The esoteric world of home-theater video has so many niche products, concepts, and acronyms that you almost have to make a full-time hobby (or a full-time job) out of understanding any of it. One good example is the breed of upscaling DVD players with digital outputs, such as Sony's DVP-NS975V. Having digital output means it can deliver a digital video signal via an HDMI jack, which can definitely improve image quality on certain types of HDTVs. Upscaling means that it processes the standard-definition video present on DVD discs to your choice of 1080i or 720p HDTV resolutions, which has a dubious impact on image quality and can border on pure marketing hype. The DVP-NS975V, along with Samsung's DVD-HD941, Toshiba's SD-5970, and Panasonic's DVD-S97S, represent the newest generation of these kinds of players and use an HDMI output as opposed to the larger all-digital DVI jack found on earlier models. At $299 list, the NS975V is more expensive than standard progressive-scan players, but its cleaner picture quality, as well as its superior design compared to current digital decks such as the V Bravo D2, will be worth it for owners of fixed-pixel displays such as plasma, DLP, and LCD. Unfortunately, inaccurate color decoding makes its overall video quality inferior to the Bravo's. This silver box has a more substantial look than today's typical player, thanks to the single solid chunk of burnished aluminum that comprises its faceplate. Set into the metal are indicators for multichannel, SACD, and HDMI, while the right side of the unit has a lit-up button labeled Progressive. Despite the solid look, this 17-by-2.25-by-9-inch (WHD) player weighs a mere 5 pounds.
With one exception, everything about the DVP-NS975V's simple, intuitive menu system will be familiar to anyone who's set up a Sony DVD player. That exception is an option, buried in the menu system, to switch between 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i output resolutions for the HDMI jack. We would prefer to have a dedicated button on the remote for changing resolutions (the Bravo D2 has one), but in reality, most users will set the output to the best resolution for their TV and never touch it again.
The simple, functional remote lacks backlighting but includes dedicated buttons for lots of functions, including frame-by-frame step-through. It can control other brands of TV.In addition to the standard outputs--one component video, two A/V with composite and S-Video, one 5.1-channel analog audio, and one each optical and coaxial digital audio--the DVP-NS975V has a USB-looking HDMI output that delivers digital video and audio to HDMI-equipped displays. If you buy a DVI-to-HDMI adapter (starting around $30), you can connect the DVP-NS975V to DVI-equipped displays as well without any loss of video quality.
As noted, this player can also deliver HDTV resolutions over its HDMI output, although it can't send 1080i or 720p signals over any other video output. Unlike the Bravo D2, which with some careful tweaking and a lot of information about your display you can get to output "custom" resolutions that exactly match the native resolutions of fixed-pixel displays, the NS975V offers only the industry standard 1,920x1,080 interlaced or 1,280x720 progressive resolutions. The HDMI jack can also be set to 480i or 480p, as can the component-video output.
The DVP-NS975V also includes multichannel SACD playback via its analog 5.1-channel outputs. Separate bass management setup screens are provided for SACD as well as for Dolby Digital/DTS sources. You can control the contrast, brightness, color, and hue of the picture. Another notable feature is the adjustable audio delay (0 to 100 milliseconds), designed to establish sync in systems where video lags behind the audio. Unfortunately, the delay doesn't work with Dolby Digital or DTS over the digital audio or HDMI outputs.To test the Sony DVP-NS975V's video quality, we connected it to a few of the TVs in our A/V testing facility and compared the images to those of the Bravo D2 DVI-based player. We primarily used Sharp's LC-32GD4U, since it has both an HDMI and a DVI input and can provide a level playing field.
In most of our tests, the players were equal, although the Sony showed evidence of inaccurate color decoding when outputting high-def resolutions via its HDMI output. It deaccentuated green by 15 percent more than the Bravo (a significant amount), according to the color decoder check on Avia. This resulted in less-impactful green colors, such as grass and trees, in program material. This was also exacerbated by the tendency of many fixed-pixel TVs to deaccentuate green themselves.
In its favor, the Sony showed evidence of motion adaptive deinterlacing, which correctly compensates for moving areas of the picture while not affecting stable ones. The Bravo failed that test and also recovered more slowly than the Sony when handling poorly edited content. The Sony did suffer from some minor 2:3 pull-down detection issues; it stopped 2:3 processing occasionally, which caused the appearance of a cross-hatch artifact in moving, high-resolution lines during some film/video transitions. Keep in mind that these very difficult patterns are designed to test a player's prowess with badly authored or low-budget DVDs or material that originates on video. The bottom line is that both of the players did a good job with all of the mainstream movie test material we had on hand.
While it's true that using the digital input on your HDTV will usually reduce video noise and may have other benefits, the value of upscaling video to HDTV resolutions depends on your TV. Our tests with Sony's KD-34XBR960, a CRT-based direct-view HDTV, bore this out. Like most tube TVs, this set converts all 720p material to 1080i, which can introduce interlace artifacts such as flicker. For example, with the DVP-NS975V and the Bravo set to 1080i or 720p output, we saw flicker on the finest resolution pattern from Digital Video Essentials, but when we set the players to 480p output, the pattern was stable.
In tests of DVD disc compatibility, the DVP-NS975V fared well, playing most of the DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, and CR-R discs in our collection. It handled CD-Rs filled with JPEG and MP3 files, although, like most DVD players, it couldn't read the same files stored on a DVD.
Overall, we recommend avoiding upscaling players if you have a CRT-based HDTV, unless the set demonstrates a marked improvement in video quality over the digital jack. If, on the other hand, you happen to have a fixed-pixel set, you're likely to see a more marked improvement in video quality over standard component-video-based players, especially in reduction of video noise. If you have such a set and don't mind sacrificing the HDMI input for use with DVD (as opposed to HDTV) sources, then the Sony DVP-NS975V makes a lot of sense. For those who demand the ultimate in picture quality, however, the more accurate color of the Bravo makes it a better choice.