Potent and pint-sized
With a brushed-aluminum front and beveled edges, the DVD-N501 has a bit more panache than the average boxy, black DVD player. In fact, its slim profile and sizable LCD panel hides it well within your home-entertainment center. The front includes a standard set of playback controls as well as two game-controller ports. The back of the device is apportioned with one S-Video, one composite, and a component video output. In addition to the left/right analog outputs, there are both coaxial and optical digital outputs for connecting to an external Dolby Digital Decoder--though you'll need to purchase that technology separately in your receiver if you want to watch movies in surround sound. The remote teems with buttons, but the nice layout, the little joystick for easy navigation, and the universal control for your TV set make it relatively painless when you're at the helm.
Most notable about the DVD-N501 are all the features it offers that are above and beyond those of the average DVD player. VM Labs' Nuon processor, for instance, allows you to zoom in on an image up to 20 times and adjust the screen position on the fly, practically allowing you to create aspect ratios. The ActionCapture Strobe function displays nine freeze-frames on the screen so that you can select a single frame for closer inspection. The well-designed onscreen menus overlay the video that's playing and include a handy help screen to explain some of the technical terms. Nuon technology can even play games, but the few titles currently available are on a par with those you'd find on an old Nintendo 64.
Sound and vision
But the real reason why you buy a DVD player is the picture quality. Thankfully, no corners were cut to make room for the ability to play games or MP3 CD-Rs. The 10-bit digital-to-analog video converter delivers excellent video quality in this tiny package. The player's pictures are sharp and vibrant. We should warn, though, that since the picture quality may not be comparable to that of a progressive-scan player, HDTV owners would do better to hunt down a progressive-scan model. Mere mortals (read: those of us who can't yet afford an HDTV and are stuck with an ordinary TV yet want a few more extras with our DVD players) will find that the image quality satifies.The audio, on the other hand, is very clear and noise-free. The high-speed, high-linearity 96KHz/24-bit audio converter, provides good sound quality with DVDs. In addition, audio CDs, HDCDs, and MP3s also come across fairly well.
One of the most welcome trends in DVD players is the inclusion of MP3-playback capability. Combined with a CD-R/RW drive on your PC, this system lets you create CDs that can hold more than 10 albums' worth of music. The DVD-N501 did a good job playing the MP3 CDs we tested, recognizing the discs' folder structures and letting us navigate to the music we wanted with an onscreen display. There's even an added bonus of a light show on the TV that pulses psychedelically in tune with the music. Unfortunately, there's no way to create a custom playlist of songs, nor can it read track tag information--leaving you to glean whatever you can from a filename.
Currently selling for as low as $170, the Samsung DVD-N501 is especially compelling if you can make use of its MP3-playback capabilities, enjoy dissecting your DVDs frame by frame, or want to take advantage of a number of other features. However, bear in mind that while you will get a good deal--and a good picture--this isn't a progressive-scan DVD. Serious home-theater enthusiasts won't get the full bang for their buck here.