Why DVD?

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Media versatility

DVD - Digital Versatile Disc:

Since its arrival in 1983 the CD has completely revolutionised the way we listen to music. Now the DVD, the latest digital disc, is creating a revolution of its own. Delivering picture quality that far surpasses video tape and Dolby Digital surround that truly rivals cinema sound, DVDs are clearly the future for movie-watching at home.

With thousands of DVD titles now available and the number growing daily, buying a DVD player now makes a lot of sense. In fact, unless you record TV shows, there is no reason to buy a VCR. It's important to remember that the majority of DVD players available today do not record - they are just playback-only. Recordable DVD is around, but with four different main formats - DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD+RW and DVD-RW it's best to wait until a definite winner materialises. In Europe, it's a case of the V2000, VHS and Betamax war all over again!

It is also important to note that if your TV is really old, you might not be able to connect up a DVD player. Take a look at the back of your TV set (or front in some cases) to see if you have either a SCART socket (the 21-pin rectangular euro-socket, or a pair of phone sockets, usually coloured red and black). However, if you're using a VCR on it presently the chances are that you'll be able to run a DVD player too. If you've only one SCART socket then there are adaptors around to double, triple or even quadruple the number of connections you can make. Better video connections mean better picture quality. Most DVD players have both composite video and S-video output jacks, but if you have to make a choice between the two, S-video jacks are better. Higher end DVD players come with component video outputs. These are the best you can get.

How much should I spend?

A DVD player's price increases with the number of features. But even the most economical DVD players produce such high quality sound and video that you don't really need a top-of-the-line model. Good DVD players can be found for under 200 euros or £150. But as you add features and upgrade the quality of a player's video and audio outputs, you can spend up to 1500 euros.

When comparing DVD players, it's always important to consider ease of use. Well-designed controls, a universal remote, logical on-screen menus and clear, concise instructions should be a prerequisite. Beyond that, the major distinction between DVD players comes down to features, not picture quality. If you're a film buff, a DVD player that provides smooth slow motion, still-frame zoom and high-speed viewing is a must.

The cheapest players will not have the build quality of the more expensive ones. Picture doesn't improve dramatically until you start looking at 'progressive scan' DVD players - but then you are entering a whole new level of video performance and looking at prices starting around 1000 euros.

What do I need to get surround sound?

You won't believe your ears the first time you experience a blockbuster in Dolby Digital surround. Just about every DVD disc has a 6-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack. But you can't hear it all unless you have a Dolby surround sound receiver and a surround sound speaker package.

You can hook up your regular two-speaker stereo system and movies will sound great. In fact, you must have a stereo receiver, or a stereo TV with audio inputs to hear the soundtrack of a DVD. However, Bang & Olufsen TVs such as the Avant DVD and Beovision 3 either come already with a DSS module (Dolby Surround System) already fitted, else you can buy them as an accessory for use with PowerLink active speakers.

Dolby Digital Sound is the industry standard for DVDs. But some DVDs are recorded in a format called DTS (Digital Theatre System). Both Dolby Digital and DTS are 6-channel audio systems. DTS boasts higher fidelity than Dolby Digital, offering 20-bit audio rather than Dolby Digital's 16-bit audio. This translates into a higher sampling rate and overall better sound. This higher fidelity has its price, however. A DTS soundtrack takes up more space on a disc. DTS-encoded DVDs are typically very spartan when it comes to bonus features commonly offered on Dolby Digital DVDs, such as subtitles and directors' comments. But, most importantly, there are very few DTS movies available.

Nearly all modern DVD players nowadays are able to play DTS sound. But not all receivers will be able to decode it. If you have a receiver with 6-channel direct input, an external DTS decoder or a DVD player with a DTS decoder built in will suffice.

PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) is rarely used nowadays as programmes recorded with this method feature an uncompressed digital stereo soundtrack to give improved fidelity. When played, discrete stereo sound will be heard from the front right and front left speakers.

