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Panasonic DVD-RV31 DVD player review

Recommended as an "Excellent Value" by TimeForDVD.com


Panasonic DVD-RV31 in black, click here to see more photos & enlargements
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Manufacturer:

Panasonic
Model: DVD-RV31
Market
introduction:

May 2001
Warrantee: one year parts, 90-day labor
Retail/list price: $180 retail / $250 list
as low as
$99.88 online

Features: A- Video: A- Audio: A- Performance: A-
Ease of use: A Remote: B+ Build quality: B Value: A


Summary: As Panasonic's entry-level DVD player for the 2001 model year, the DVD-RV31 proves to be a solid performer with a good set of basic features at an unbeatable low price.  If you're looking for a solid performing basic DVD player that won't set you back financially, this model is definitely worthy of your consideration.  In fact, we recommend this DVD player as an "excellent value".

 

High Points:

> Excellent value

> Very smooth slow motion and fast scan modes

> CD-R and CD-RW compatibility and decoding for MP3s

 

Low Points:

> Occasional down-conversion artifacts when viewing anamorphic widescreen DVDs with a large 4:3 aspect ratio TV (40" and larger)

> Front-panel LED display is hard to see if this unit is placed higher than eye-level

 


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Introduction

click here to see more photos & enlargementsIn May 2001, Panasonic introduced its model year 2001 entry-level single-disc DVD player, the DVD-RV31.  While this model goes for an affordable retail price of only $180, its host of features seems anything but entry-level.  The DVD-RV31 is not your typical entry-level DVD player when compared to the previous generation of DVD players in this price range and even compared to some of its current model year competitors.  For 2001, Panasonic added CD-R and CD-RW playback compatibility and decoding for the popular MP3 format, easy access front-panel buttons for the "A-B-C-D" features of Panasonic DVD players ("A" for Advanced Virtual Surround Sound, "B" for Bass Plus, "C" for Cinema Mode, and "D" for Dialogue Enhancer), a convenient front-panel shuttle dial for fast scan and slow motion operations, a disc stabilizer feature for reading slightly warped discs, and component video output for the best possible picture.  All that for a model that is $50 less than last year's DVD-RV30.  Finally, to match the looks of your current set-up or furnishings, this model is available in either a black or silver chassis.  See pictures of this model in our photo gallery.

Key Features - Does it have the features I need?

The DVD-RV31 comes with just about all the features you could expect from an entry-level DVD player:

  • single-disc DVD player: plays back DVD-Video, video CD, audio CD, CD-R, CD-RW media

  • program play, random play, repeat play, A-B repeat play, and resume play

  • Dolby Digital and DTS output: for outboard decoding by an A/V receiver

  • dynamic range compression: makes the dynamic range between loud and soft sounds narrower which is more suitable for low volume playback (for late-night viewing)

  • parental lock-out feature: to prevent children from viewing DVDs with certain MPAA ratings (e.g., PG-13, R, etc.)

Then throw in these features, which distinguish this model from its peers:

  • Advanced Virtual Surround Sound (AVSS): a virtual surround sound feature using just a pair of stereo speakers.

  • Bass Plus: allows an active subwoofer to be connected directly to the DVD-RV31 without using a full blown 5.1-channel surround sound receiver and speaker system.

  • Cinema Mode: video equalization with "normal" or "cinema" viewing modes.  The "cinema" mode supposedly enhances shadow detail in dark scenes.

  • Dialogue Enhancer: boosts the dialogue audio signal (center channel information in a Dolby Digital encoded DVD) so that the dialogue can be heard easier over the rest of the soundtrack.

  • disc stabilizer system: a feature that makes playback of slightly warped discs possible.  Without this feature, slight warped discs would be difficult or impossible to read.  It's a nice feature if you plan to rent a lot of DVDs.

  • smooth slow motion and fast scan: one of the smoothest in the industry, with five speeds each in forward and reverse modes.

  • CD-R and CD-RW playback capability and MP3 decoding: record your favorite music and MP3s on CD-R and CD-RWs for hours of non-stop music entertainment.

  • audio during search capability: selects whether you want to hear audio during scan searches

Video Features & Performance - How good is the picture?

