V, the company that brought you the first affordable DVD player with a digital video output, is back for round 2. The Bravo D2 resembles its predecessor except for a few differences: the price is higher, but the face is prettier, and the drawer is more reliable. Otherwise, the two players are nearly identical, and when it comes to video quality, that's a good thing. The D2 puts out some of the nicest-looking images we've seen from any DVD player, and it can play just about any kind of disc. The fit and finish could still use some work, but that won't stop numerous video aficionados from adding a D2 to their equipment stacks. The D2 is a definite cosmetic improvement over the homely Bravo D1 from last year. It replaces the D1's black case with silver and its rows of logos with subtle lettering and a mirrored silver finish. Despite these improvements, it still doesn't look as nice as the on the outside, but at least it's no longer an eyesore.
In day-to-day use, the D2 isn't quite as balky as its predecessor, but its level of refinement still doesn't approach that of most name-brand players we've used. For example, in our tests, it often required a second button-press to get the drawer to eject. The remote's commands were sometimes ignored by the player, especially the TV Mode button that switches resolutions--although in fairness, most users will set that button only once. The initial shipment of D2 players also has a bug that causes the unit to revert to the default NTSC output mode and other default settings when you use the front-panel button to power down and back up. A firmware update is available to fix this extremely annoying issue.
The outsized remote is one of the worst we've ever used. It seems recycled from a television, and in fact it is virtually identical to the one from the . Its more annoying characteristics include transport controls that are relegated to the bottom of the wand, too much space devoted to the numeric keypad, and what appear to be former Channel Up/Down keys that instead activate the zoom and search controls. This remote begs to be replaced by a universal model. The most important feature of the D2 protrudes from the lower-left back panel: a DVI output. This jack provides an unconverted digital video stream from the player to the display, although once it enters the television, a lot can still happen. You can choose between preset DVI resolutions of 480p, 720p, and 1080i. New for this model is the out-of-the-box ability to input custom resolutions that match other types of fixed-pixel devices (however, since the values aren't common knowledge, you'll have to do some serious research). The goal with a player like this is to achieve a 1:1 match between the outgoing resolution and the native resolution of your display, so the display has to do as little processing as possible. If, for example, you have a DLP TV with 1,280x720 resolution, you'd set the D2 to 720p output.
The rest of the output bay, aside from the pairs of digital audio jacks (optical and coaxial), is likely to see little use, but we'll mention it for the sake of completeness: composite, S-Video, and component video. The component-video outputs don't upconvert DVDs to high-def resolution, however; that privilege is reserved for the DVI outputs.
A row of logos on the front panel assures you that the D2 can handle numerous formats, including MPEG-4 video burned to CD-R or recordable DVD. If you're truly cutting edge, however, you'll want to wait for the Windows Media 9.0-enabled Bravo D3, due out later this year. WM9 allows HD-resolution video to be stored on a recordable DVD.
We've seen quite a few DVI-equipped TVs that don't allow you to fully control the aspect ratio, so the D2's three-step zoom is a welcome addition. With it, we were able to fill a wide screen with nonanamorphic letterbox DVDs that otherwise would've been surrounded by black bars on four sides. The D2 cannot stretch 4:3 images without cropping, but that's not a huge deal. Like its predecessor, the D2 delivers excellent video quality to certain types of displays via its DVI output. It works best with fixed-pixel displays, although it may also outperform a component-video connection when hooked to certain CRT-based displays. We tested it on two sets: a 55-inch Sony KDE-55XBR950 plasma (native resolution of 1,366x768) and V's own DLP-based rear-projection TV (1,280x720).
On the big Sony plasma, we set the D2 to 1080i output, which did look slightly sharper than 720p, and compared it to the 480p output of Panasonic's . Since the Sony has an odd resolution that doesn't match any of the D2's resolution presets, the D2's picture didn't look too much better than the Panasonic's. The "Lighting of the Beacons" chapter from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King showed a very slight reduction in false contouring; in the doorway of the guardhouse, for example, the D2's shadows were slightly cleaner. The ridge of the mountains against the sky showed a bigger difference: the D2 rendered the diagonal edge smoothly, while the Panasonic evinced minor stair-stepping.
We performed the same comparison using V's RP56 television, and the differences were quite a bit more visible. Set to 720p, the D2's image had a smoothness and clarity that the Panasonic's (and, we'd guess, any component 480p-based DVD player's) lacked. The edges of the rocks on the beacon tower showed very little noise as the camera moved up, and the long, beautiful helicopter shot, as the camera circled another beacon in the mountains, was clean and well detailed, down to the branches in the pile of wood.
Video quality was by no means perfect, however. Many of the difficult Microsoft DVD test annex material that the Panasonic aced gave the D2 problems. Its recovery from random cadence errors wasn't as quick, and it had a difficult time recognizing unflagged film-based material, which is common on low-budget DVD discs, for 2:3 pull-down processing. In other words, we saw some flashes and flickers where we shouldn't have, so you may see some as well.
The D2 can play all of the usual A/V formats, including MP3, JPEG, and WMA, as well as MPEG-4 videos. In our extensive compatibility tests, the D2 fared very well, playing a variety of MPEG-4, MP3, and WMA files on both CDs and DVDs, mixed media on the same disc (a nice Audio/Video/Photo menu pops up with any mixed-media disc), and JPEGs. It also read difficult DVD-R/RWs and DVD+R/RWs that tripped up other players.