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DVPS500D DVD Player

Sony's DVP S500D DVD Player

a lovely, fully-featured unit...

by Jim Bray

Note: TechnoFILE thanks the Sony store, in downtown Calgary Alberta, for the use of the unit in this review.

As hooked as we are on DVD as an audio and video playback format, and as hooked as we are on Sony video equipment in general, it was with baited breath that we unpacked and plugged in this $899 Cdn unit.

And we weren't disappointed. The DVP S500D is a lovely performer, crammed with features - and at a reasonable price considering everything that you get.

This is a mid-priced unit (though it's currently Sony's "entry level" unit in Canada) that comes complete with a Dolby Digital (AC-3) decoder built right in, and enough outputs to choke a horse. You'll probably never use them all, but we applaud Sony for giving users so much choice. And what choice! You get all the audio outputs from the "5.1" Dolby Digital (six outputs in total, including the subwoofer), plus two more stereo audio outs - and then you can add in component and coaxial video outputs on top of the usual RCA jack and S-Video.

The bottom line of which is you'll run out of cables before you run out of connections!

Adjusting your Set...

Sony also includes a powerful set of Dolby Digital adjustments that let you tune the player to your room and your speakers. You get adjustable settings for "Speaker setup," "Front/Centre/Rear Distance," "Left/Right Balance," "Front/Rear Balance," "Centre/Rear/Subwoofer Level," and the much appreciated test tones. Test, and most, adjustments are made via onscreen menus accessed from the remote control - which means you can set the levels right from your favourite listening spot.

Sony even puts in a "surround fudging" system called "Digital Cinema Sound" that gives you a simulated surround effect from your front speakers. This is not a new idea, of course, but it's yet another example of the flexibility of this unit. It works okay, but as with other such systems it's no substitute for real surround.

And of course there's a headphone jack for cranking things up when the kids or neighbours are sleeping.

"Audio Priority" automatically finds a disc's audio track that has the most channels (Dolby Digital, for instance) and plays it, and it's so seamless you won't notice it regardless of what audio outputs you're using.

Feature Creature...

Sony's "SmoothScan" picture search gives very decent special effects, from freeze frame and slow motion (1/10 or 1/5 speed) to "warp speed" (from 2x to 30x). The sound gets choppy when you're zipping along with wild abandon - but you can still keep tabs on what's happening on screen and, to be honest, I didn't expect any sound while scanning.

You also get Dual "discrete" optical pickups, which means there's a separate laser for DVD and CD playback, each optimized for each disc format. Sony says this reduces wear on the lasers, extending their life. Makes sense...

Video resolution is "over 500 horizontal lines" and the video d/a (digital-to-analogue) converter is a 10 bit design, which the company says minimizes digital artifacts and therefore gives a picture that's closer to the original video master. I dunno about all that stuff, but I can say without hesitation that the picture is nothing short of spectacular.

Of course, one expects nothing less from the DVD format...

Still, Sony has really come through with this unit. I don't know if the picture's better than the competition, or as good as any higher end players, but I can't think of how much better the picture could get. Resolution is razor sharp, the colours are rich and real, and I detected no digital artifacts at all during my time with the DVPS500D.

It also works really well with audio CD's, providing sound that's nothing short of spectacular. So you can move your CD player (unless it's a changer and you need that feature) to another room once you've hooked up the DVP S500D.

By the way, if you do need a changer, Sony also makes a 5 disc DVD changer. We haven't tried it, but have no reason to think it doesn't perform as well as this one - though you can bet your butt'll be pretty sore by the time you get through five movies in a row!

User Friendly?

Setup and use are very easy. As mentioned, virtually everything's accessed from the remote, and the onscreen menus generally make sense and are easy to understand. I had a couple of minor criticisms about the remote control's design, specifically the jog/shuttle wheel, but could easily live with them to reap the rest of this unit's advantages.

The problem with the jog/shuttle wheel is that it isn't really a jog/shuttle wheel. "Old fashioned" jog/shuttle doohickeys gave you an outer ring with which you access the fast forward/reverse features (like twice normal speed, etc.), while the jog wheel in the centre let you move frame by frame. Here, there's only one combined wheel (with a button to switch from "shuttle" to "jog") and accessing the fast (or slow) forward and backward action is a bit clumsy.

The traditional jog/shuttle configuration works better - but as mentioned, this is overall a pretty minor criticism.

Only one other complaint: to program an audio CD's tracks you have to turn on the TV and use the onscreen menus unless you want to get hopelessly confused. I pine for the days when you could just punch in the track numbers and be done with it, but I suppose those days are now gone, thanks to "convergence."

Still, this is another very minor complaint - and both of my objections are as much differences in taste as they are flaws on the part of Sony's design team. And neither complaint prevented me from enjoying this unit.

So on the whole, the Sony DVP S500D is an excellent piece of technology - and I didn't want to give it back. It's reasonably priced and performs beautifully.

And isn't that the way it should be?

Note: TechnoFILE thanks the Sony store, in downtown Calgary Alberta, for the use of the unit in this review.


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Updated May 13, 2006