Picture Quality.  The picture looks fantastic and sharp on our 27" Sony direct-view TV, using the S-video connection.  The colors are accurate and saturated.  Skin tones are good, as are shadow details.  On our 61" Sony rear projection TV (with conventional 4:3 aspect ratio), details not resolved by the 27" TV are revealed with startling clarity.  Along with the additional visual details are the occasional 4:3 aspect ratio down-conversion picture artifacts.  For example, at the very beginning of Chapter 11 of "Meet Joe Black", the diagonal ceiling supports have a "staircase" jagged edge look to them and the black and white floor tiles seem to be pixelated.  As the camera continues to pan down from the ceiling, the black and white tiles seem to undulate.  On the 27" TV, these down-conversion and motion artifacts are not visible.  As another test, we watched for the same effect in "Men In Black" Chapter 8 (at time counter 29:20), when Agents Jay and Kay walk down the hall and the white circular light fixtures on the ceiling moves down the screen behind them as they walk forward.  The "staircase" jagged edge effect around the outline of the light fixtures are much smoother.  In fact, the picture looks smoother than some of the other DVD players we reviewed in the recent past.  So the performance of 4:3 aspect ratio down-conversion processing varies, depending on the material.  Though we didn't test the DVD-RV31 with a widescreen 16x9 aspect ratio TV, we expect the picture quality to be much better when viewing anamorphic widescreen (i.e., "enhanced for 16x9 TVs") DVDs.  Certainly on a widescreen TV, you wouldn't expect to see any of these 4:3 aspect ratio down-conversion picture artifacts.  

Editor's Note: With respect to 4:3 aspect ratio down-conversion artifacts, the Sony DVD players tend to fare better due to their 4-tap video filtering feature.  Some reviewers don't like the soft picture quality of the 4-tap filter, but we find it much more pleasing when using a large 4:3 aspect ratio TV.  Again, this is only an issue when viewing an anamorphic widescreen DVD with a very large TV (40" or larger).  For TVs less than 40", these artifacts are less likely to be an issue.

Slow Motion, Fast Scan, and Frame-by-Frame Advance.  Panasonic DVD players have one of the smoother slow motion and fast scan picture in the industry.  The picture remains clear and steady during both operations.  This makes using the slow motion and fast scan features pleasurable.  Fast scan has five speeds in either forward or reverse, up to 100x.  Slow motion is available in five speed increments as well, in both forward and reverse.  You can also advance the picture frame-by-frame by repeatedly pressing the pause button.

Video Processing. As with all Panasonic DVD players, the "Cinema Mode" video equalization processing can be set to "normal" or "cinema".  Though Panasonic touts the "cinema" mode for its more film-like look and better shadow detail when viewing movies, we actually prefer to use the "normal" setting for all types of DVDs, movies or otherwise.

Audio Features & Performance - How good does it sound?

DVD Multi-Channel Playback. For DVD playback, we connected the DVD-RV31 to our Sony STR-V444ES receiver using the Toslink optical digital audio connection.  Multi-channel movie soundtracks, both Dolby Digital and DTS, were reproduced with amazing clarity and enveloped us in a seamless sound field.  Admittedly, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the surround sound performance of the DVD-RV31.  It sounds remarkably good for a DVD player at this price range.

DVD Stereo Playback.  If you don't have a multi-channel surround sound set up, you can use the AVSS feature with your stereo system or your TV's stereo speakers.  This feature simulates the effects of a surround sound system with just a pair of stereo speakers.  If you're using your TV's stereo speakers, just make sure you turn off the TV's own simulated or enhanced stereo sound field feature.  AVSS makes the sound field much wider than just regular stereo.  It's a pretty nice effect if you don't have a real surround sound system, though it does not come close to having a real multi-channel surround sound system.

Audio CD Reproduction. For music reproduction, we tried both the stereo analog connection and the optical digital audio connection to our receiver, and with both types of connections the sound was really good.  The sound has good tonal qualities and is well-balanced with deep bass extension.  Imaging is good.  Overall, we were quite pleased with the audio quality of the DVD-RV31.  It proves to be a capable single-disc CD player.  So much so that it was a pleasure listening to our set of test audio CDs.

CD-R, CD-RW, and MP3s. On top of everything we had just mentioned, the DVD-RV31 is one of the new DVD players to feature CD-R and CD-RW compatibility as well as MP3 decoding (a lossy, compressed audio format made popular by CD-R drives and the internet).  Put in a CD-R or CD-RW with MP3 files, and the unit plays back those music titles without issue or problem.  Songs are played back by the order of the filename: files with first characters consisting of numbers first, then alphabetical.  Be aware that for CD-RWs recorded in multiple sessions, this unit can only playback those recordings made in the first session.  Be aware that music reproduction from these MP3 files are limited by the recording/encoding bit rate.  Anything recorded with less than 128 kbps will sound degraded.  For a high fidelity home audio system, I would recommend MP3s encoded at no less than 256 kbps data rate.  Anything less would mean too much compression was used at the cost of sound fidelity.  And while we prefer the sound quality from uncompressed audio CDs (as in a PCM bitstream), we can appreciate the appeal and convenience of MP3 playback of custom-made CD-Rs and CD-RWs on a home audio or home theater system.

Disc Performance - How well does it handle the discs?

The DVD-RV31 performs quite nicely.  Additionally, the disc stabilizer system is supposed to make slightly warped discs easier to read.  This feature should come in handy if you rent a lot of DVDs, as rental discs can be badly handled.

