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The DVD972C has a "me too" look as far as five-disc players go, although at 16.18 inches deep, this deck is slightly deeper than most. The blue LCD panel is bright enough without being a distraction, and the front panel is adorned with an ample yet undaunting number of buttons, ranging in function from playback control to disc changing.
Aside from the poor remote (we'll get into that in a minute), a couple of issues bothered us from the get-go: First, the load time between disc swaps is painfully slow. Second, you can't physically tell what type of disc is in the DVD972C until it actually starts playing. We were spoiled by Panasonic's DVD-CV51, which smartly color-codes the buttons on the display to differentiate the various types of discs as soon as you insert them.
The uncomfortable and awkward remote is about as forgiving as wooden shoes on a ballerina. The buttons are so tiny and densely packed together that you really need to concentrate to make sure you press the desired key. The lack of backlighting doesn't help matters, either.
On a more positive note, Philips does a good job with the onscreen menu system, which is simple to navigate. Without consulting the manual, you'll be able to configure your speakers for the built-in Dolby Digital decoder or quickly set aspect ratios. Sadly, aside from changing aspect ratios, the player offers no other options to tweak its video output. We would've liked the ability to adjust contrast, colors, and black levels, considering that this is a progressive-scan deck.
We had no complaints in the connectivity department. In back, you'll find a full selection of outputs, including S-Video, component-, and composite-video outs, as well as digital optical and coaxial audio outputs. You'll also find six discrete analog outputs on the back. What are those for? Well, as noted, the player has a built-in Dolby Digital 5.1 decoder, which means that if you don't have an A/V receiver, you can connect this Philips deck directly to any set of powered speakers you have lying around the house.
And though it's only a minor gripe, Philips has placed the switch that allows you to toggle between interlaced and progressive-scan video on the back of the deck instead of the front, where it's easier to reach.
Clear with a chance of blurries
You get good video playback with the DVD972C. When watching for the "jumping-donkey test" in the main menu of Shrek, there were no lockups, and the overall image was crisp. But while testing the DVD972C on a 27-inch Samsung Tantus DynaFlat HD-ready set, the occasional flaw popped out. Namely, in chapter six, as Shrek walks through the field of sunflowers, individual petals blur into each other. We expected to see the individual flowers more precisely, considering that this system boasts a 12-bit, 54MHz Faroudja video-processing chip to sharpen images. To its credit, though, the outlines of Shrek and Donkey in the same scene were razor sharp against a clear, blue background, revealing no jagged edges. Otherwise, compared to the results from budget-level, single-disc, progressive-scan players in 16:9 and 4:3 letterboxed modes, this player performs slightly above par, providing vivid 480i and 480p output.
Fortunately, the audio offerings are more robust, and running Almost Famous--Untitled--The Bootleg Cut, shows off what the built-in Dolby Digital decoder can do when coupled with a midlevel Cambridge SoundWorks surround system.
By configuring the speaker settings in the menu system, you can adjust the delays to accommodate your room. The only other audio tweak is to toggle the Dynamic Range Control to either On or Off. After adjustments, chapter seven's concert footage of Fever Dog had the subwoofer rattling to the drumbeat while the guitars roared. The DVD972C also supports audio CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs encoded with MP3s. Running several Memorex CD-R/RWs through the deck yielded the occasional hiccup but no major fumbles.
Ultimately, the DVD972C is a decent progressive-scan performer, but we expected a little more from a player with a $399 list price, even if it is a five-disc changer. The inclusion of a Dolby Digital decoder could sway those without A/V receivers, but the anemic video fine-tuning options leave us a little cold. That said, if you don't need the built-in decoder, Toshiba offers a five-disc changer, as well. The SD3755 is a good performer that lists for $379--and you're bound to find it even cheaper on the street.