The competition is pretty tough these days in the entry-level DVD-changer market, so a player has to have that little extra--or that extralow price--to make it stand out from the crowd. We looked for that little something in Onkyo's five-disc DV-C503 and found a couple of nice convenience features and strong support for MP3 CDs. But that wasn't enough to make the competition disappear. The competition is pretty tough these days in the entry-level DVD-changer market, so a player has to have that little extra--or that extralow price--to make it stand out from the crowd. We looked for that little something in Onkyo's five-disc DV-C503 and found a couple of nice convenience features and strong support for MP3 CDs. But that wasn't enough to make the competition disappear.
Bad remote, good MP3 support
Carousel-style players take up a lot of room, and with dimensions of approximately 17 by 17 by 5 inches, the DV-C503 is no exception--check your A/V cabinet for enough space before you buy. Like most decks in this category, the DV-C503 has a big, front-loading tray that offers you access to a single disc at a time. The face is relatively Spartan-looking, with minimal buttons and a large, blue LCD. And while we didn't have any problems with the overall look, we were disappointed by the remote, which features tiny buttons that are all the same size. We prefer remotes that have bigger buttons for key functions. Also, there are no direct-access buttons for each of the five trays, even though they are present on the unit itself.
A couple of positives: Though it's a little noisy when changing trays, the DV-C503 is quiet enough when playing discs. We also appreciated the CD Play button on the front panel, which will play only the CDs you've loaded into the carousel--not the DVDs. And the connectivity options, which include optical and coaxial digital audio outputs as well as S-Video and component-video outputs, are ample.
Overall, the DV-C503's video performance was a little below average. We watched Alien Resurrection, a dark movie with plenty of difficult moving-camera work. As we've come to expect from every DVD player, details and colors were superb. Unfortunately, artifacts such as moving lines and jagged edges became visible on a standard 4:3 television. For example, in one scene where a scientist's futuristic observation booth rotates to link with an alien cage, lines in the booth's robot appendages jumped unnaturally. These kinds of effects were visible only when watching anamorphic (or enhanced for wide-screen) DVDs.
In our tests using the Video Essentials DVD, the DV-C503 failed to pass a blacker-than-black video signal. This means that it can't resolve those portions of the picture that are darker than black, which typically include inky details in shadows. These missing particulars are difficult to spot in real-world situations, though. Even when comparing the shadowy opening credits of Alien Resurrection, which include faint body parts of humans and aliens morphing together, we couldn't tell the difference ourselves.
On the audio front, while it lacks simulated surround sound, the DV-C503 does a good job with MP3 CDs. Selecting a disc with MP3 files brings up a menu showing the first eight characters of the filenames both on your TV and the player's LCD. You can use the menu to easily jump from songs to file folders as well as program playlists. However, you can't listen to MP3s in random order within a single disc. Another small gripe: With standard CDs, the random function works with only one disc, not across the whole tray, which can be a real bummer at parties.
With a $299 list price, the DV-C503 is on a par with other entry-level DVD changers--such as Panasonic's --which can often be had at a steep discount. Aside from the decent MP3 CD support, this deck doesn't have a distinct competitive advantage over any others, so price will certainly be the deciding factor. If you can find this Onkyo for less than its list price, it's definitely worth considering. If you see it for more, you're probably better off moving on to another changer.