Navigation. When navigating through the various DVD menus, the DVD-RV31 is pretty responsive.  It's not as fast as some of the top performing and higher-end DVD players, but the response times are average to above average for DVD players in this price category.  This makes navigating through the various DVD menus a quick and efficient process. 

Layer Switch.  In our layer switch tests, this model exhibits good performance in switching between layers of a dual-layered DVD disc.  Most layer switches are noticeable to some extent in any DVD player.  Like many DVD players, the picture is momentarily paused for about a full second as the DVD-RV31's laser automatically re-focuses on the second layer.

DVD Angle Change. Using the scene deconstruction featurette in the bonus features section of the "Men In Black" Collector's Edition DVD, we were able to verify that the DVD angle change feature performs smoothly and with a lag time of less than one second from the time we selected a new angle to the time that new angle is displayed.  This is about as fast as we've seen from the fastest of DVD players.

Ease of Use - Is it easy to set-up & use everyday?

The DVD-RV31 is easy to use.  Simple as that.  The operating instructions are well-written with clear and helpful diagrams.  (To get the most of this unit, do read the user manual.)  Most common settings have reasonable default factory values, making the set-up process quick and painless for most consumers.

Initial Set Up. For those with the conventional 4:3 aspect ratio TVs, you can skip the first-time set-up menus altogether due to very logical default settings.  If you have a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio TV or if you want to re-configure the options, simply press the "Action" button on the remote control and the graphical, icon-based menu helps guide you through the configuration of of the DVD player.  Settings such as TV aspect ratio, parental lock setting, desired audio track setting, the default subtitle selection, menu language selection can be set using this menu.  Once you've completed this initial configuration, you shouldn't have to do it again.

Everyday Use. In everyday use, you can change most settings and navigate directly using the dedicated buttons on the remote control.  As an alternative to using the dedicated buttons on the remote, you can bring up the icon-based on-screen display by pressing the "Display" button, view the status of various settings, and change them using the cursor (e.g., up/down and right/left) control buttons.  Yet another option is to use the front-panel buttons.  In any case, the method is simple and straightforward, thanks to the intuitive icons and user-friendly on-screen menu system.

shuttle dial, click here to see more photos & enlargementsThe front panel sports a fair number of buttons (e.g., play, pause, stop, skip/search, Advanced Virtual Surround Sound (AVSS), Bass Plus, Cinema Mode, and Dialogue Enhancer) making it easier to operate the unit without the remote.  The shuttle dial button can be used to perform fast scan searches easily.  The more you turn the knob in either direction, the faster the scan search is performed in that direction.  The circular knob is spring loaded so that the dial returns to its center and neutral position when you let go, and playback resumes at normal speed.  Pretty nifty, huh?

One thing to watch out for is the front-panel's wedge-shaped LED display.  While it adds style to what would have been a boring front panel, this design feature makes it difficult to see the LED display when the DVD player is placed well above eye level, since the display shows through the upper half of the bevel.  If you have a large rear projection TV and you stack your components high on top of the TV, it may be hard to read the front-panel display if the unit sits higher than eye level.  Fortunately though, the remote control works fine from any angle.

Remote Control

remote control, click here to see more photos & enlargementsSpeaking of which, the remote control is medium in size and has logical button groupings.  The remote's frequently-used disc transport buttons (e.g., play, stop, pause) and menu navigation buttons (e.g., arrow and enter buttons) are located on the upper half of the remote and are easily operated with just one finger.  The buttons are marked with only one color, white.  The only exception is the power button which is marked in red.  Some competitive models' remote controls use multi color-coded buttons to clearly designate different groupings of buttons which enhances readability.  Lastly, the remote control can't be used to control other audio or video components (such as a receiver or TV, Panasonic or otherwise).

Video & Audio Outputs - Does it have all the outputs I need?

The DVD-RV31 comes with just about all the different outputs you could need:

  • component video output: for the best picture quality, use these if your TV has component video inputs.

  • S-video output: your second choice for a good video connection.

  • composite video output: use this if your TV does not have any of the above types of video inputs.

  • optical digital audio output (Toslink): use this to connect the DVD-RV31 to an A/V receiver with Dolby Digital and/or DTS decoding.

  • stereo audio analog output: use this to connect to your TV or Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound receiver.

  • subwoofer output: an RCA output used to connecting an active subwoofer directly from this DVD player.

Though it lacks a coaxial digital audio output, you should be able to use the optical digital audio output instead.

Build Quality - How well is it made?

The build quality appears to be about average for a product in this price range.  The unit comes with a one year parts and 90-day labor warrantee, which is comparable to other models in this price range.

Competitive Models & Value - How does this model compare?