FORMAT / SPEAKERS / COMMENTS

1.0 1/0 Mono sound - a mono soundtrack is featured encoded to an AC-3 Bitstream. When played through Dolby Digital equipment sound will be heard from the centre channel speaker only

2.0 2/0 Stereo sound - a stereo soundtrack encoded to an AC-3 Bitstream. When played through Dolby Digital equipment, sound will be heard from the front left and front right speakers only

2.0 3/1 The original matrixed Dolby Surround sound. Programmes in 2.0 feature a matrixed surround soundtrack encoded to an AC-3 Bitstream. When played through Dolby Digital equipment, sound will be heard from all five system speakers. The surround sound information (rear) will be monophonic

3.0 3/0 Where a film soundtrack employs three front channels but no surrounds. Used very rarely

4.0 2/2 The classic quadraphonic arrangement intended for speakers positioned in the four corners of a square. There are a few films on DVD presented in this format, but it is most widely used with re-released quadraphonic music such as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. When played through Dolby Digital equipment sound will be heard fro all five system speakers. The surround information will be discrete monophonic

5.0 3/2 The full, modern surround sound format but without using the LFE channel. Often used in music applications. Programmes feature a discrete 5-channel soundtrack encoded to an AC-3 Bitstream. When played through Dolby Digital equipment discrete sound will be heard from all five system speakers

5.1 3/2L As above but with the extra LFE channel. Widely used for most modern film soundtracks, including the Dolby Digital and DTS systems. Programmes feature a discrete 5-channel soundtrack encoded to an AC-3 Bitstream. When played through Dolby Digital equipment discrete sound will be heard from all five system speakers and a sub-woofer

6.1 3/3L This is an arrangement with three rear surround channels plus three frontal channels, plus the LFE channel. It was a format introduced by Dolby for Star Wars Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace and is also referred to as EX (for Dolby-encoded material) or ES (for DTS-encoded material)

7.1 5/2L This format is only used in large-screen cinemas and employs additional loudspeakers between the left-centre and right-centre pairs. The Sony SDDS film format uses this arrangement

10.2 6/4LL This is a configuration proposed by Tom Holman (of Lucasfilm and THX fame), in which two 5.1 systems are used, one at floor level and the other at ceiling level, thereby having the ability to convey height information as well as horizontal surround imaging (making the system 'periphonic')

* LFE = low frequency effects channel (as in a sub-woofer)

What about DVD music discs?

Two new types of music discs are available now and both are based on the DVD format. One is called 'DVD Audio' and the other is 'Super Audio CD'. Both provide 6-channel surround music programs. Both provide incredibly high audio sampling rates for sound quality that surpasses even CDs.

These two competing formats are both vying to replace CDs as the audio format of the future. But there is no telling when that future will come. Format wars are always long and tedious.

Right now, there is only a handful of DVD-Audio and SACD discs available with even fewer players that can play them back. However, new DVD players being released have the DVD-Audio logo on them and the record labels promise more DVD-Audio discs.

SACD has a more difficult task to fulfil. Only Sony, Philips and a couple of others so far support the format. The only SACD players available are expensive and major record labels presently don't seem that interested. However, time as always, sorts out winners and losers. Right now it is impossible to say if either format will be popular with consumers. For many consumers DVDs with Dolby Digital sound tracks and CDs are adequate. A good suggestion would be to look out for DVD-Audio capability if you are buying a new DVD player. On some models, it adds little to the total price and at this stage, the DVD-Audio format appears to winning the war.

What does the .5 signify in the various sound formats?

The reason for the use of the '0.1' term in 5.1 systems is because the LFE channel, which feeds the subwoofer in 5.1 systems, uses a much lower sampling rate than the main channels. The standard sampling rate is 48kHz, but the LFE is sampled at 240Hz (providing a maximum audio bandwidth of 120Hz). This lower rate is 1/200th of the principal rate, or 0.005, but the marketing guys weren't keen on promoting a '5.005' system, hence the simplification to 5.1! In fact, the spectrum from 5-120Hz actually occupies roughly five octaves in the 12-octave span to 20kHz — that is 40 percent of the entire bandwidth!

The almost universally employed '5.1' term, then, refers to that system's five full-bandwidth channels plus its additional, restricted-bandwidth channel. These channels are conventionally described as '3/2L', meaning three independent frontal speaker feeds, two independent rear speaker feeds, and an LFE signal for low-end effects - at least, that is its use in the cinema. In music applications, the use of the LFE channel is open to argument. Many tracks make no use of it at all, although some engineers use the LFE channel to carry elements of the drums and bass. The problem is that this approach can lead to some rather unpredictable results in the home, distorting the balance of the musical instruments if end-users haven't set up their surround system correctly. With LFE effects in films, of course, setting the subwoofer too loud or quiet changes only the relative impact of the film.

The 5.1 format was actually defined as long ago as 1987 (although it didn't become a commercial reality until 1993) and generally requires three full-range speakers across the front of the listener, two behind, and a subwoofer (fed by the so-called low-frequency effects channel or LFE, of which more in a moment). The system, including the requirement for a subwoofer, was essentially derived from the experience gained with the 70mm film format in the cinema.

