Apex AD-1200 review: Apex AD-1200

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Apex AD-1200

(Part #: AD-1200)
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2 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Very inexpensive; reads JPEGs, Picture CDs, and MP3 CDs.

The Bad Visible lines in picture using composite-video connection; lacks a display; has a difficult-to-use remote; noisy during playback.

The Bottom Line In the global electronics marketplace, there is such a thing as too inexpensive.

4.0 Overall

If you're considering a $70 DVD player, you probably don't mind that it's missing a display, has an unresponsive remote, and offers only bare-bones connectivity. However, you do at least want the device to work as well as a $120 DVD player from a major brand. Unfortunately, while it does have some nice extra features, the Apex AD-1200 doesn't perform very well. If you're considering a $70 DVD player, you probably don't mind that it's missing a display, has an unresponsive remote, and offers only bare-bones connectivity. However, you do at least want the device to work as well as a $120 DVD player from a major brand. Unfortunately, while it does have some nice extra features, the Apex AD-1200 doesn't perform very well.

Design
The AD-1200 certainly looks the part of an off-brand player. Its case is narrower and deeper than usual, forming a square that's 12.5 inches on each side when seen from above. This deck is also missing a display; in place of the standard front-panel readout, you'll find three lonely indicator lights, one each for DVD, CD/VCD, and Picture CD.

The plain, black face has only four buttons and a combination door/drawer that jerks open with a loud noise. Not much in the AD-1200's build inspires confidence; a circuit board is visible when the drawer is open, and the ultralight case seems hollow. This Apex often made unhealthy-sounding rattles during playback, but to its credit, the player did survive 48 straight hours of Ben Hur on Repeat during a vicious New York heat wave.

The remote incorporates a few controls that you've probably never heard of, such as the VCD-specific PBC Off and L/R for messing with the stereo mix. While the buttons are all crammed too tightly onto its small surface, their different shapes and sizes make navigating by feel a little easier. In practice, we found the remote slow to respond and often had to press keys repeatedly. The simple system menus lack frills such as icons and explanatory text, but nothing major goes missing.

Features
Under the hood, there's more going on than you might expect. The AD-1200 handles MP3 CDs and comes complete with a menu that displays 10 characters of each filename, although it can't play MP3s at random. It handled DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, and DVD+RWs--but not DVD-RWs. It even played one problematic DVD-R that many other decks wouldn't read. Other extras include a picture zoom and three levels of simulated surround sound. An Enhance menu offers two settings for brightness and three for sharpness.

The AD-1200 displays stills from Kodak Picture CDs and standard CD-Rs filled with JPEG images. We really like the slide-show feature, especially since a CD-R can hold hundreds of digital photos. You can rotate and zoom into images, but finding a particular picture on a disc is a pain.

The back panel is missing a component-video output, although most users at this price level won't mind. The single digital-audio output is coaxial rather than optical--an unfortunate choice since optical connections are more common among A/V receivers. An S-Video output, two standard video outputs, and a set of left and right stereo-audio outputs round out the jack pack.

Performance
The AD-1200's picture quality falls short of acceptable. When we connected the player to our TV with the standard, yellow video output--the one that we suspect most buyers of this deck will use--the images were plagued by a field of faint diagonal lines that marched slowly across the whole picture. Unlike many so-called flaws in DVD pictures, these lines weren't subtle, and we'd bet that anybody would notice them. The S-Video output didn't have this problem. Perhaps the lines were unique to our review unit, but even if that were the case, it's disconcerting nonetheless.

That's too bad because the rest of the AD-1200's video performance was fine for an entry-level unit. Resolution measured the full 480 lines, the picture passed the blacker-than-black PLUGE test, and images appeared neither too sharp nor overly soft. We did notice blocky MPEG noise in shadowy reds and dancing pixels in darker areas of the picture, but these issues fall under the definition of the word subtle. Analog audio from both CD and MP3 sources sounded fine.

Value
Even though the AD-1200 is really inexpensive, we can't call it a bargain. Competing DVD players from companies such as Samsung are available for around $100 to $120, and frankly, the AD-1200 isn't worth the money that you'd save. We'd be more receptive if it weren't for the major picture flaw, but unless you're using only the S-Video port, you should probably take a step up in the Apex line or invest in another inexpensive DVD player.

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