Photos by Tony Cordoza
Just when you thought you had mastered the intricacies of video connectivity-having sorted out composite video, S-video, and the two flavors of component video (interlaced and progressive-scan)-V Inc.'s Bravo D1 comes along to make life complicated again. But once you start using the player's main claim to fame, a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) output, you'll want to say goodbye to all the other types of video connections. And good riddance, especially to those hard-to-insert S-video connectors.
A DVI connector is to video what coaxial and optical SPDIF connectors are to digital audio: a way to send digital information, in this case a video image, between components without making it pass through a stage of potentially degrading digital-to-analog (D/A) conversion. A DVI connection is made with a multiconductor cable terminated on both ends by a rectangular multipin connector, as shown in our closeup of the Bravo D1's back panel. Unfortunately, these cables can get pricey-I paid about $80 at CompUSA for a 10-foot cable. But they're well worth it.
Of course, the video signal has to be turned back into an image at some point, and with DVI signals that ideally occurs in a fixed-pixel display like an LCD, plasma, or DLP screen or projector (see "Totally Tubeless" for more details on these technologies). It's ideal because the video signal will never leave the digital domain, skipping not only the player's own D/A conversion, but also the analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion that occurs with any pixel-based TV's analog video inputs.
While DVI inputs are also found on a few TVs with traditional picture tubes, conventional D/A conversion of the DVI signal must occur before it hits the screen. And because these TVs create the image by scanning it across the screen, they're also prone to scanning artifacts. At any rate, while many computer LCD monitors have DVI connectors, very few big-screen TVs have one. Fortunately, we had two DVI-equipped home theater products on hand-the Yamaha LPX-500 LCD front projector and the 32-inch Sony plasma TV we tested in April-which enabled us to put the V Inc. player to the ultimate video-quality test. More on that later.
The Bravo D1 also lets you "upscale" the image since its DVI output can be set to deliver digital video in four formats: 480p (progressive, a.k.a. enhanced definition, or EDTV), 720p (high-definition), 1080i (interlaced, also high-def), and DVI Gateway (852 x 480 pixels). Now, don't get all excited that you're going to get HDTV picture quality from DVDs. Just as CDs remastered with 20- or 24-bit technology are limited to the resolution of the original signal (16-bit or even analog), DVDs displayed using the HDTV formats are limited to the resolution of the original signal. In the case of DVDs, that's 720 x 480 pixels-a far cry from, say, the 1,920 x 1,080 pixels of the 1080i format (that's one reason good HDTV looks better than even perfect DVD reproduction).
There are four format options for the Bravo D1's DVI output so you can match its output to the input capabilities of your TV. For example, the Yamaha projector mentioned earlier accepted DVI signals only in the 720p format, while the Sony plasma TV displayed all of the Bravo D1's DVI formats. But to get the picture to come out right on the Sony (with perfect circles and no overscan), I had to separately tweak the set's picture geometry for each format using its onscreen menus.
Aside from its DVI output, the Bravo D1 is a relatively standard DVD player. Like many others, it handles CDs and DVDs in a variety of video and audio formats. Unusual formats supported include Windows Media Version 8 files as well as MPEG-4 files. (For those deep into the MPEG-4 cult, the latter are specified on the data sheet as "MPEG-4 AVI files using ISO 9660 format," with the decoder handling "MPEG-4 Simple and Advanced Simple Profile Level 5.")
The player's rear panel is spare, with only one set of outputs for each video and digital audio signal format and a pair of analog stereo outputs (to get multichannel audio you have to use one of the digital outputs). Our test sample was a preproduction unit, and the remote control I used-unlike the one shown above-was also spare and simple, offering no programmability or ability to control other components, and no backlighting.
Because our test sample was supplied without a manual, I wasn't able to confirm the operation of all of the player's features. Using the early version of the remote, for example, I couldn't figure out how to cue up a CD track by its number. But I was able to figure out that you can switch sequentially among all the player's video output formats while you're playing a DVD, which allowed me to do direct picture-quality comparisons.
What does video from a DVI-connected player look like? Well, if you have a recent, fast PC with a DVI-connected LCD monitor, a DVD drive, and a good DVD playback program, you know that very high-quality video is possible. Rarely have I been able to offer such praise, but the Bravo D1 delivered perfect picture geometry and superb conversion of the interlaced video on DVDs to progressive-scan format. And since the D1 is a dedicated DVD player, you won't experience those herky-jerky hesitations that often mar DVD playback on computers. And you certainly won't get any Windows error screens or annoying Instant Message interruptions.
Using the DVI connection, the Bravo D1 delivered superb images to both the Yamaha projector and Sony plasma TV. Details were as sharp as I've ever seen them from a DVD. And the progressive-scan conversion was excellent, with no color-smearing and no line breaks or flickering with moving diagonal lines and grids.
The thin lines in the faces of the characters in Treasure Planet were a useful test here, while the movie as a whole provided a good demonstration of the DVI output's ability to faithfully convey image texture. For example, the tension between traditional low-res cell animation (the flat-looking people) and modern high-res computer graphics (the almost 3-D flying objects and some of the backgrounds) has never been more apparent. It's one of this film's most fascinating visual features-as well as dramatically distracting and frustrating. It's like seeing two parallel animation universes simultaneously. The video from the player's analog outputs was another story, providing decidedly soft images, especially in the 480p format (see "in the lab").
Thanks to its DVI output, the Bravo D1 delivers reference-quality DVD images for only $200. If the DVD licensing rules allowed it, I could imagine future models without any analog outputs that would be even less expensive. Then the burden of picture quality would fall solely on the TV and how well it's set up, which is as it should be.