The Bravo D1 DVD player is the first product from V, a new company founded by the former CEO of monitor manufacturer Princeton Graphics. The D1 is certainly an ambitious launch: it's one of the few players able to play back DivX files, and it's one of only two commercial models with DVI (digital visual interface) digital-video output (the other is Samsung's DVD-HD931). When the D1 is connected to the right display device, this innocuous-looking $199 box can deliver video quality that outdoes that of any analog-output unit we've seen, regardless of price. Its unpolished look and feel will keep it from becoming a favorite of the masses, but if you are a DivX enthusiast or happen to own a DVI-equipped fixed-pixel plasma, DLP, LCOS, or LCD display, you'll get over the D1's design flaws very quickly. This thin, pitch-black unit has all the charm of a fuse box, without the solid feel. The drawer opens quickly enough, and the buttons all work, but in terms of overall build quality, the D1 feels a notch below inexpensive name-brand players and a notch above Apex. During repeat-play loops that we ran overnight and over a weekend, the unit froze a couple of times and needed to be restarted, but this never occurred during normal playback.
Despite the D1's many functions, we found operation relatively simple. A prominent page on the setup menu allows you to select from various video-output modes, and a dedicated button on the remote does the same without the menu.
Our test unit's remote control was crowded with faintly labeled, identically sized, indistinguishable buttons, but the newer models' remotes have better labels. Response time wasn't great, and we frequently had to press repeatedly to produce results. However, the remote does provide plenty of functionality, including volume/mute control and the ability to conveniently rotate still pictures. A grand total of eight logos adorn the D1's front panel, proclaiming the device's extensive playback capabilities. The most important is DVI output. The DVI port on the back can connect to a DVI-equipped digital TV, HDTV, or computer monitor, regardless of whether it employs HDCP copy protection.
Unlike analog component-video and RGB connections, DVI provides a direct video-signal path from the DVD player to the display, bypassing the typical digital-to-analog conversion and much of the processing in the TV or monitor. The result is a reduction in video noise and artifacts.
The D1 can convert the resolution of wide-screen DVD (852x480 pixels) to standard 480p, as well as the HDTV resolutions 720p (1,280x720) and 1080i (1,920x1,080). The unit can also output an exact 852x480 image for devices with that native resolution, such as the Sampo and Gateway GTW-P42M102 plasma TVs. The DVI output works best when feeding fixed-pixel displays that use plasma, LCOS, LCD, or DLP technology. With CRT-based tube or rear-projection sets, the DVI connection is unlikely to deliver a noticeably better picture than component video.
There is a menu option for outputting HDTV resolutions through the component jacks, but when we tried it, the D1 wouldn't play until we reduced the resolution to 480p.
The D1's other standout feature is DivX/MPEG-4 video playback, a distinction the device shares with only the more expensive Kiss DP 450 and DP 500. Naturally, the D1 can play MP3 files and display JPEG files. It also has a zoom function that acts just like an aspect-ratio control, so properly resizing nonanamorphic letterbox movies is not a problem.
Aside from the DVI jack, the back panel includes component-video, S-Video, and composite-video outputs, as well as optical and coaxial digital outputs and a pair of analog-audio outputs. We connected the D1 to our DLP-based, fixed-pixel Samsung via DVI, and the player produced some of the best pictures we've ever seen from a DVD source. When we set the output to 720p, the pristine digital images from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones looked downright spectacular.
Next, we tried switching the DVI output between 720p and 480p to see whether upconverting to HDTV resolution within the player would improve the image. All told, we couldn't detect much difference between the two. In other words, the strength of this player's picture seems to derive from the digital output's direct connection to the digital display, not from the upconversion to HDTV resolution. We recommend setting the DVI output to your display's native resolution--or, failing that, the highest resolution your display will accept. It's also worth noting that the Samsung wouldn't accept the D1's 1080i output at all.
We did notice some flaws in the D1's detection and processing of video-based (as opposed to film-based) material. The telltale waving flag from Video Essentials was slightly digitized along the edges--not as smooth as on Panasonic's or other decks we've seen that use Genesis/Faroudja's DCDi processing. Also, the output from the component-video jacks was softer than with many players we've tried.
The D1 returned mixed results with some free movie clips from DivX.com. A couple of files--which were fine on our PC--had no sound and stuttered a bit, and one wouldn't play at all. A number of movie trailers played well, however.
MP3 and JPEG-photo playback worked well enough, but navigating our many files was difficult; the D1 ignored subfolders and simply placed all the files in alphabetical order. There was also no way to adjust the pace of the slide show. The D1 handled most of the formats we threw at it, including DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RW, as well as some difficult discs that tripped up most other players.
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