- Review Price: £49.99
There was a time when 1080p upscaling was only found on expensive high-end DVD players, but now it’s as common as progressive scan or MP3 playback. Upscaling players are getting cheaper all the time, which is great news considering the growing number of Full HD flat-panel TV sets on the market, as it means you can prolong the life of your DVD collection without having to pay through the nose.
The DVP3980/05 is a perfect example of how ubiquitous the feature has become. The player, which sits between the DVP5980 and DVP3120/05 in the company’s range, costs around £50 but can upscale DVDs to 720p, 1080i and 1080p and offers a decent range of other features that could make it a real bargain if performance is up to scratch.
After pulling the player out of the box, the most striking aspect is just how light and compact it is. The case measures just 36cm wide and 3.7cm high, which means it’ll slip into your AV cabinet virtually unnoticed, and makes it a prime candidate for kitchen or bedroom use. Despite not having much to work with, Philips has fashioned an attractive unit with an all black finish and minimal fascia that includes just four buttons, plus a basic four-digit display panel. One notable absentee from the front panel is a USB port, which limits its multimedia potential to CDs and DVDs, but if you want this connection it can be found on the step-up DVP5980.
As for rear connections, flat-panel TV owners should head straight for the HDMI output, which delivers upscaled pictures and can also be used to pass Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams to an AV receiver. The socket also supports Easy Link, Philips’ HDMI CEC application that lets you control the player using the remote from a compatible Philips TV or other HDMI-equipped device.
For those unable to use HDMI, the deck provides analogue alternatives in the shape of component video output and an RGB-capable SCART. On the audio side, there’s a coaxial digital audio output and stereo audio output.
The DVP3980/05 is DivX Ultra certified, which means it’ll play all versions of the format, including video-on-demand, plus other features like subtitles, multiple audio languages, multiple tracks and menus. Other supported file formats include MP3, WMA and JPEG, and with the latter, the files are displayed in high resolution, without the loss of clarity that normally occurs when watching photos on a DVD player.
As for discs, the drive reads DVD+RW, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD-R, CD-R, CD-RW, Video CD and Super Video CD, but the low price rules out SACD playback (apart from the CD layer on hybrid discs, of course).
Other features include an effective zoom mode, which blows up the picture to 4x its normal size without greatly reducing the quality of the image, and can also shrink the image to a quarter of its normal size. Elsewhere the deck gives you a pleasing level of control over DVD playback, offering a zippy 32x search speed, as well as slow motion, repeat and repeat A-B modes.
The supplied remote is cute and ergonomic, fitting into the hand snugly and placing all the main control pads within easy reach of the thumb. All the buttons are made of rubber and are clearly labelled, making it very pleasant to use.
Configuration settings are limited, but there are a few tweaks on board. In the picture setup menu, you’ll find the HDMI resolution options, including a handy Auto mode, and a choice of picture presets. One of these (Personal) lets you change the levels of brightness, contrast, sharpness and colour, but as you’re adjusting the levels the menu gets in the way of the picture so you can’t see the results until you exit. As for audio, you can set a lip sync delay of up to 200ms, activate a Night mode that boosts the sound at low volumes, and there’s a set of audio presets designed to mimic different listening environments or to suit different genres.
The setup menu is basic but functional, arranging all the options in a logical structure. There’s a very useful display that can be called up during playback, which shrinks the movie down to a small box and shows all of the relevant details about the current playback status, including the current bitrate.
When it comes to 1080p picture quality, the Philips does a solid, if not flawless job with movie material. First, we tried ”Toy Story” and there’s much to admire – the dazzling, dynamic colours being the most impressive aspect of the picture. The lively palette of Pixar’s classic is delivered with the sort of richness and purity that’s sure to win you over right from the outset. These colours are also smoothly rendered from light to dark without excessive banding or block noise.
The unit retrieves a lot of detail too, evidenced not only on a subjective level by ”Toy Story’s” reams of computer-created pixels, but also with a series of frequency response test patterns, which are reproduced with great stability and focus. It delivers deep blacks and does a reasonable job of picking out detail during the numerous dark scenes in ”Pan’s Labyrinth”, though some areas do merge into one another without a great deal of definition. It improves if you fiddle with the deck’s contrast and brightness settings but you run the risk of compromising the image’s cinematic feel.
We’re also disappointed by the fidgety noise that surrounds some objects (such as the text that appears during ”Toy Story’s” opening sequence) and by the queasy juddering with camera pans, plus it failed the jaggies tests on our HQV test disc. These flaws probably won’t have a massive impact on your overall enjoyment if you’re viewing on a screen under 32in, but they will prevent the DVP3980/05 from meeting the needs of demanding large-screen displays.
We can have no complaints with audio though, as the analogue outputs deliver CD sound with a decent amount of detail and warmth, while Dolby Digital soundtracks via HDMI sound sensational.
For £50, you can’t really expect the DVP3980/05 to match the sort of picture quality you get from the likes of Denon or OPPO, and sure enough the Philips falls short. However, there is a lot to admire about its image quality and elsewhere the range of appealing features make it a feel like good value, particularly if you want 1080p upscaling on a budget.
Score in detail
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