Panasonic's DVD-S47S, one of the company's least-expensive progressive-scan DVD players for 2004, tries to make a good case for spending an extra $40 or so beyond the typical budget unit at Wal-Mart. Available in silver (DVD-S47S) or black (DVD-S47K), the player lists for $100 but can be found online for less. It can read a multitude of formats, features solid progressive-scan processing, and, perhaps most important, looks pretty darn cool.
Standing a mere 2.06 inches tall, the DVD-S47S can slip into even the most crowded home entertainment system. The player's style doesn't end with size: pressing Open reveals a slick-looking transparent disc tray, and the face is graced by a mirrored display as well as the obligatory horizontal blue light (everybody loves blue lights). If you're not impressed by these flashy features, check out the less expensive DVD-S27S and DVD-S27K.
Around back, the DVD-S47S has the typical selection of outputs, including component video, S-Video, composite video, and analog audio, plus both types of digital audio output (optical and coaxial); most inexpensive players have only one.
The remote control is nothing special, with a multitude of buttons that users might find confusing at first. On the other hand, it offers lots of functionality and shouldn't be too difficult to get to know. Panasonic's internal menu system isn't nearly as user-friendly as the one on the , but you'll likely have to use it only during setup. There aren't many extraneous features on this model aside from the "A/V enhancer," which turned out to simply darken the picture, not affect sharpness or resolution.
Disc compatibility was very good. Among our 35-odd test DVD-Rs, -RWs, +Rs, +RWs, CD-R/RWs and "enhanced CDs," the DVD-S47S choked on only a couple. Notably, however, it was unable to play discs mastered with the original version of the now-defunct software--discs that many other players handled well. Naturally for a Panasonic unit, it handled DVD-RAM media, including three-inchers from DVD-RAM camcorders.
Equipped with the HiMat file compatibility feature, which supposedly makes reading digital photo and music files more streamlined, the S47S performed well with our digital image and music discs. There's a convenient thumbnail browser for JPEG images, and the DVD-S47S read one JPEG disc that tripped up the aforementioned Sony. MP3/WMA discs summoned an expansive menu tree with lots of browsing and playback options, and mixed photo/music discs called forth another menu that let us choose one or the other. Unfortunately the Panasonic couldn't read DVD discs filled with music files.
The DVD-S47S passed most of our suite of DVD player tests, with a couple of exceptions. The important 2:3 pull-down detection circuitry did fine smoothing out the lines in the opening pan from Star Trek: Insurrection, although it failed a more difficult inverse 2:3 test from the Video 2000 benchmark. It handled nearly all of the tests from the Windows DVD test annex disc, showing no chroma bug or lip-sync errors and relatively graceful recovery from improper 2:3 cadence. In short, its progressive-scan processing will still outperform the video processing in most HDTVs. Its main flaw, especially compared to Sony players, is a tendency to introduce shimmering lines and undulations during anamorphic downconversion. This is an issue only with 4:3 TVs that lack an vertical compression feature.
If you're looking for a name-brand, relatively inexpensive player that can play numerous types of discs, the DVD-S47S is an excellent choice. It offers better style and performance than no-name players, and that alone is well worth the extra dough.