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Your PS2 DVD Player Vs. The Competition
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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Sony
date posted: 12:00 AM Mon Oct 30th, 2000
last revision: 12:00 AM Mon Oct 30th, 2000

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By Jeremy Kauffman

So, as I was standing in line at 6:00 a.m., waiting for Big K to open and deliver me my PS2 booty, the hot topic amongst the fellow first-come-first-servers was DVD. None of us doubted the PS2 game system would be hot, but for many people DVD playback was what brought them out to brave hypothermia, and risk social rejection for years to come. (Hey, camping out for a PS2 is a hell of a lot cooler than doing the same for a Furby?you can't even give those things away anymore!) I have to admit I was skeptical.

Let me qualify that last statement, and this entire article for that matter, by saying that I am an electronics junkie, and a cinephile, and have been an avid DVD supporter for some time. Operational menus, wide-screen formatting, Dolby Digital 5.1, multiple discs with documentaries, storyboards, deleted scenes, and commentary tracks?excuse me while I tilt my head back and drool like Homer Simpson thinking about strawberry-sprinkled doughnuts. Anyway, I have pieced together a high-end digital surround sound system that I am proud of, and I didn't cheap out on my DVD player either. I have seen those $179 no-name players overload, shut down, and eject their discs because they couldn't process information fast enough to play a packed DVD and operate a menu at the same time. So far as I have seen, you pay for what you get, and DVD being the best format on the market, it is a shame to waste it. Sony was going to have to work to impress this reviewer.

They impressed me. The short of it is this: the PS2 has all of the DVD hardware and peripherals you would want, aside from a composite audio/video connection (the red/green/blue connection). It has all of the basic features that make DVD such an impressive format, and a couple of extras. And its playback capabilities look good, sound good, and are comparable to most consumer grade DVD players within about $50-$100 of its cost (remember, you are paying for the game system as well). The long of it is as follows, and for those of you aren't "in the know" with this stuff (and those of you I lost long before my Homer Simpson simile), I will try to explain all of the jargon.

Let's start with the hardware itself, and available peripherals. All DVD players connect to your TV or Amplifier via audio/video cables (those cables with the yellow, red, and white connections that you are probably used to by now) or an S-video cable (a better connection that allows separate color and brightness signals to be transmitted). Any DVD player worth its salt (and many aren't) can also connect to an Amplifier or Digital Decoder via an optical fiber cable, which will allow you to listen to your DVD's in digital surround sound.

Okay, the PS2 is able to do all of these things. It comes with the audio/video cables. S-video and optical fiber cables are sold separately. The S-video cables are highly recommended as they greatly enhance your picture quality, especially around the edges where shimmering can occur. The optical fiber cable will be useless unless you have a digital-surround capable Amplifier and/or Decoder. A nice feature of the PS2 is that it is capable of playing both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio (both of which allow you to listen to the soundtrack on 6 discrete channels for front, center, and rear speakers and a subwoofer, but are formatted differently). Your average Wal Mart special won't do that. And those composite connections I mentioned earlier? They are just another connection which is better still than S-video, but only a handful of high-end TV's and DVD players have them, so odds are you won't miss them. Out of the box, the PS2 uses the game controller to operate the DVD player, and it will suffice, but there are remote controls available right now that are pretty cheap. The remote eye simply plugs into the controller slot and it will save some hassle, not to mention look snazzier.

*A note on set-up: if you are short on audio/video connection jacks, i.e. your TV has only one set of jacks and your VCR is already plugged into it, you cannot run your PS2, or any DVD player, through the extra set on your VCR. What happens is the VCR connection sets off the copy coding on the DVD player (just like the copy coding on sell-through or rental videocassettes) and the system will perform poorly, if at all. If this is the case, you will have to find a way around it, possibly with an audio/video splitter.

As far as features go, the PS2 holds its own. DVD's allow you not only to watch the movie, but to have a "movie experience" as well. Most DVD's are set up with operational menus where you can select the audio, language, and viewing features, play the movie, scroll through chapters (like CD's, DVD movies are divided into selectable tracks, usually individual scenes, that you can select without having to fast forward or rewind) and view special features. Special features might include trailers, deleted scenes, blooper reels, documentaries, or director's commentary tracks that narrate the movie-making process. This is the format at its best. The PS2 has no problems handling all of this information and has clear, smooth pause, search, and slow motion features as well. It has a control panel menu with more advanced features. These features include display setup, screen set up (4:3 letterbox for regular TV's and 16:9 for HDTV's), picture setup (primarily Digital Noise Reduction and Outline Sharpening, which allow you to "clean up" transfers of older movies but has little effect on newer movies), audio setup, angle options (some DVD's, especially concert videos, are recorded with multiple angles so you can view them from whatever angle you prefer), subtitles, parental control, and a few others. All of these are pretty standard. Some features that you may miss are a zoom, multi-speed playback, and frame-by-frame advance, but these are all gravy. The only integral features that they left out are picture controls such as brightness, contrast, sharpness, and intensity. These would have done a world of good towards making the PS2 compare to higher-quality, higher-priced DVD players.

Which brings me to the big test. I didn't want to just take the picture and sound quality of the PS2 at face value. Yes, it looks and sounds good, especially if you are used to VHS (for all of you who are new to DVD, your VHS tapes are about to sound as bad as 8-tracks, trust me), but how does it really compare to other DVD players? Well, it would be unfair to compare it to my high-end Marantz DVD player; they are not even in the same league. So, I took my PS2 down to the local electronics store and compared it side-by-side to component DVD players, primarily Sony's from $249.99-$349.99 (you can call this the control group), playing the same chapters of the same DVD's on an A-B flipper. The PS2 held up okay, though it did pale a bit when it came to picture brightness and rendering flesh tones (both of which could have been cleared up with the picture control features I mentioned earlier), and occasionally it had some shimmering edges. However, this is all very picky behavior on my part and both my friend, who is co-owner of the electronics store, and myself were satisfied with the PS2's performance.

In other words, if you were looking at your typical department store brand DVD players (say, in the $179.99-$249.99 range), the PS2 is just as good if not better. If you are just planning on hooking the PS2 to your TV, it will blow your mind. If you plug it into your stereo, even better. If you are looking to join it with a high-end system, you will not be disappointed in what is there, but may find it lacking compared to some of the fancier stuff that is on the market right now. All in all, your PS2 is one fine DVD player, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.