Joining the slew of silver DVD players on shelves and online this year is Sony's DVP-NS715P. The final P in the model number indicates progressive, and this deck is the least expensive Sony to offer a progressive-scan signal. Only digital TVs can take advantage of this feature, so if you have such a set or plan to buy one soon, this well-designed player is a good option. Be aware that the 715P costs a bit more than many progressive-scan decks--such as Toshiba's SD4800, which supports DVD-Audio (DVD-A) discs--but its smooth picture and good looks are pretty tempting. Nobody makes consumer electronics boxes look more appealing than Sony. The 715P's case stands taller than that of superslim models such as Panasonic's XP30, and it looks smartly conservative in comparison, with an upright face and a few neatly spaced buttons on its front. A shallow notch, partially covered by a translucent-plastic panel, lends the player some definition and contains an informative, pale-blue LED display. An orange light to the left of the disc drawer indicates whether the 715P's progressive-scan mode is engaged. Unfortunately, there's no button for enabling the progressive-scan mode--you must activate it by burrowing through the menu or flipping a back-panel switch.
The front-panel controls allow access to the menu system, a nice bonus for people who are prone to misplacing remotes. Sony's menus themselves are typically well designed, offering easy access to major functions--all from a single Display key. However, a tinny click that accompanies any press of the front buttons and a slow-extending disc drawer belie this player's solid look.
Less tech-savvy operators shouldn't be intimidated by the 715P's remote, a rubber-buttoned affair with a big, easy-to-reach cursor control. We were a little disappointed with the remote's ergonomics though; too many small, circular keys are spaced excessively close together, and there's no tactile difference among the sets of search/step, scan/slow, and chapter-skip buttons. You won't find Sony's high-end audio format, Super Audio CD, on the 715P's list of compatible discs--you'll have to step up to the NS755V for that. That omission gives similarly priced DVD-A-capable decks such as the Toshiba SD4800 an advantage in side-by-side comparisons. The 715P does have a couple of extra video features, though. Four presets allow less technical users to quickly change the picture, while the single, custom memory slot is a boon for advanced users.
Speaking of advanced, folks who own wide-screen, digital TVs that can't change aspect ratio with progressive-scan sources may want to choose another deck since the 715P lacks internal aspect-ratio controls. As a result, any nonanamorphic (a.k.a. enhanced for wide-screen) DVD will appear stretched--with shorter, fatter people. You won't find a zoom function on this Sony, either.
We ran the 715P though our test-disc gamut, and it played everything: VCDs, DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, DVD+RWs, and even DVD-RWs, which very few other decks can deal with. This model handled all of our MP3 CDs and displayed an onscreen menu that made finding songs relatively easy. The menu lists a whopping 32 characters of each track's filename. Unlike many MP3-capable DVD players, the 715P won't play tracks at random.
This deck's connectivity pack is difficult to beat. Two pairs of A/V outputs join a component-video output and two S-Video jacks on the rear panel. Both types of digital-audio outputs--optical and coaxial--are present. As we mentioned above, a three-way switch (interlaced, progressive, and menu selectable) is used to choose the component output mode. Overall, the 715P is a better performer than last year's DVP-NS700P. We watched progressive-scan test patterns and movie material on Samsung's TXM3098WHF TV, and the player showed improved noise reduction and better detail. In the shots from Insomnia where the plane flies over the frozen tundra, the lines in the snowy hills stayed clean and free of artifacts. In the Video Essentials test disc, the American flag's edge appeared smooth rather than jagged, and the reds were free of excessive MPEG noise.
When we switched to interlaced mode, however, we noticed that brightness increased, and, even worse, the player introduced edge enhancement into the image. Even with the Samsung's sharpness set to zero, we saw rings around the lines in test patterns. We used the player's custom setup slot to eliminate the ringing, but it shouldn't be there in the first place.
Two things that weren't so smooth were fast-forward and reverse. For some reason Sony's 2X speeds jerked rather than slid. Discs did load quickly, however, and the layer change in chapter 28 of Star Wars--Episode 2, Attack of the Clones was similarly rapid.