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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 1

Guidelines for DVD Equipment

by Philip Ehrensaft / September 2, 2002

Version française...

If you enjoy opera or ballet, now is the time to move over to DVD. The higher technical qualities bring us closer to irreplaceable live performances and the benefits of being able to relive or anticipate performances.

No less than eighty-two opera DVD titles are available in Canada, and this number will increase at a healthy clip. The medium offers distinct visual improvements over VHS and better sound than Hi-Fi VHS. Prices for DVD players and requisite high-resolution televisions have tumbled and the cost of an opera on DVD is often less than an audio CD set since the content is on one disk as opposed to two or three, and it is not necessary to print a libretto.

It is possible to assemble a high quality DVD setup without breaking the bank. Step one is having a television capable of displaying DVD's high-resolution output. This requires a TV with either SVHS ("supervideo") or "component" input jacks. DVDs played via the familiar coaxial cable deliver somewhat better images than VHS, but most of their higher resolution and better colour saturation is lost. Component video yields a slightly better picture than supervideo, so look for a television with component inputs unless you get a very good deal on a unit that has only SVHS.

The 27" screen TV is the most common in today's market; excellent units sell for less than $500. The brands that typically score high in Consumer Report tests for picture quality are Sony, Toshiba, and RCA, although the latter has a problematic repair record.

The audio quality of the television is not a great concern. If you're serious about music, you will channel DVD audio tracks through your sound system or amplified computer speakers (Altec, Lansing and Cambridge Audio are good bets). Your two-channel stereo system will do fine; the "PCM stereo" sound track on DVDs is high quality. Surround sound has compressed, lower quality sound on 5.1 tracks and can be saved for car chases and war flicks.

DVD players fall into three classes: standard single-disk, standard multidisc, and "progressive-scan." The latter, which does not cost much more than standard players, offers resolution and colours verging on lifelike only if you invest in an "HD-ready" television (HD = high definition). These units run from $1500 and up.< /FONT >

A multidisc DVD player is of little benefit to classical music fans unless they have a mad desire to watch the entire Ring Cycle without a single visit to the fridge. A quality single-play unit is sufficient for viewing classical performances. Toshiba, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Hitachi, RCA, JVC, Philips, Pioneer, and Yamaha offer solid models in the $300 to $400 range. Some of China's cheaper Apex brand models are of equal quality.

Some but not all of the DVD players can do double-duty as an entry-level audiophile CD player. Consult the current issue of the British magazine What Hi-Fi, which does a good job testing DVD players for sound quality. Some recommended models are available in North America as well as in Europe. Check whether a unit can also play audio CD-Rs, CD-RWs, and MP3 files.

Above all, use your own eyes and ears to evaluate units. The specific models tested by Consumer Report or What Hi-Fi will usually be replaced by new ones within months. The fact that one model by a given manufacturer rates high is no guarantee that its replacement will be of equal quality.

Version française...

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