Time now for a high spec player for those of you not satisfied with the cheap and cheerful offerings. Step forward the Sony DVP-S725D.
I was very excited about reviewing the Sony 725 as I've always been very much a follower of the 'you get what you pay for' crowd, and clocking in at a few quid short of £500, the Sony had a lot to live up to. The machine I'm testing is a multi-region modded version provided by Hifi Store.
Opening the box, I was greeted to an enormous amount of literature, although on second inspection, the vast majority was the manual repeated in different languages. The player itself is a lovely looking bit of kit and whilst everything is very straight and angular, it manages to look very suave with it. The front of the unit is awash with buttons and dials, allowing you to access many features without the remote. On the left is the obligatory headphone socket and volume control and next to this is the 'Virtual 3D Surround' button (more on this later). On the right hand side are a number of other button for playback control, a control pad for menus and a little jog shuttle. It also proudly displays a host of different logos (Dolby Digital, MPEG Multichannel, DTS and CD Audio).
Also in the box is the HUGE remote control, I can guarantee you won't be losing this beast down the back of your settee. The unit has a whole host of buttons (which glow in the dark and great to use when it's a bit dingy) and also a rocker switch style control knob and jog shuttle. It's a heavy piece of kit, but very sturdy as well.
On the back of the player, there are a whole stack of different connection options. There are two SCARTs, one of which is RGB, a standard video out, an S-Video out and separate RGB composite outs for connecting up to a projector. Audio-wise we have optical and co-axial digital outs and both stereo and 5.1 audio outs for connection to an amplifier.
The player came supplied with decent quality gold-plated S-Video and phono leads, but despite the machine's two SCART sockets, no SCART lead. This is common practice with DVD players, and Sony are by no means alone in doing this, but why?
Ease of Use
I eagerly plugged the machine in using the S-Video connection and my own optical lead to connect to the amp. I switched on my telly, sat back and powered up. The player then started up very quickly with a psychedelic DVD logo screen before settling on the Sony DVD Player background.
First up, I decided I would have a play with the menus so I pushed the 'Setup' button on the remote and the rather snazzy menu appeared. Down the left hand side of the screen appear a number of coloured icons, each representing a different set of options. We have Language, Screen, Custom (mainly video options), Audio and Speaker setup menus in here, all offering a variety of different settings to fiddle with. All of the menus are extremely ease to navigate and use.
Everything you would expect to be in a £500 player's menus are here, and a few other things besides. In Screen Setup, for example, we have the option to change the backdrop displayed when there is no disc in the machine, to a screen grab of any movie you have. I had great fun with this (sad, I know) and eventually settled on a nice picture of a scary windmill from Army of Darkness.
In Audio, we have settings that allow you to choose exactly how your speakers are setup in your room and their size and capabilities. This is all done using a nice diagram of a room with the speakers and their size and position displayed in pictorial form. All of this only applies if you are using the player's own built in decoder, which I wasn't, but the wealth and ease of which you can set this up is stunning.
So, the menus are easy to use, what about the remote? Well, for the most part, yes. It has separate buttons for most functions and they glow-in-the-dark for easy nighttime use. The big problem here though is that rocker/joystick type control. To select an option you are required to push the control in and this often causes problems. Many a time when I meant to push in I pushed up, or vice-versa. The remote definitely needs a separate enter button, and the player loses a couple of points here.
Lastly in this section then, the LCD display. The display is very crisp, large and easy to read from a distance. It isn't just a number display and also has the facility to display letters and I mean real letters, not those silly calculator type things, which is a change from some recently reviewed players. The only issue I have here is that it's often difficult to distinguish between a 1 and a 7 on some of the positions because of the text above them. However, this is a very minor issue.
Right then, once I had gotten fed up with all of the menus and features, I popped a disc in to test the machines playback facilities. First up was The Insider (R1) which, whilst not a very taxing disc admittedly, played perfectly. I was also struck at this point by the superb sound and picture quality, more so than I ever have been by any other player. The sound was crisp and clean, and the picture was sharp and clear.
