Sony's DVP-NS700P is among this year's crop of moderately priced progressive-scan DVD players--a category that's growing increasingly competitive by the month. Like other Sony DVD decks, this player stands apart from the crowd in the look-and-feel department, and it also includes numerous well-implemented features. At same time, however, it lacks a couple of key features, and videophiles with wide-screen TVs may not be completely satisfied with its performance. Sony's DVP-NS700P is among this year's crop of moderately priced progressive-scan DVD players--a category that's growing increasingly competitive by the month. Like other Sony DVD decks, this player stands apart from the crowd in the look-and-feel department, and it also includes numerous well-implemented features. At same time, however, it lacks a couple of key features, and videophiles with wide-screen TVs may not be completely satisfied with its performance.
There's no denying the appeal of the DVP-NS700P's sexy lines and distinctive silver face. The angled drawer opens quietly, and a disc spinning inside makes no noise to interrupt quiet movie passages. A convenient jog/shuttle dial on the front panel for fast-forwarding and rewinding is a nice touch, but it would have been better placed on the remote.
And while we're on the subject of the remote, here's more: even without a jog dial, it's excellent. The buttons are thoughtfully laid out, and we appreciated that the ones that control key functions glow in the dark. The onscreen menu system is also among the best we've seen, with clear icons and context-sensitive text that make it easy for the user to make adjustments. For example, while many players have you reach around back to switch between interlaced and progressive-scan modes, with this player you can make the switch from an onscreen menu.
When many features aren't enough
And why would you ever want to switch playback modes? Because most progressive-scan TVs lock into an anamorphic (wide-screen) picture when they receive a progressive-scan signal. Though that's not a problem with anamorphic "enhanced for wide-screen" DVDs, with nonanamorphic discs, the picture stretches, making everyone appear short and fat. Some progressive-scan DVD players can change aspect ratios internally to get around this problem, but the DVP-NS700P cannot.
Some users will also be disappointed that this deck won't play MP3-encoded CDs, although it handles standard music CD-R/RWs well. Another positive: you'll find settings for contrast, brightness, and so forth in addition to five picture presets, four simulated surround-sound options, four Dynamic Picture modes, and three settings of noise reduction. The jack pack around back is similarly well endowed, with a second pair of A/V outputs, two S-Video outputs, one set of composite outs, and both coaxial and optical digital-audio outputs.
Mixed bag of video
As far as video quality goes, the DVP-NS700P has something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. On the Jekyll side, there were very few interlaced artifacts visible during difficult pans in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and the details on the animated actors' faces were eye-poppingly clear. Also, this player, like other Sony players, offers silky-smooth forward and reverse scans and a clean picture when watching anamorphic discs in standard 4:3 mode.
Hyde soon surfaces, though. In interlaced mode, the picture became noticeably darker in our tests. You can easily use the Custom Picture mode to compensate, but it's still annoying. In progressive mode, there was visible noise that the deck's noise-reduction circuit failed to eliminate. In chapter two, as Aki's ship descends for a landing in Old New York, the streets below come alive with dancing pixels. Finally, evidence of the chroma upsampling error (where horizontal streaks appear in solid-colored onscreen objects) is visible as streaks across fields of color, such the red warning lights aboard the ship, appeared once or twice.
As noted, the competition is stiff in this class of players. The $299 (list price) DVP-NS700P is going up against decks such as and , both of which offer MP3 support, superior wide-screen video performance, and less-expensive price tags. On the other hand, the DVP-NS700P brings a more polished look and feel, as well as more custom options and a better picture when used with a 4:3 HD-ready set--such as Sony's own . If you own such a TV, the DVP-NS700P is a good choice. However, if you have a wide-screen set, there are better options.