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How to Choose A DVD Player

Loren Barstow started at Crutchfield in 1999. After working a few years as a sales advisor, he moved on to become a writer and then an editor. He has written about televisions, Blu-ray players, speakers, and various other audio/video components.

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A good DVD player is the biggest bang-for-the-buck improvement you can make to your home entertainment system. DVD movies look amazingly crisp, clear, and detailed — only HDTV delivers a more realistic viewing experience at home. And the Dolby® Digital soundtracks on DVDs provide theater-quality surround sound. [Shop for a DVD player.]

Whether you're shopping for your first player, or replacing one that's a few years old, today's DVD players can add a lot to your home theater. In addition to the usual tape-free convenience, DVD players offer high-quality audio and video connections for amazingly crisp, clear images and absorbing surround sound. Plus, they offer a wealth of other features like MP3 playback and video upconversion. Below we'll discuss the features and functions that make today's DVD players so versatile, and what to look for to fit your needs.

What type of player do you need?

"I have a high-definition TV."
Solution: Blu-ray Disc™ player. This high-definition disc format is designed to maximize the viewing experience available from today's HDTVs. Blu-ray discs boast high-resolution video up to 1080p, as well as new, more detailed surround sound formats. Blu-ray players can also play DVDs, and most can play CDs as well. For more information, check out our article about Blu-ray.

You might also want to consider a DVD player with video upconversion. These players can upconvert DVD video to a resolution that more closely matches that of your HDTV. The signal remains digital as it travels through digital video connections to your compatible high-def TV for the cleanest possible transfer. (For more information, see "Digital Video and Upconversion" below.)

"I watch a lot of DVDs and listen to a lot of CDs."
Solution: Multi-disc changer. Many DVD fans are satisfied with a single-disc player, but a multi-disc DVD changer gives you the same great picture and sound quality while expanding your entertainment options. DVD players are so good at playing music CDs that you'll no longer need a separate CD player. And a multi-disc DVD changer lets you keep several discs "on deck." Choose from carousel models that hold a handful of discs, or larger mega-changers with room for up to 400 discs. They also have handy memory and search functions that make it easy to find the disc you want. You can save a lot of shelf space by simply storing your CDs and DVDs in a mega-changer.

"I still have a lot of VHS tapes."
Solution: DVD/VCR combo unit. Combo players are perfect for people trying to bridge the gap between their VHS and DVD collections. At affordable prices, these popular 2-in-1 components offer all the familiar conveniences of a VCR, with the stunning movie and music quality of a DVD player. Most DVD/VCR combos even include a DVD recorder, so you can use the unit's built-in timer to record TV shows to either VHS or DVD. You can also enjoy crystal-clear DVD movie playback or jam to your collection of audio CDs — all with one simple component.

"I want to archive my VHS tapes."
Solution: DVD recorder. DVD recorders offer convenient tape-free recording, along with all the functionality of a DVD player. Record your favorite sitcom at the touch of a button, or back up home movies on durable, high-quality DVDs. And with a variety of write-once and rewriteable formats available, it's easy to find the right disc for the right job. For more information on DVD recorders and recordable DVD formats, check out our DVD recorder shopping guide.

"I travel a lot."
Solution: Portable DVD player. Portable DVD players offer home entertainment on the go — perfect for frequent travelers, or those with young, impatient passengers on long family car trips. Compact and lightweight, a lot of portable players also offer dual headphone jacks, allowing more than one person to enjoy the show. In addition to rechargeable batteries, features like 12-volt power adapters and car mounting kits make some portable players very car-friendly.

Other considerations

All those audio disc formats: CD-R, CD-RW, MP3, DVD-Audio and SACD
In addition to playing regular CDs, many DVD players can also play music discs you record yourself on a CD recording deck or computer CD-R/W drive. Current DVD players can play CD-R (recordable CD) and CD-RW (rewriteable CD) discs, including MP3 files burned to CD-R/RW. Some can also play WMA (Windows® Media Audio) files.

A lot of new models are also able to play either DVD-Audio discs or Super Audio CDs (SACDs) — and a few "universal" models can play both. These competing high-resolution formats capture subtle details that make music sound richer and more real. Both are capable of delivering 5.1-channel music that surrounds you. There are now over 3,500 SACD titles available, and well over 700 for DVD-Audio. For more information, see our SACD and DVD Audio article.

Making the right connections

A big part of choosing the right DVD player is making sure it has all the necessary video and audio connections to perform to its full potential with your other A/V gear. Below, we'll discuss the connections you'll find on current players.

Nearly all current DVD players include at least three types of video jacks (from basic to best quality): composite, S-video, and component. If your TV lacks any type of direct A/V input and only has an antenna-style RF input, you'll need to install an RF modulator between the DVD player and TV. You also might want to consider a DVD/VCR combo, since some combos can pass DVD signals through their RF output. For more details, see the video connections tips in our DVD FAQ.

Digital video and upconversion
Some DVD players can upconvert DVD signals to resolutions that match those of HDTVs, and send them to a compatible TV via a digital video connection. HDMI (High-Definition Media Interface) and DVI (Digital Visual Interface) both offer high-quality digital transmission of standard- and high-definition video signals. HDMI can also carry multichannel audio, and is backwards compatible with DVI (video only).

Current players include a digital audio output — optical, coaxial, or both. This connection enables them to send Dolby Digital or DTS signals to your A/V receiver for decoding into multichannel surround sound.

Some models also have built-in decoding, with 5.1-channel analog audio outputs to connect directly to any receiver with multichannel inputs (frequently, these models also play multichannel DVD-Audio or SACD discs). A few high-end players are equipped with IEEE 1394 jacks (also known as FireWire or i.LINK®); these single-cord connections can carry 5.1-channel music to a compatible receiver. All DVD players also include standard stereo audio jacks for connecting to stereo receivers and stereo TVs.

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