What other features should I look for?

Once you've found a range of DVD players that meet your needs, consider these other features:

Multi-disc trays - these allow you to load several DVDs into your player at the same time

Parental control - automatically edits objectionable scenes from 18-rated movies so children can watch them

Subtitle capability - this allows a DVD disc to play soundtracks in different languages and to provide subtitles for even more

Different aspect ratios - allowing you to view the picture in either of two size formats - regular TV-size pictures or the wider-screen formats in which movies are shown in cinemas

Zoom - one of the coolest features is that you can pause a crystal-clear frame and zoom in to see the details

Progressive Scan - if you are looking for the best possible picture and you have the spare cash, then look for this feature

Component Video Output - again, this type of output provides the best picture

The progression of VCR to DVD

1981

The Philips VR2020 hits the shops. Based on the Video 2000 system, it offers eight hours of video (four hours per side of a flipover tape). Sony offers 13hr of video recording by attaching an 'Autostacker', which holds four tapes, to the unattended VCR. There is also news of the Video Disc with RCA, JVC and Philips racing to be the first to produce a player. Already, all three are proposing

different formats.

1982

Grundig announces a new V2000 recorder featuring Auto Reverse, which enables the tape to be played or recorded for eight hours, for around £625. While only 9% of UK households own VCRs, the ongoing price battle pushes towards a £299 machine in the near future. The USA gets Super Long Play with 8hr video tapes. Japanese and European manufacturers agree on 8mm video as the format for home movies; JVC launches the first VHS-Compact machine. Coaxial switches are introduced and Channel 4 is launched.

1983

The V2000 format is on its way out, with the sales of VHS and Beta recorders soaring as Japanese manufacturers flood the market with basic VCRs at attractive prices. Video Disc players priced at £199 are sold as part of a launch for the new CED (capacitive electrode disc) format which was developed by RCA and Hitachi. The system uses a stylus to read audio/video information from tiny grooves (in much the same way as a record player). Satellite TV is predicted to be available by 1986.

1984

The CED video disc market is in a mess as RCA ceases production of players in the US and CBS ends CED disc production. Meanwhile, it is hoped that an influx of inexpensive Korean-made VHS decks will bring down home-recorder prices prices even further. Panasonic launches the first hi-fi Stereo VCR in the British market: the VHS NV-850 for £700.

1985

The Sharp double-VHS deck arrives in the UK for £1,000. Kodak announces its KodaVision system: a Panasonic-made 8mm camcorder. But it never reaches the UK. The 8mm format finally arrives when Sony launches its CCD Video 8 camcorder for £1,100. Germany introduces Video Programme System (VPS) codes which automatically reset video timers if programmes are running late. SCART leads are first sold.

1986

The plug is pulled on the V2000 format and 8mm/VHS twin-deck VCRs are on their way, but not until the 1990s. Sanyo admits a trend towards VHS and away from Beta. LCD screens increase to 12,5cm and HDTV is expected within the next three years. ID-TV (Improved Definition TV) is 'top of the pops' in Japan. First reports this year of CD Video comprising a 12cm disc which will be able to store 10min of analogue video pictures and digital sound.

1987

JVC launches its first Super VHS VCR, the HR-S7000, in Japan. It boasts hi-fi sound and promises 400-line resolution for around £1,000. Sony announces its ED (Extra Definition) Beta format which promises an extra 100 lines of resolution, but has never sold outside Japan. Panasonic launches the £449 NV-G21B VCR, which can set the timer using bar codes. Philips formally announces the launch of CD Video and later unveils the £500 CDV-475 combi. Cordless headphones are tested.

1988

Sony finally gives up on the Beta format and succumbs to the power of VHS. There is a European agreement for an S-VHS specification and JVC predicts that S-VHS will take 66 per cent of home video sales by 1992 and 85 per cent by 1997. Philips brings out the CDV 475 for £499, a CD Video player that flops. Sony announces the development of a high-band (Hi8) 8mm video in Japan. The IBA gives its backing to the BBC-invented NICAM stereo system.

1989

Sony's Video Walkman, the GV-8, goes on sale for £800. Sony demonstrates its new Hi8 format with the CCD-V900 camcorder.

ITV kicks off the NICAM-stereo TV transmission trials, while the BBC drops plans to test its own invention! The 'Today' newspaper prints bar codes for VCR recording for use in a short-lived pre-Video Plus Panasonic VCR with a barcode reader built into the remote control. The UK Government outlines plans for a fifth terrestrial channel.

