Which DVD Player Should I Buy?

The video and audio performance of all modern DVD players is excellent. Your personal preferences, budget, and home theater setup all play a large role in determining which player is best for you. Unless you have a high-end home theater, a player that costs under $250 should be completely adequate.

Make a list of things that are important to you (such as the ability to play CD-Rs, the ability to play Video CDs, 96 kHz/24-bit audio decoding, DTS Digital Out, and an internal 6-channel Dolby Digital decoder) to help you come up with a set of players.

Then try out a few of the players in your price range, focusing on ease of use (remote control design, user interface, and front-panel controls). Because few variations exist in picture and sound quality within a given price range, convenience features play a big part. The remote control, which you’ll use all the time, can drive you crazy if it doesn’t suit your style.

Some players, especially cheaper models, don’t properly play all discs. Before buying a player, you may want to test it with a few complex DVDs, such as The Matrix, The Abyss, Independence Day, and DVD Demystified. In certain cases, you might want to buy a DVD PC instead of a standard DVD player, especially if you want progressive video.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want selectable soundtracks and subtitles, multiangle viewing, aspect ratio control, and parental or multirating features? Do I want fast and slow playback, great digital video, multichannel digital audio, and compatibility with Dolby Pro Logic receivers? Do I also want onscreen menus, dual-layer playback, and the ability to play audio CDs? This is a trick question, because all DVD players have all these features.
  • Do I want DTS audio? If so, look for a player with the DTS Digital Out logo.
  • Do I want to play Video CDs? If so, check the specs for Video CD compatibility.
  • Do I want to play recordable DVDs? If so, check the specs or compatibility reports for the ability to read -R, -RW, R, and RW formats.
  • Do I need a headphone jack?
  • Do I want player setup menus in languages other than English? If so, look for a multilanguage setup feature. (Note: All players support on-disc multilanguage menus.)
  • Do I want to play homemade CD-R audio discs? If so, look for the dual laser feature.
  • Do I want to replace my CD player? If so, you might want a changer that can hold three, five, or even hundreds of discs.
  • Do I want to play discs from other countries? If so, beware of regions (see “What Are Regional Codes, Country Codes, or Zone Locks?”) and TV formats.
  • Do I want to control all my entertainment devices with one remote control? If so, look for a player with a programmable universal remote, or make sure your existing universal remote is compatible with the DVD player.
  • Do I want to zoom in to check details of the picture or get rid of the black letterbox bars? If so, look for players with picture zoom.
  • Do I have a DTV or progressive-scan display? If so, get a progressivescan player.
  • Do I want to play high-definition compatible digital (HDCD)s? If so, check for the HDCD logo.
  • Does my receiver have only optical or only coax digital audio inputs? If so, make sure the player has outputs to match.
  • Do I care about black-level adjustment?
  • Do I value special deals? If so, look for free DVD coupons and rentals available with many players.

For more information, read hardware reviews at Web sites such as DVDFile or in magazines such as Widescreen Review. You may also want to read about user experiences at Audio Review and in online forums at Home Theater Forum and DVDFile.

More advice can be found at DVDBuyingGuide and at eCoustics.com, which also has a list of links to reviews on other sites.