Better than the basics
Before delving into a description of all the bells and whistles that garnish the surprising AD-800, we must note that the essentials are well represented in this player. The video playback in the regular interlaced mode is rock solid, whether you pipe that picture to your TV with a component, an S-Video, or a composite connection. However, as a progressive-scan player, the AD-800 is comparable to Pioneer's low-end DV-434. Both players lack video circuitry known as 3:2 pull-down, which can detect film-based sources (most Hollywood movies, for instance) originally filmed at 24 frames per second (fps) and properly process them for a progressive-scan display. When using the AD-800 with a high-end HDTV, though, you're bound to encounter onscreen artifacts. But overall, the AD-800 delivers the video goods for the price.
Oddly, when we switched into the progressive-scan mode, the picture became noticeably brighter and required some fine-tuning. Fortunately, there's no shortage of settings to fool with. You can jigger the contrast, gamma level, brightness, saturation, and hue controls to your taste or flip between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios on a whim. Need a closer look? There's also a neat set of zoom, pan, and scaling controls. But the tricky tangle of submenus you have to navigate to access all those features is needlessly confusing.
The audio end of the equation is also well represented, with a Dolby Digital decoder built into the box and a full complement of analog outputs on the back. There are also optical and coaxial digital outputs on the back if you prefer to use your receiver's decoder. Apex Digital throws some extras on the front panel as well: two microphone jacks, plus echo and level dials for the karaoke fans in the house. There's also a knob that looks suspiciously like a it should be a shuttle control, but it only skips chapters; there's no fast-forward or reverse scanning.
You can listen to more than just DVDs and ordinary audio CDs with the AD-800. The player also works with HDCD-encoded CDs and MP3 CDs. While both normal CDs and HDCD-encoded CDs worked without a hitch, we found the MP3 playback touchy and limited. Most notably, the file navigator is slow, and you can only chose to play or stop a file; pause, rewind, and fast-forward functions are unavailable in MP3 mode.
We were also disappointed in the remote control, which is a jumble of tiny buttons. There is no menu-select button in the middle of the four directional buttons; instead, you have to find the tiny Play button. To fast-forward, you have to press two buttons. And for those who don't yet suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, beware: the buttons on the remote don't offer ample tactile feedback, making you press buttons repeatedly to get the player to respond.
With all the audio and video settings and some of the unique tweaks you can make, the AD-800 is a tinkerer's dream. Factor in the reasonable $329 list price and this player becomes a tempting offer for folks who want a progressive-scan player and don't mind a few quirks. But most people will much prefer the ease of use provided by the Sony, Pioneer, and Toshiba players.