We're pretty impressed with the overall feature, performance, and value combination of the Panasonic DVD-RV31.  And we believe that you'll have to look pretty hard to find a better value.  Unless you demand the very best in picture quality that DVD has to offer and other bells and whistles, with this Panasonic you're getting a brand-name model loaded with the features you can use at an unbeatable "entry-level" price.  But so you would know, this unit compares price-wise to the Sony DVP-NS300, Pioneer DV-343, Toshiba SD-2700, and JVC XV-S45GD/JVC XV-S40BK.  All of these units retail for about $180.  The Sony DVP-NS300 does not feature CD-R/CD-RW and MP3 compatibility.  You would have to step up to the Sony DVP-NS400D ($250 retail) for CD-R/CD-RW capability but would still not have the MP3 decoding capability.  The Pioneer DV-343 does offer CD-R/CD-RW compatibility but (again) no MP3 decoding.  See why we think the DVD-RV31 is such a terrific value?

Before you decide to go with the Panasonic DVD-RV31, there are others features to consider that the DVD-RV31 doesn't have, in case these features are important to you:

As a final note, if you want the convenience of a 5-disc DVD/CD carousel changer, take a look at the Panasonic DVD-CV51.  It has the same features as the DVD-RV31, but adds the convenience of a 5-disc carousel changer so you can put in 5 DVDs and audio CDs (in any combination), for only about $50 more ($230 retail).

Conclusion

The Panasonic DVD-RV31 proves to be a solid entry-level performer and an excellent value.  You'll have to look pretty hard to find another model to beat this one's winning combination of features, performance, and value.  We are giving the Panasonic DVD-RV31 our emphatic nod of approval and putting it on our list of recommended DVD players as a DVD player with "excellent value".

Availability & Price - Where can I buy this model & for how much?

This model is available in either a black or silver chassis, and can be bought just about anywhere for about $180.  If you buy online, please consider supporting this site by starting here and clicking through one of our links below:

> $99.88 @ Amazon.com & free shipping (black), free shipping!
> $149.88 @ Amazon.com & free shipping (silver), free shipping!
> $169.92 @ BestBuy.com
> $169.99 @ JandR.com
> $179.99 @ Buy.com

Other Information

Summary of Features: single-disc DVD player; plays DVD-Video, audio CD, video CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 decoding; Dolby Digital and DTS output; virtual surround sound mode; dialogue enhancer; Cinema mode (for enhancing shadow detail); black level mode (when using component video outputs); fast scan (forward and reverse); slow motion (forward and reverse); resume play, repeat play, A-B repeat play, random play, and program play modes; dynamic range compression; PCM down conversion; audio during search; parental lock-out feature; interlaced video via component video, S-video, and composite video outputs; optical digital audio output; stereo analog audio output; (active) subwoofer output.

Specifications: frequency response 4 Hz - 22 kHz (48 kHz sampling) and 4 Hz - 44 kHz (96 kHz sampling) for DVD PCM audio, for CD audio 4 Hz - 20 kHz; signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio 115 dB for CD audio; dynamic range 102 dB for DVD with PCM audio, 98 dB for CD audio; total harmonic distortion (THD) 0.0025% for CD audio; power consumption 14 Watts (2 Watts standby mode); dimensions 16 15/16" (W) x 9 3/4" (D) x 3 1/4" (H); weight 5.7 pounds; warrantee one year parts, 90-day labor; made in Japan.

Contact Information: Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company, One Panasonic Way, Secaucus, NJ 07094.  Call toll-free 1-800-211-PANA (7262).  Panasonic DVD web site.

Associated equipment used in evaluation: Sony KP-61V45 61" rear projection TV (4:3 screen aspect ratio), Sony KV-27V66 27" TV (4:3 screen aspect ratio), Sony STR-V444ES A/V receiver, NHT 2.1 as left/right main speakers, NHT 1.1C center channel speaker, NHT SuperZero as surround speakers, Monster Cable M-series S-Video cable MSV-500, Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 100 (Toslink) optical cable, and Monster Cable XP speaker wires.  Our home theater equipment was calibrated with the Video Essentials DVD.

DVD movies and audio CDs used in testingGladiator DVD, Mission: Impossible 2 DVD, Men In Black DVD, Meet Joe Black DVD, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace soundtrack CD, Celine Dion's "The Colour of My Love" DVD, Gloria Estefan's "Destiny" CD, and Music from the Motion Picture Titanic CD.

Review originally posted on July 11, 2001.

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In This Review:

 

> Photo Gallery

> Introduction

> Key Features

> Video Features & Performance

> Audio Features & Performance

> Disc Performance

> Ease of Use

> Remote Control

> Video & Audio Outputs

> Build Quality

> Competitive Models & Value

> Conclusion

> Availability &  Price

> Other Information

 


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