Next up was Army of Darkness (R1) and again this played perfectly as did The Matrix (R1), Galaxy Quest (R1), Human Traffic (R2), This Year's Love (R2), Sixth Sense (R1) and a number of other discs. One interesting point is that I could skip past all FBI warnings and the forced adverts on the Sixth Sense just by pushing the 'Disc Menu' button. I don't know whether this is a feature of the multi-region mod my machine had, or whether it is standard fare, but it is a welcome addition.
After trying for some time to trip the player up, and failing, I moved on to testing some of the machine's other playback options. There are a few features I've yet to see on any other player, many of which I found very useful. One such feature is the Bookmark facility, which allows you to store up to 9 different favourite sections of a film for up to 200 discs. You also have the option of naming each disc so that instead of displaying the time when watching a film, the LCD display shows the film's title. Gimmicky, but I liked it. Again, you can store the title for up to 200 discs.
The Sony also offers a number of levels of DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) whilst playing back a DVD, although I found that this smeared the picture and defeated the sharpness and clarity that DVD offers. This could be useful on older, badly mastered discs to smooth out any artefacts or grain the picture may have.
Following on from this is the Video EQ that offers various alterations to the outputted picture. Settings include 'Dynamic' which emphasizes the black level and 'Cinema' which softens the video output. You can also set your own Brightness, Colour and Sharpness settings in here, although I prefer the player to output a pure signal, and to mess around with it at the TV's end.
Another handy feature is the bit-rate meter that you can call up during playback. This allows you to see the current and proceeding few seconds of film's bit-rate, as well as providing you with the same information for the audio, handy if you care about that sort of thing.
There are a couple of interesting options in the Audio menu, the main two being an Audio Attenuator and Filter. The attenuator, for those of you who don't know, reduces the volume of the sound so as not to distort it when being played back through your TV speakers, and the filter allows you to select either a 'Sharp' or 'Slow' sound. The 'Slow' setting produces a noticeably warmer sound although this sounds somewhat odd on most movies. It is nice to see the above two options, as they are something usually only found on dedicated CD players.
Picture and sound quality, as mentioned above, are superb. Whilst this should be expected of a player costing just short of £500, I can wholeheartedly say that it exceeds anything I expected and have seen before. Now considering I run a £450 player anyway, this is saying something.
The audio quality when playing back either CDs or DVDs is easily on par with a good quality CD player, and this is something you don't find very often with a DVD player. In fact, tests have shown that the audio output of this machine is better than Sony's reference quality DVP-S7700 DVD player, which was specifically targeted at the audiophile.
All round, a top performance.
This machine has so many little features, it would be impossible to mention them all. Many are talked about above, but there are additional things like the little picture of a DVD you can call up that shows you at what point and layer the laser is currently focused on that make this machine a joy to own. Suffice to say, if you like to fiddle around with your player's settings, this machine has plenty that you can mess with.
The player does offer Dolby Digital decoding, DTS and MPEG audio output as standard, although this is becoming more and more commonplace.
Besides this we have the earlier mentioned 'Virtual 3D Surround' option which attempts to recreate the surround sound effect, without the need for additional speakers. Now whilst this does a reasonable job, there can be no match for a real surround sound setup.
I said before I started that this machine would have to do a lot to live up to its £500 price tag, and I can now say, with my hand on my heart, that it easily does so. It offers many features not seen on other machines; top quality video and audio output, very easy use and great build quality.
The one minor issue I have with the Sony is that of its big, bulky remote. The navigation of menus would be so much easier if there were separate directional buttons and an enter key. Having said that, this really is the only issue I can think of.
I'd consider myself fairly critical (my other reviews will back this up), and it is easy to be this way when you are not paying for the equipment in question. However, the Sony DVP-S725D is a player I would buy in a second and would have no qualms about handing over my hard-earned £500 for, it really is that good. Do make sure you go for the modded machine though, because there is no other way to playback DVDs from other regions.
Anyway, consider this my first DVD Times' Seal of Approval review.