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Panasonic DVD-A300

This format is for real!

by Les Enser

After many months of promises and hype, the format that has gained so much attention over the last couple of years has become a reality. When Don MacRae, the Panasonic branch manager here in Calgary, called to let us know the machine was on its way the adrenaline started to flow . Since we only had seen DVD in controlled environments such as CES (consumer electronic show) we now had the chance to put it through its paces in our own home theatre setting.

Once the box arrived we unpacked it immediately to find Panasonic’s model DVD-A300, their top of the line unit which retails for $999.00CDN. A rather handsome, thin profile unit which includes a shuttle search dial along with headphone volume control and microphone input level control for the "karaoke" inclined.

The DVD-A300’s panel is reasonably uncluttered and looks very much like a high end single disc CD player. The ubiquitous open and close button for the drawer is still there. The remote control included an array of functions, including menu, title, skip, search, subtitle, audio, angle and select functions. The select switch reminded one of a small joystick which could be moved back and forth, up or down as well as pushed down. The joystick was integral for selecting the search modes as well as the slow motion features.

Once again with the remote capable of so many functions - it is not backlit. Manufacturers need to get this right, especially on a true home theater product such as the DVD-A300. Home theatre enthusiasts like to turn down the lights and hate having to guess where the functions are on a remote, especially if they hit the STOP button by accident. An embarrassment!

On the back panel a number of outputs are available which include Center, Front L/R, Subwoofer L/R, Surround L/R, which shows that this DVD player has Dolby Digital (AC3) decoder built in, handy for those who have multichannel amps but no AC3 processing. Right next to these are standard video and audio outputs accompanied by a S-connector. Also included, for those who have no audio and video input on their T.V.s is an RF out which can be connected by an optional RF cord.

Now for the fun! We connected DVD-A300 to our system, put in the disc and turned down the lights!

One point before we go on is that the unit was supplied with only a DVD demo disc which included several excerpts of recent movie releases along with Panasonic’s location shots of Tahiti, a bright red MG in Beverly Hills, and Kyoto. Unfortunately we could not get our hands on a fully featured movie presentation so we had to use the demo disc as our only source. Luckily Panasonic did include scenes from Twister, Free Willy, Goldeneye, and Thumbelina.

Once we inserted the disc in the player it was ironic how little its functions resembled Laserdisc’s. The player went into Panasonic’s little 4 second intro and then locked onto the first chapter while displaying a menu with five subchapters from which one could choose: 1. Movie demo 2. Quality demo 3. DVD explanation 4. Function demo and 5. Auto demo. We chose number one first and went into the movie demo. From there a sub menu came up: 1. Twister 2. Free Willy 3. Goldeneye 4. Thumbelina. Since we like being number one we chose Twister.

Gone with the Wind

The scene features our capeless crusaders Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as they chase down the twister in their Jeep, only to be thwarted by the power of mother nature. What can we say? The picture quality was simply outstanding, the colours were rich and vibrant. Contrast looked excellent. Video noise was non existent, indicating that video signal to noise was the best we had ever seen in consumer gear.

Best of all, we could not immediately detect the digital artifacts we expected, probably because the picture quality simply overwhelmed us. The sound, of course, was first rate but didn’t seem any better than we have heard before on Laserdics. In the Free Willy scene where the whale is about to make its giant leap into freedom shows why DVD is going to be shining star. The detail of the water droplets running down on Willy’s best friend’s face is stunning as the giant Orca leaps over him.

Again, we can’t say enough about the colours and the sharpness. It is with regret that the Goldeneye example was not thought out a little more since it only showed Pierce Brosnan jumping off the dam. Thumbelina, well most the animated movies, look good even if watched on regular T.V. cable, so it wasn't much of a test for DVD.

It's unfortunate that Panasonic did not package their impressive player with a movie or two for the purchaser, just to give him or her an idea of what DVD is all about. The demo disc is great for an introduction to DVD but it leaves one yearning for more. Especially since movie title selection is so far almost non-existent, it would have been a nice touch.

DVD Believers

Overall we’re convinced that DVD is the way to go and Panasonic will sell a few boatloads over the next year if the software becomes readily available. The DVD-A300 is a nice package and should give many hours of high entertainment value in the home theatre setting. It is a better first generation that we expected.

Our suggestion- take the DVD plunge, your eyes will thank you for it.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006