your Own DVD!" on page 100). Besides the usual outputs, the back panel has six RCA jacks for delivering decoded DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital, or DTS signals to a receiver or processor's external multichannel input.

The compact remote control is covered with a fair number of small, poorly differentiated buttons, none of them backlit. Naturally, that makes it tough to use in the dark while you're watching a movie. Also, it's not designed to operate a TV or other components you might use with a DVD player. I suggest a trip back to the drawing board for the S1200's remote.

Most functions can be controlled via an onscreen menu system, called up by pressing the remote's Display button. The menus run several layers deep and include video noise-reduction settings and eight picture presets, four of them user-adjustable; two user presets are designed for progressive-scan output and feature advanced controls such as horizontal and vertical sharpness. You can save custom settings for a total of 200 discs in the S1200's memory, and the player will automatically recall them whenever you load one of those discs.

Other interesting features include a progressive-scan transfer mode, which can be switched to optimize either film or video source material, and aspect ratio control, which also applies to progressive-scan signals and is used to display 4:3 images with proper geometry on a 16:9 screen. Search modes can be activated via the remote control, the front panel, or an on screen "shuttle" menu. The 2x fast-scan speed provided smooth motion in either direction, with the option of soundtrack accompaniment.

The Yamaha's video performance proved to be consistently excellent with every disc I watched. In progressive-scan mode, it sailed through the difficult scenes, rendering diagonal lines and edges without any problems. Fine details of the leatherbound books and ornate furnishings in the library scene from North by Northwest came across clearly. And in the stadium sequences from For the Love of the Game, blacks looked deep and colors solid, without any trace of combing artifacts on heavily saturated patches of red or orange.

One of the best DVD-Audio discs I've heard is the 4.1-channel mix of Buena Vista Social Club (Warner Bros.). Listening to Track 4, "Pueblo Nuevo," on the Yamaha was a serious sonic treat. The song starts out with soft piano accompanied by light percussion. The mix spreads the piano from the front to the rear channels, creating an immersive, loungelike atmosphere. Halfway through, the track suddenly switches to an upbeat tempo. The sense of immersion continues, but it feels like you've stumbled out of a lounge and into the center of a party.

Yamaha's S-1200 delivers flawless progressive-scan video, and when you add in the numerous features such as aspect ratio control, DVD-Audio playback, MP3 and DVD-RAM playback, and a bounty of video-processing modes that let you tweak the look of discs in your collection, it's the standout in this group. Of course, its higher price also sets it apart from the rest. But if you're a dyed-in-the-wool Yamaha fan who wants the company's top-shelf DVD player, the S1200 delivers the goods.

Progressive-scan has come a long way in a short time, from an esoteric, high-end feature of interest only to well-heeled videophiles to one that's available in low-priced players. As this report shows, progressive-scan DVD players that deliver excellent image quality are now available for as little as $349.

Marantz's five-disc changer would be a very good choice if you demand progressive-scan video but also want to mix up your music and keep it running all evening long. The JVC and Sony players also deliver excellent progressive-scan video at very low prices, though the Sony suffers from a glitch you may notice on animated features and movies with highly saturated colors. Finally, the Yamaha offers excellent video performance and cutting-edge features like DVD-Audio and DVD-RAM playback, but at a considerably higher price. High-definition TV programming may be expanding at a glacial pace, but with great progressive-scan DVD players available at such reasonable prices, at least you'll be able to enjoy the wait.