1990

Philips announces a new range of large screen TVs including the 8841, a 41in set for £2, 200 featuring a flat, square, black matrix screen. Dolby develops Dolby 3 Stereo and video games make a comeback with the launch of the Sega Mega Drive.

1991

Programme Delivery Control (PDC) is reported and CD-i (CD Interactive) is ready to launch and is described as having the audio quality of CD plus a host of visual enhancements such as graphics, text and animation. Philips announces its intention to build a large LCD TV, while VideoPlus is set for a Christmas debut and there is a report on the hope of a laser disc rebirth.

1992

At the CES show in Las Vegas, Pioneer announces a re-recordable laser disc, though only for professional/broadcast use. Philips announces plans to launch CD-i in the UK in September, saying between 50 and 100 software titles and a portable player with a 15cm LCD screen will be available. The launch date is brought forward to April and the first demonstration given in June.

JVC announces plans to have a digital VHS on sale in Japan within two years. The UK's first 16:9 television, the Philips' £3,500 8906, is reviewed. The BBC tests widescreen transmissions.

1993

The idea of video on CD moves a step closer as numerous companies sign up to an agreed format based on the MPEG1 digital Full Motion Video (FMV) standard. It allows up to 74min recording.

1994

Philips releases its long-awaited portable CD-i player. Panasonic announces the world's first dedicated Video CD player - the SC-VC10 - offering MPEG1 digital video and digital sound. DVD is announced. Sharp announces the world's largest (51cm) flat screen 'hang-on-the-wall' TV. Digital TV is reported as being 'just around the corner'.

1995

Toshiba prepares for battle with Sony and Philips over DVD. JVC announces plans for digital VHS, claiming DVD will be too expensive. The Hollywood Digital Disc Advisory Group is formed to set a DVD standard. Later comes the first European demo of DVD from Philips and Sony, but war over the format continues - Toshiba, Time Warner, Matsushita and others want a double-sided disc, while Sony and Philips want a single-sided, multilayered disc.

By the year end it is agreed that two ultra-thin discs will be bonded together, with data read from just one side. There will, however, be a two-sided option if necessary. Sony promises digital camcorders this year and wall-hanging plasma TVs by 1996.

1996

DVD runs into trouble, as movie companies put obstacles up over copyright. Thomson announces the launch of a DVD player in October, while Panasonic releases one in Japan, due in the UK in February 1997.

The Japanese Electronics Show in Japan sees a 40in plasma screen as well as 40in and 56in rear-projection sets from Toshiba. Channel 5 is given a broadcasting licence, the BBC warns of analogue switch off and DTS makes a big marketing push in the US.

1997

Panasonic's DVD-A100 - the UK's first DVD player - is on sale in June. Meridian unveils its high-end £2,200 DVD player. Philips plans Digimax, a new recording format with a high-density digital tape. Progressive scan TVs go on sale in the US. Various portable

TVs are launched with surround sound and Sennheiser produces surround sound headphones.

1998

By May there are 50 titles available on DVD, though only 30 are Region 2 and the regional coding debate begins in earnest. Samsung announces the launch of a portable DVD player scheduled for autumn. Pioneer brings out the DVL909, which plays DVD, CD and laser disc. Digital TV broadcasts begin, though few STBs (set-top boxes) are available. A hard disk recorder, TiVo, is shown at the Amsterdam IBC broadcasting convention.

1999

DVD-Audio is in the pipeline, although it has a battle on its hands against SACD. The race to create recordable DVD begins. Panasonic announces that Audio Hard Disk Drive technology will appear later that year. JVC launches its first Digital VHS VCR and Hitachi comes out with the first VCR that will skip ads. Analogue switch off is rumoured to occur before 2010.

2000

Recordable DVD goes on sale in Japan in the shape of Pioneer's DVR-1000 (DVD-RW), while Samsung plans to unveil its DVD-RAM recorder in October. Panasonic postpones the launch of its DVD-Audio player until the end of the year. JVC, however, has its first DVD-Audio deck, the XV-D723G previewed. Sony announces its new Minidisk camcorder while the TiVo hard disk recorder arrives in the UK. Hitachi announces a DVD-RAM camcorder.

2001

Consumers looking for recordable DVD will have three choices by the end of the year: DVD -RAM, DVD+RW and DVD-RW as the +RW and -RW camps fail to unite. DVD Blu-Ray is announced - recordable disc format from Sony capable of storing the equivalent of five DVDs.

Created: 9th January 2007
Modified: 2nd April 2007

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