Simplicity with a touch of zoom
The plain, off-black face of the SD1700 is uncluttered by buttons and dominated by a large fluorescent display. One thoughtful feature: you can dim or turn the display off completely so that it doesn't become a distraction while watching films. Meanwhile, the remote is nondescript but easy to use by feel, with logically sized and shaped buttons arranged so your thumb centers on the cursor controls.
The clean feel of the SD1700 extends to the setup menu. One category labeled Initial Setup offers quick access to the three options you'll need to adjust your system (Menu Language, Screen Shape, and Audio Output Select) when you first fire it up. Accessible via buttons on the remote--where they belong rather than buried in the menu--are five video presets, virtual surround sound, and a setting to enhance dialogue at low volumes.
Our favorite feature was the excellent zoom control, which comes complete with a navigator. When you engage any of the three levels of magnification, up pops a little grey rectangle that represents your entire screen. This rectangle is then overlaid by a blue rectangle that depicts the viewable area. You can use it to easily guide the zoom to any area of the screen, blowing up whatever portion of the action you want. Naturally, picture quality suffers on zoomed-in material.
Unfortunately, many prospective buyers will focus on the features that the SD1700 lacks. Almost every other entry-level DVD player has the ability to play VCDs and CD-R/RWs, and the majority can play MP3 CDs. The SD1700 can play only standard CDs, DVDs, and DVD-Rs.
The back panel is also missing an important jack: an optical digital output. We prefer to see decks with both optical and coaxial outputs, but if given a choice, we'd rather see an optical jack since they're more common on receivers and recording equipment such as MiniDisc units. In addition to the lone coaxial digital output, the 1700 has analog audio and component-, S-, and composite-video connectors.
The SD1700's video performance was quite good when set up for a 16:9 wide-screen TV. Unfortunately, it displayed some fairly serious artifacts when playing anamorphic (enhanced for wide-screen) DVDs on a standard 4:3 TV. This is an issue, since a significant percentage of DVDs are anamorphic, and the vast majority of TVs are 4:3.
The Shrek DVD includes both standard and anamorphic versions and benefits from an all-digital transfer that should look nearly artifact-free. On the anamorphic version, moving edges appeared along Shrek's rug and table during a pullback shot where Donkey gazes longingly at the ogre's well-laid table from outside a window. In another example, a field of daisies broke up into unnatural movement during a pan. When testing the Shrek DVD with several other entry-level players, those same scenes were a good deal cleaner.
On a more positive note, the SD1700's 2X forward scans were as smooth as on any deck available, although the 2X reverse scans were only average. The deck had no trouble passing blacker-than-black signals and displayed the maximum resolution for the DVD format. Its five picture presets variously adjust color and brightness (black level). People who haven't taken the time to carefully calibrate their televisions may appreciate the ability to press a button and get a darker picture with a little more punch. Those who have calibrated should just leave the presets alone.
In the end, it's hard to call the $200 SD1700 a total bargain. But it is a solid, easy-to-use deck that has only one major drawback (no CD-R support) and a few performance flaws that more critical DVD watchers will notice. For those folks who don't mind spending a little more, we suggest stepping up to the SD2700, which offers CD-R support.