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Plenty of people are buying new digital displays and wondering why watching DVDs isn't as impressive as they thought it would be. That's probably because they're pairing the latest high-definition screens with conventional standard-definition DVD players.
If you want improved performance with films you'll need a DVD player with video scaling, which promotes standard-definition DVDs to near high-definition quality. These players used to be expensive, but you can now find entry-level models like Denon's latest DVD-1730 that are competitively priced at around £100.
There are less expensive models like Toshiba's SD-360, but Denon's design quality and class-leading performance means the DVD-1730 is an ideal partner for an affordable HD Ready flat screen like Samsung's R74 or LG's LC2D models.
Denon's DVD-1730 doesn't look like your typical entry-level DVD player -- the thickset design is more solid than the usual slim models you'll find at this price. Even the front display and controls are oversized, making them easier to use than trendy designs with tiny buttons.
Denon is renowned for the tank-like construction of its components -- build quality is exceptional with the entire unit reinforced to minimise unwanted vibrations. By sharing similar styling to the rest of the Denon range, the design of the DVD-1730 could easily pass for a player costing twice as much.
All connections are arranged across the rear panel. There's a complete range of video outputs to cater for all types of TV screens -- although performance varies between them.
At the forefront is a direct digital HDMI connection. If you own one of the latest HD Ready flat screens, HDMI offers the best possible picture performance by delivering upscaled 720p and 1080i images that come close to high-definition quality. The same cable also carries multi-channel sound signals to keep your cable count down.
If your flat screen is an earlier model without digital inputs then using the component connections offers the next best performance. You won't be able to play upscaled images directly, but you can use progressive scan video, which produces smoother pictures with more detail. However, component outputs don't carry sound so you'll need to make separate audio connections.
Conventional TV owners will have to resort to a single Scart terminal, which has been RGB enabled for uncompromised performance. There are also standard composite and S-Video outputs, but these low-quality connections are best avoided if you can help it.
Audio options are equally inclusive with a pair of standard stereo outputs that can be connected directly to your TV, and a choice of digital outputs for use with surround-sound systems.
The black remote is a standard Denon design that isn't especially attractive but it is functional. All primary keys are spaciously arranged within easy reach, while less-used controls are secluded out of the way.
The main attraction of this player is its ability to upscale standard-definition DVDs to 720p and 1080i standards, which gives you near high-definition picture quality. You'll need a compatible digital display but improvements to performance are obvious with more detail and depth than regular players can claim.
You can select which scaling format to use with easily accessible controls on the front panel. For flat screens with a typical WXGA resolution of 1,366x768, 720p produces a smoother image, especially with fast action scenes, while 1080i offers more detail, despite being downscaled to fit.
Disc compatibility stretches from standard to -R/RW recordable DVD and CD formats -- including discs carrying MP3, WMA and JPEG files. You can also play DivX encoded discs, which use advanced high-compression technology that allows you to burn entire films from your PC onto a single CD.
Only the highest quality internal components have been used with analogue and discreet digital circuitry separated to reduce cross interference and enhance overall performance.
The on-screen menu system is ordinarily presented but incredibly easy to use. You can scroll between various icon-based options and a graphic of the remote highlights the keys you need to use to access settings. There isn't an overwhelming range of settings but if you're playing upscaled images then try selecting HDMI enhancement, which improves black levels for greater contrast.
If you're not planning to play upscaled DVD images then spending less on a conventional player makes more sense. But if you want to improve the film quality from your new flat screen using HDMI then the DVD-1730 offers the finest picture performance at this price.
Upscaled 720p and 1080i images expose startling detail compared to traditional analogue connections. Distinct black levels instil images with solid definition and enhance contrast for a more realistic, three-dimensional picture. There's noticeably fewer digital artefacts and background noise.
Performance using alternative analogue outputs such as component or Scart is still capable, but detail and density softens while instability returns. But the same can be said of any DVD player and up against similarly priced models with the same specification, the DVD-1730 is a clear class leader.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield