Digital versatile disc (or digital video disc) is a storage technology that can hold video, audio and computer information. The discs look like CDs, and when slipped into a DVD-video player connected to a TV, DVDs offer the same movie-viewing function as videotape, but let you experience a whole lot more. You get better picture and sound quality. Some of the newest discs are double-sided or dual layered, giving you roughly four hours of viewing time (depending on what's on the disc and how it's stored). More common are the single-layer discs, which average over two hours of video. With all this space, studios can now offer actors' biographies, multilingual soundtracks and subtitle displays. Some discs include outtakes or additional scenes, and Hollywood is hard at work to make DVD movies even more interactive (including games and trivia quizzes). It's even possible to pop a Web-enabled DVD into a computer with a DVD-ROM drive to get to online links. Depending on the movie you're watching (an epic with lots of wide-angle shots or a classic with close-ups), you can choose between a wide-screen version and a tight pan-and-scan version. Best of all, more and more movies are offered on DVD. With almost 5,000 titles available for purchase, and video stores and online rental outlets stocking up, it's not difficult to find your favourite film on DVD.
Types of DVD Players
DVD players can be either single-disc, multi-disc (storing from two to 10 discs) or mega-disc devices (from 11 to 200 discs). If you have a large CD or DVD collection, a mega-disc model is a great way to store your library. If you plan to watch several DVDs back to back (or will view dual-disc epics) and don't want to switch discs, consider a multi-disc player.
There is also a new crop of combination units hitting the market. If you need to consolidate your equipment, or the idea of connecting wires makes you break into a cold sweat, check out the TV/DVD player (or even the TV/VCR/DVD player). Although these units save you time and trouble, remember that if one part breaks, all the components need to be sent in for servicing.
If you want to watch your DVD from the set in the bedroom or you would like to take the device with you on vacation, look into one of the new portable DVD players. They measure roughly six-inches wide, six-inches deep, two-inches high, weigh a scant two pounds and can run on rechargeable batteries. Some portable units include a flip-up screen for watching movies anywhere; other units exclude the screen and are primarily used to view DVDs when connected to a TV.
Ask Yourself These Questions...
What's your goal - now and in the future?
Even if you can't afford to build a whiz-bang home theatre today, you may want to make shopping choices that will give you the most flexibility tomorrow. For example, a DVD player with component video outputs will give you the best picture possible (if you have a TV set with compatible inputs). But if all you want is a DVD player to pump out two-channel stereo sound from TV speakers, then you can pick up a fine player for roughly $200. If you plan to build a movie multiplex, step up to a unit with a built-in Dolby® Digital decoder and invest the remainder of your budget in a deluxe audio system.
What features are essential to you?
Think about your movie-viewing habits. If you're the couch potato-type, for instance, consider the popular auto-reverse feature. It lets you play both sides of a disc without manual intervention. Is the brightness of the player's front-panel display distracting in a darkened theatre environment? Some models let you dim the display lights using the remote.
How much do you want to spend?
DVD Players range from as low as $200 for a unit without a decoder to $1,000 and up for a combo or portable model. But it won't be difficult to find a DVD player with a built-in decoder, superior component video outputs and other extras in the $350 to $400 range. Units with disc changers and other add-ons are roughly $500. As the price increases, expect more bells and whistles such as a remote that gives you more control. Portable DVD players cost from $700 to $1,000 and up. TV/DVDs and TV/DVD/VCRs are more than $1,000.
Consider These Important Features/Issues:
At the very minimum, all DVD players let you hear two-channel stereo sound, which is fine if all you want is a DVD player connected to a stereo TV. But a DVD player has more potential. When plugged into a high-end audio system, you can hear (and feel) a movie the same way you would in a movie theatre.
