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FAQs about buying a DVD player

Answers to your questions about DVD & home theater...


Click on the question to read our answer:

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What should I look for in a DVD player?

To learn what you should look for in a DVD player, read our DVD Player Buying Guide and look at our DVD player comparison charts (with an explanation of comparison terms at the bottom of each chart).

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Should I buy a single-disc or multi-disc DVD player?

If you have a CD changer and enjoyed the convenience of using one, chances are you'll also enjoy the convenience of a DVD/CD changer as well.  You can mix any combination of DVDs and audio CDs for non-stop movie and music enjoyment.  There are two and three-disc changers in a multi-tray format, five and six-disc changers in a carousel format, and even 200 to 301 disc mega-changers or jukeboxes.  With some of the carousel and mega-changers, you can add a second mega-changer for instantaneous access of up to 602 DVD and CD titles!  These models offer the ultimate in convenience, but generally they do cost a bit more than a comparably equipped single-disc player model.  Look for the "Capacity" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table). 

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What is component video and do I need this feature?

Component video is the best way to connect your DVD player to your TV, assuming both devices have this feature.  It provides the best picture quality possible, since the component signals making up the video are transmitted separately in three separate wires.  Note, component video is not the same as RGB input/output.  Read more about component video here and read our DVD Player Buying Guide.  Look for the "Component video" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).

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What is Dolby Digital and do I need this feature?

Dolby Digital is a surround sound format that supports up to 5.1 channels of discrete multi-channel sound.  Since Dolby Digital is part of the DVD standard, all DVD players support Dolby Digital in at least one of two ways.  First, DVD players with digital audio output(s) allow you to connect the output of the "raw" digital audio signal to an outboard decoder, typically a function of a receiver or pre-amplifier.  Second, DVD players may optionally have a built-in Dolby Digital decoder.  In this case, the DVD player decodes the digital audio signal into 5.1-channel Dolby Digital analog audio which is output through 5.1 analog outputs (RCA jacks).  This 5.1 channel analog output can be plug straight into a "Dolby Digital" -ready or "5.1-channel" -ready receiver.  Unless you already have a "Dolby Digital" -ready or "5.1-channel" -ready receiver, I would recommend going with a DVD player without built-in Dolby Digital decoding.  This function is better left to a receiver or pre-amplifier.  DVD players without the built-in Dolby Digital decoder is general a bit less expensive.  Read more about Dolby Digital here and read our DVD Player Buying Guide.  Look for the "Dolby Digital" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).

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What is DTS Digital Surround and do I need this feature?

DTS Digital Surround is a surround sound format that supports up to 5.1 channels of discrete multi-channel sound.  Though it competes with Dolby Digital, DTS is an optional surround sound format that offers audio encoding at higher data rates.  Many home theater enthusiasts and industry experts have claimed that DTS is superior to Dolby Digital as a movie soundtrack format.  If you enjoy the wonders of movie soundtracks and surround sound, we recommend that you look for a DVD player that supports DTS Digital Surround.  The majority of current DVD players support the DTS format by providing a digital audio output.  Using this output, you can hook up a DTS-capable receiver or pre-amplifier to enjoy premium surround sound.  A few DVD players offer on-board DTS decoding, but this is only useful if you have a "5.1-channel" -ready receiver.  Read more about DTS here and read our DVD Player Buying Guide.  Look for the "dts" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).

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What is CD-R and CD-RW compatibility and do I need this feature?

CD-R and CD-RW are recordable and recordable/re-writable audio CD formats, respectively.  You can make your own recordable audio CDs using either a CD-R or CD-RW computer drive or dedicated recorder deck.  Some DVD players offer CD-R compatibility and therefore can playback CD-R discs.  A few DVD players offer CD-RW compatibility.  If you have interest in making your own audio CD-Rs or CD-RWs, then play attention to this feature.  There is a new specification called MultiPlay that is suppose to ensure compatibility of CD-R and CD-RW media across recordable computer drives, dedicated recordable decks, and consumer DVD players.  Look for the MultiPlay logo some time later in the year 2001.  Also see CD-R and CD-RW.  Look for the "CD-R" or "CD-RW" designation under the "Audio CD" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).

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How can I find a DVD player that plays back CD-Rs and CD-RWs with MP3 audio?

