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Even at a time when prices of DVD players are at an all-time low, paying £60 for a model that features video upscaling and HDMI digital connectivity is almost unbelievable.
If you have a new flat-screen display and want an affordable way to improve the quality of your standard DVDs, then this is it. The slim design is well-constructed for a budget model, and includes useful convergent features like USB connectivity, which lets you access music and photo files from digital storage devices.
Picture performance is impressive for the price and provides stiff competition for similarly inexpensive models from Samsung and Toshiba -- all of which guarantee outstanding value for money.
This model is a mere whisp of a DVD player with ultraslim dimensions that would almost fit through a letterbox. The slight design is encased in metal and neatly finished with a glossed-black front panel and silver disc drawer that boast surprising build quality for such an affordable price.
Front controls are kept to a minimum with only basic playback functions and an upscaling select button, which could leave you frustrated if you ever lost the small, stubby remote. There's a USB port at the right-hand side that allows you to access music and photo files from a portable media player or digital storage device.
A full range of connectivity at the rear includes a single HDMI output that can be used to support upscaled, high-definition quality images if you have a compatible display. It wasn't so long ago that digital connectivity was the reserve of high-end players and the inclusion of HDMI in a sub-£70 model is testament to changing technology. HDMI offers unrivalled picture and sound quality in the convenience of a single cable and allows the player a future-proof specification -- even if you haven't upgraded your TV yet.
Alternatively, you can use the component video outputs that support progressive scan -- a deinterlacing system that scans all picture lines simultaneously to create flicker-free images with more detail. The component outputs only carry video signals so you'll need to use separate connections for sound. There are standard stereo phonos and a coaxial digital output that will carry multi-channel Dolby Digital signals to a home cinema receiver for surround decoding.
Traditional users can rely on a single Scart terminal that's been RGB-enabled for the highest possible performance from a standard connection. There's also a low quality composite output that's best left ignored.
Affordable upscaling is this player's defining feature. Provided you have a compatible digital display, you can up-convert standard-definition DVDs to near high-definition quality 720p and 1080i formats. It's not 'true' high-definition but it comes close and brings noticeable improvement to your existing DVD collection without having to spend a fortune on a next generation Blu-ray or HD DVD player.
You can also enhance the resolution of JPEG images, which means you can view high-definition digital photos on your flat-screen TV at up to a 2-megapixel resolution. If your photos are stored on a Picture CD with MP3 music tracks you can also view the files and organise a slideshow with music.
Disc compatibility extends to standard DVD and CD formats, including recording discs (only DVD+ R/RW) encoded with MP3, WMA and JPEG files. The player will also accept compressed video formats using DivX Ultra, which combines the usual playback features with multiple options like interactive menus, subtitles and alternative tracks. And, if you're using the player to listen to music, you can up-sample CDs to up to 4x the normal rate to improve sound quality.
There are more interactive settings than you might expect from a budget DVD player but the cleanly presented menu system is straightforward enough and easy to use. General settings are accompanied by some unusually elaborate picture and sound options. There are preset modes and custom settings for controlling pictures, while the sound can be supplemented using a variety of options including dedicated movies and music modes and a virtual-surround setting.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of picture performance, which proves you don't have to spend too much to get more from your DVDs these days.
Although RGB pictures are more than acceptable, there's a definite improvement when playing upscaled images using HDMI. In truth, there's little difference between using 720p and 1080i, but either way images expose more detail while colours are more pronounced and fluid. Black levels are not as dense as Denon's class-leading (but more expensive) DVD-1730 model, leaving some dark scenes looking slightly drained.
There are some flaws, such as occasionally grainy backgrounds and shadow gradations that might be more distracting using a large screen display, but with a 32-inch LCD they're easy to ignore. At this price the player gives our current budget favourite, Toshiba's SD-360E, a run for its money, and sound performance is pretty competent too.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield