Panasonic has already announced a successor to the RP62S, its least expensive progressive-scan DVD player released in 2002. However, we consider the 62S to be one of the best budget players on the market. There's more good news: With a newer model on the horizon, you'll see nice price cuts on this deck, making it an even better bargain than it originally was. Like most inexpensive DVD players these days, the DVD-RP62S takes a slim, shallow form--2.4 inches high by 10.5 inches deep--that fits easily atop many televisions. The S in the model name stands for silver, and this player's patina matches many modern TVs, as well as circa-1970s audio gear. Panasonic also makes a black version of the 62S that generally costs a few bucks less.
The clean-looking front panel includes a smattering of buttons; an informative, nondimmable, blue-lit display; and a big knob that offers easy control of forward and reverse searches up to 200X, which is as fast as we've seen from any DVD player. We really liked the inclusion of a Progressive button on the front panel, and owners of certain wide-screen HDTVs will agree with us (see the Features section for more on this).
We weren't thrilled with the RP62's remote; it packs too many buttons into a tight space and doesn't include any sort of illumination. On the plus side, you do get one-button access to lots of useful functions such as the picture presets, as well as a dialogue enhancer to boost the volume of the voice track. First off, you'll need a progressive-scan-capable TV--generally an HDTV--to take advantage of the 62S's progressive-scan output. If you don't have such a television, you're better off with an interlaced player.
With that disclaimer delivered, we can now say that Panasonic has added some unique features to the RP62S. The 4:3 Zoom function, while not as versatile as some other players' 2X or higher magnification, does expand the image on 4:3 TVs to remove the letterbox bars on wide-screen movies. A one-touch-memory feature lets you save your preferences among the various presets: two virtual-surround settings, a bass boost, two picture modes, and the aforementioned dialogue enhancer.
A front-panel Progressive Out button, complete with an LED indicator, is a boon for wide-screen HDTV owners whose televisions cannot change the aspect ratio of progressive-scan material. Those users have to switch to interlaced mode when viewing nonanamorphic DVDs--those not enhanced for wide-screen TVs--or the image will be stretched horizontally. Since the DVD-RP62S lacks aspect-ratio control, the Progressive Out button makes switching easier than delving into the menu system. If you're one of the HDTV owners described above, and you want to watch all your discs in progressive mode, you should check out a player with aspect-ratio control, such as the JVC XV-S50SL.
The usual harvest of jacks sprouts from the player's back panel: outputs for component video, S-Video, composite video, analog audio, and optical digital audio. You'll also find a subwoofer output for direct connection to an active sub, but there's no coaxial digital output. The DVD-RP62S played just about every disc that we threw at it, including DVD+Rs, most DVD-Rs (it couldn't load one troublesome disc), VCDs, and MP3 CDs. This Panasonic had a problem with one of our DVD+RWs that many other players could read, and like most models that we've tested, it couldn't handle DVD-RWs or DVD-RAMs. MP3 functionality is above average; a big menu displays filenames up to 32 characters long, and the deck can play an entire disc of MP3 tracks at random.
While most progressive-scan players deliver a very good picture, our favorite test discs revealed that the RP62S is a cut above the competition--especially at this price. The difficult video-based portions of Video Essentials' chapter 19 montage were rendered cleanly, with no stair-step artifacts in the waving flag. The player also reproduced the slow pan from Star Trek: Insurrection with a minimum of moving lines and jagged-edge artifacts on the roofs of buildings.
We also checked out Spider-Man and came away quite satisfied. In the Times Square scene where Spidey takes on the Green Goblin among gigantic balloons and dumbfounded Macy Gray fans, the sweeping camera can create a storm of moving lines among the complex buildings in the background. The RP62 displayed the buildings with pristine stability on our Pioneer Elite PRO-1000HD monitor.
Our sole complaint has to do with the RP62's conversion of anamorphic discs for display on regular TVs. A pan over a haystack made the stalks of hay crawl with subtle artifacts. This won't be a problem if you're watching on a wide-screen TV or a 4:3 TV with vertical compression--a.k.a. 16:9 mode or what Sony calls 16:9 Enhanced mode--and it's much less visible on smaller TVs.