If you want to play back CD-R and CD-RW discs that have MP3 audio files, look for a DVD player that is CD-R and/or CD-RW compatible and features MP3 decoding.  You can use our DVD player comparison charts (specifically the Basic Features comparison chart) to look for such DVD player models.  Here's how: (1) click on this link, (2) look for "Yes" under the "MP3" column, and (3) look for the "CD-R" or "CD-RW" designation under the "Audio CD" column.  For example, our Basic Features comparison chart currently lists these models: Aiwa XD-DV370 and Harman Kardon DVD50.  Based on some initial reports (like this one from DVD File) on the 2001 International Consumer Electronics Show (ICES), there should be a lot more models coming out from the major DVD manufacturers (e.g., Sony, Pioneer, Toshiba, Panasonic, JVC) starting in March 2001 that will support this MP3 audio on CD-R/CD-RW functionality.  Also see our answer to the question above concerning CD-R and CD-RW compatibility.

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What is Video CD compatibility and do I need this feature?

Video CD is a video disc format that uses MPEG-1 video compression and is physically based on the audio CD disc that is popular in Asia (particularly China).  Most DVD players can also playback Video CDs.  Unless you have an interest in Asian Video CD titles, you really don't need this feature, though most DVD players can playback this format.  Look for the "Video CD" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).

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What is HDCD compatibility and do I need this feature?

HDCD is stands for High Definition Compatible Digital.  It is an enhancement to audio CDs to effective increase the word length and sampling rate.  If you plan to listen to HDCD-enhanced audio CDs, then consider buying a HDCD compatible DVD player.  We reviewed two DVD players that have this capability: Toshiba SD-2200 and the Mitsubishi DD-6000.  Look for the "HDCD" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).

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What is DVD-Audio and do I need this feature?

DVD-Audio is a brand new high-resolution, multi-channel (up to 6 discrete audio channels) audio format based on the DVD physical medium.  The DVD-Audio format includes a lossless multi-channel audio encoding scheme called MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing), originally developed by Meridian.  The DVD-Audio format was originally scheduled to come out Summer 2000, but due to copyright protection issues, its debut was postponed until Fall of 2000.  Currently there are quite a few DVD-Audio/Video players (these players can also play DVD-Video titles).  DVD-Audio software titles are still very small in number, around 100 or so (as of December 2001).  It remains to be seen if this format will really catch on with mainstream "everyday" consumers.  For more information, read our DVD-Audio Tutorial.

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What is DVD-Universal and do I need this feature?

DVD-Universal player is another name for a DVD-Audio/Video player.  These units can play both the DVD-Video format and DVD-Audio format.  So far, all DVD-Audio players can also play DVD-Video titles, so DVD-Universal is just another name for DVD-Audio players and DVD-Video/Audio players.  Look for the "DVD-Audio" column in our DVD player comparison charts (Basic Features table).  If it says "Yes", the that model is a DVD-Universal player.

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What is region code and why would I care about it?

   The DVD format introduced the concept of region code so that content providers (e.g., movie studios) can control where they release their copyrighted material.  Basically, the world is divided up into regions:
       Region 1: North America (including United States and Canada) 
       Region 2: Western Europe and Japan 
       Region 3: Southeast Asia 
       Region 4: South America and Australia  
       Region 5: Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia 
       Region 6: China

       Region 0: all regions
   The region code(s) of a DVD title is embedded in its digital data.  To playback a DVD title released in "region 1", you need a "region 1" DVD player.  DVD players with other than "region 1" cannot playback the "region 1" DVD title.  Similarly, if a DVD title is released with region codes 1 and 2, only DVD players with "region 1" or "region 2" can playback this title.  A "region 0" DVD title can be played back on any DVD player. 
   How does this affect you the consumer?  Well, if you live in the United States or Canada, the DVD player you buy will be "region 1".  That means you can only playback "region 1" and "region 0" DVD titles.  There are some multi-region DVD players (those that can play more than one DVD region codes) and even region-free DVD players (those that can play DVDs with any region code).  Many of these multi-region and region-free DVD players are altered as after-market models by third-party vendors.  Chances are during the alteration process, these third-party vendors have voided the manufacturer warrantee.
   Why was region code ever invented?  Often times, a U.S. movie is release to DVD in the U.S. (region 1) prior to its theatrical release abroad.  It takes time for the studios to produce a foreign language version of the same film.  To protect the revenues it hopes to generate from foreign box offices, movie studios use region coding to restrict distribution and viewing outside of "region 1" until it has realized its foreign box office potential.  For this reason, major manufacturers of DVD players do not make multi-region or region-free DVD players.  And so the majority (if not all) multi-region and region-free DVD players are modified after-market, as we mentioned above.
   Also see the answer to our next question on Region Code Enhancement (RCE).

