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  DVD Video Buying Guide. Date Posted 27/08/2001.

DVDs look like CDs. Their are different types of DVD, the main ones being DVD Video and DVD Audio. DVD stands for Digital Versitile Disc (some people say it stands for Digital Video Disc). Most newer DVD machines can play DVD Audio, as well as DVD Video and CDs.
The advantage of DVD Audio is discussed in the "CD Player" section. DVD Video is very impressive. The picture is crystal clear and is stored digitally, just like the sound on CDs and data on a computer. This results in a more accurate reproduction of the picture. In comparison to VHS video (resolution of 200 lines), DVD Video (600+ lines) is far sharper. Also DVDs are usually in widescreen just like in the cinema.

This means to on an ordinary television there will be large black lines at the top and bottom of the screen. On a widescreen television, most films will fit the screen without the lines. However, even on a 16:9 widescreen television, films like Independence Day, which were shot in a very wide format, will have black lines. For regular DVD watchers, a widescreen TV might be worth it. If you want to use a projector with DVD, there's no problem since the resolution of DVDs is very high, expanding the picture will not result in a huge lose of quality (like with VHS tape). Certain DVDs are double sided, so that one side has the original film, whilst the other has a version which fits onto an ordinary television without any black lines.

The sound in DVDs is usually encoded in Dolby Digital (or a very similar DTS format - which certain people think sounds better!). To make full use of this, you'll need five speakers, an amp and a Dolby Digital decoder (which can be a stand alone box, inside your player or inside your amp). This gives you six channels of digitally encoded sound, front left and right, rear left and right, centre and a subwoofer. With a setup like this, watching films such as The Matrix will be amazing. Only rarely are DVDs encoded in ordinary stereo sound. Nearly all films made after 1992, were recorded in Dolby Digital. Pre '92 films were recorded in Dolby Pro Logic. Pre 1977 films are in mono or stereo.

DVDs have copy protection. The world is split into several regions, Region 1 being North America, Region 2 being Europe and so on. The idea being that DVDs purchased in one region cannot be played in another. Some players can be "chipped" which means that they have been modified so that they can play DVDs from anywhere in the world. Consequently, European consumers can buy cheaper DVDs from America and use them in Europe.

In an effort to entice people to get DVDs, film makers have put special features onto DVDs, such as uncut scenes, directors commentary or sometimes clips showing how the film was made.

Buying A DVD Player. Several types of DVD player are available. There are portable units, with or without screen and separate machines for use at home. Home DVD machines range from being quite cheap to expensive. Expensive models tend to have onboard Dolby Digital decoders.

However, if your amplifier already has such a decoder, there's no need for a player with a decoder. Also the quality of the picture will vary, but even cheap DVD players have excellent picture quality in comparison to a very expensive video. You can also buy jukebox DVD players, which hold three or more DVDs. I've never seen the point of these, your hardly going to watch five DVDs in one go! Make sure you get a DVD player, which also supports DVD Audio and CDs (inc. CD-R). However, it's still quite rare to find DVD machines that play DVD Audio, so might have to hang on another six months to a year till you spot them.

If you have a computer, you can buy kits for £150 which include a DVD player and a decompressor card, which outputs sound digitally and the image using a S-Video cable. These are quite good, but since stand alone players are nearly the same price now, you might as well buy one of them, since they are quicker to set up, don't crash in the middle of films and don't have a huge fan making a sound throughout your film! Saying that though, I use a computer with a DVD.

Also computers with DVD, can play DVDs from any region without being tampered with (and thus invalidating the warrantly). Your DVD software only lets you change the region it can play three to five times. You can get round this by making mulitple hardware configurations, with one for each region!

Just as the quality of Digital to Analog converters influences the quality of sound produced by a CD player, here it influences the picture produced by a DVD player. Also an important factor in the picture quality is the way you connect a DVD player to the television. It is best to connect a DVD player directly to a television (not through a video) using a S-Video cable.

If you don't have any DVDs don't worry, most video stores such as Blockbuster stock DVDs - with their choice getting bigger every week. DVDs are stil expensive to buy, especially in Britain, costing on average £15 - £20. In America though, they are alot cheaper.

Connecting A DVD Player. There are several different ways you can connect you DVD player.

TV - scart - DVD

TV - scart - DVD - 2 phono cables - hi-fi - two speakers

TV - s-video - DVD - 2 phono cables - hi-fi - two speakers

TV - s-video - DVD - optical or coaxial digital cable - hi-fi with Dolby Digital - five speakers and subwoorder

The last one on the list can have several different variations depending on whether your Dolby Digital decoder is present in the amp, or the DVD player or is independent.