When it comes to sound, be aware that two forces are at work: the disc's encoding and your audio system's decoding capabilities. Although discs can be encoded with Dolby® Digital surround sound and/or the alternative DTS® (Digital Theatre System) formats, which are how current movies are heard in theatres, there's no guarantee that you'll hear six channels of sound. Most discs come with two channels (stereo) or multi-channel surround sound; older movies converted to DVD tend to have stereo sound. Likewise, although DVD players are capable of recognizing Dolby® Digital audio signals, that doesn't mean that your particular electronics set-up will be capable of producing theatre-like sound.
To experience the full effects of a digitally encoded DVD movie, you have two choices:
1) Buy a model without a decoder and connect it to a separate receiver with a Dolby® Digital decoder; or
2) Pick up a DVD player with a built-in Dolby® Digital decoder to pass the signal to a Dolby® Digital-ready receiver.
Which route you take depends upon your existing equipment. DVD players with built-in decoders cost more than ones without. Some audiophiles argue that a separate decoder is best. With a decoder built into the DVD player, you can only listen to DVDs and CDs that include Dolby® Digital or DTS® soundtracks. But an independent decoder can be used with future upgrades. Either way, to get the ultimate, so-called 5.1 movie-theatre experience, you'll need an audio system with five speakers (one centre, one front left and right and one surround left and right) and a subwoofer (to deliver low-frequency effects).
With up to 500 lines of horizontal resolution, DVD images are twice as sharp as a standard VHS tape. Even when viewed on a standard analog TV, the images you'll see from DVD will be greatly enhanced. Whether or not you can reap the full benefits of this new technology depends on the resolution of your TV.
Digital audio output
This is the way to get digitally coded sound into your receiver. DVD players offer two types of output: optical (which requires a special fibre-optic cable for hook up) and coaxial (which works best with special coaxial cables made for digital signals). Some models offer both types of outputs; others have optical outputs only.
Disc memory settings
Lets you store movie preferences, such as wide angle versus pan and scan, letting you avoid having to reset the preferences each time you pop in a DVD.
Digital theatre system (DTS®) is a competing sound format similar to Dolby® Digital. Some audiophiles feel it makes for better sound. Although the number of DVDs with DTS soundtracks is still limited, this feature allows the unit to read a DTS signal and pass it along to a receiver or decoder with DTS decoding.
A knob or dial on the remote that lets you control the speed of viewing a movie by how quickly or how far you turn the knob/dial.
Available in certain movies, this option will edit R-rated movies to PG standards. You can reset the rating to R, and the DVD will restore the original scenes.
When you hit the stop button, this feature lets you pick up the movie at the point you left off the next time you enter play.
Magnifies certain areas of the screen, so you see more detail.
No matter what kind of TV you own, the picture you'll see from DVD will be better than a VCR. Before scouting for a DVD player with the best picture quality, a smart shopper, however reluctant, needs to get familiar with the video connectors on both the player and the TV set. On the back panel of most DVDs you'll see both RCA (composite) and S-video jacks. Using the S-video jack will give you a better picture. High-end models will have component video outputs that offer the best signal if your TV has the corresponding inputs. Now look on the back panel of your TV. You need at least one set of RCA audio and video inputs available to use a DVD player.
DVD players can be heard through any TV, and all DVD systems have RCA audio outputs that let you plug the player directly into a regular stereo system, receiver or TV to distribute the sound through speakers. All units also support Dolby® Digital, an audio system consisting of up to six discrete channels. Whether or not your audio system lets you hear the six-channel sound depends on the capabilities of your receiver (it must have a Dolby® Digital decoder built in) and the number of speakers you have hooked up to the set (ideally, you need five speakers and a subwoofer). With all that audio information being served, you may consider upgrading your entertainment system to get the best DVD sound.
The remote control is a key feature, especially because DVD players often require onscreen preference settings. Many DVDs (including portable models) come with universal remotes, meaning one device will operate the primary functions (search, slow motion, forward, reverse, etc.) of multi-brand components. Some devices control the player and TV; others the player, TV, receiver and even cable or Direct Broadcast Satellite. High-end models boast illuminated remotes, glow-in-the-dark keys or larger keys for controlling your DVD player in a darkened home-theatre environment.