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What is Region Code Enhancement (RCE) and why would I care about it?

   Region Code Enhancement (RCE) is just that, an enhancement to the region code idea.  In our answer to the previous question, we discussed that there are region-free DVD players that have been modified after-market by third-party vendors to evade the region code restriction.  To counter that, the DVD format now includes a stricter mechanism called Region Code Enhancement.  The region code is now embedded in the digital bitstream so it becomes harder to foil by region-free DVD players.  Reportedly, the first region 1 DVD title to use RCE is "The Patriot".
   How does this affect you the consumer?  Well, if you are hoping to by a region-free DVD player, just watch out for RCE.  It could potentially foil your efforts.  
   Why was region code ever invented?  Often times, a U.S. movie is release to DVD in the U.S. (region 1) prior to its theatrical release abroad.  It takes time for the studios to produce a foreign language version of the same film.  To protect the revenues it hopes to generate from foreign box offices, movie studios use region coding to restrict distribution and viewing outside of "region 1" until it has realized its foreign box office potential.  When you think about it, the studios do own their movies.  So they do have the right to distribute them in any way they see fit.  Until the studios have enough staff and budget to simultaneously release a movie theatrically worldwide (with all of the foreign language dubbing), we'll have to sit patiently until it becomes available in our neck of the woods.  We know, that's easier said than done.

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What is progressive scan and do I need this feature?

   Progressive scanning is the ability to generate a picture in one pass (as with a computer monitor). Conventional interlaced scanning requires two passes to generate a picture, the first pass for the odd-numbered scan lines, the second for the even-numbered scan lines. Conventional analog TV as we know it is interlaced scanning with a (complete picture) refresh rate of 30 times per second, while progressive scanning is twice that at 60 times per second.
   A progressive scan capable DVD player outputs a progressive scan component video signal that has 480 lines of horizontal resolution (480p). (The "p" is for progressive scan.) When matched with a TV that is capable of progressive scanning and accepts a 480p signal (some of the new digital TVs), the resulting picture is virtually flicker-free and has far fewer motion artifacts (e.g., jagged edges). If you're planning to buy a digital TV, look for 480p component video inputs and consider buying a progressive scan DVD player. A progressive scan DVD player can output a conventional interlaced picture so you can use it today with your current TV and upgrade later to a digital TV with 480p input.

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Should I buy an extended warrantee or service plan with my DVD player?

   In general, we don't think that buying an extended warrantee or service plan for your DVD player is a cost-effective idea.  Sure, store salespeople will try to convince you that you'll need one, that bad things may happen, or that your DVD player (i.e., drive mechanism and laser) will require periodic maintenance.  Chances are with proper use and reasonable care, your DVD player will perform flawlessly for years, even without professional periodic maintenance.
   Many of the entry-level DVD players come with a one-year parts, 90-day labor manufacturer warrantee.  If you feel better with a full one-year warrantee on parts and labor, we suggest that you go with a better DVD player that comes with a longer manufacturer warrantee.  In addition to the peace of mind afforded by the longer manufacturer warrantee, you'll generally get a better engineered and better built DVD player (otherwise, the manufacturer wouldn't put on the longer warrantee, right?) that probably comes with some additional features that may increase your level of enjoyment.  At least you're getting something tangible for your added investment.  With an extended warrantee, you're buying insurance instead of getting a better product.
   Finally, make sure you use a surge protector to protect your new DVD player and the rest of the home theater system from electrical surges.  See our answer to the question immediately below.

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What accessories should I consider?

We recommend that you consider the following accessories with your DVD player purchase:
   (1) A quality brand-name S-video or component video cable to connect your DVD player to your TV.  Some DVD players may provide an S-video cable, but buy one that is gold-plated for best performance.  We recommend the Monster Cable brand's line of "Video 3" S-video and component video cables.  These cables are available online at Amazon.com, 800.com, Buy.com, and Crutchfield.
   (2) If you have a Dolby Digital or DTS receiver or pre-amplifier, don't forget to buy a quality brand-name Toslink or coaxial digital audio cable.  We recommend the Monster Cable brand's line of "LightSpeed-100" Toslink digital audio cables.  These cables are available online at Amazon.com, 800.com, Buy.com, and Crutchfield.
   (3) A quality brand-name surge protector to protect your DVD player and home theater equipment (e.g., TV, receiver, VCR, CD player, etc.) from electrical surges.  We recommend the MonsterPower brand (from Monster Cable) and APC (American Power Conversion) brand's line of "SurgeArrest" products.

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