What We Think
One of the hot new features in DVD players is something you don't really see. I'm talking about that HDMI connector lurking on the back panel. With its ability to carry both high-definition video and multichannel audio on one cable, the High Definition Multimedia Interface can greatly simplify home theater hookup. But there's more to HDMI than convenience. Since the signals it carries are digital, an HDMI link between a DVD player and a digital TV allows the purest flow of video from disc to screen, skipping a cycle of digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion that can degrade image quality.
What's more, each of the three players tested here employs special processing that "upscales" regular 480i DVD video to an HDTV signal format (720p or 1080i) and uses the HDMI connector to send it to your HDTV. The goal, of course, is to get the best possible picture quality - an image that, while not as detailed as true HDTV, is as smooth and clear as DVD can be. So does upscaling plus HDMI equal a better picture? At least with these players, it largely depends on how well your HDTV converts analog component video to digital. If your set does this well and has good upscaling, you probably won't see much difference between a player's component and HDMI outputs. That was my experience with the high-end DLP front projector I used. On TVs with less than perfect processing, though, you might see a cleaner image using HDMI, just as our TV reviewers sometimes report.
It turns out, though, that the determining factor in picture quality was how these players handled the initial conversion from 480i to progressive-scan 480p, which occurs before upscaling to an HDTV format and affects images carried by both the component-video and HDMI outputs. As you'll see, some players definitely do this better than others.
Full lab results on these DVD players.
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