Choosing and Setting up a DVD Player for your
Home Theater Projector
First of all, all DVD players are not created equal. That’s why you can buy them as cheap as $30 and as expensive as several thousand dollars. Picture quality will vary. However you can get a really good DVD player for $100 - $250 dollars. Almost all DVD players will offer you a choice of outputting an interlaced signal, or a progressive scan signal. Progressive scan is a better image, but more on that later.
The DVD player you choose, should have component video outputs – but almost all do (even many of the $30 - $60 variety. Once you spend around $200, you can find a few DVD players that have digital video outputs – either DVI, or HDMI (these are compatible with each other, however the connectors are very different, and HDMI also can carry the audio signal. This doesn’t do any good for projectors, since they have no speakers, and are far from your speaker system, however it can simplify wiring for a plasma display (or LCDTV), since 3 speakers (left, right and center) are typically right next to the plasma display itself.
The advantage of digital, is that it is less affected by noise, and other distortions, however the cables are expensive, and unless you buy special high performance digital cables, lengths longer than about 6 meters (almost 20 feet), are very expensive ($200 for 25 feet is typical). There are other advantages – if you work with digital you avoid the significant overscan 3% – 5% which results in losing a little bit of the picture all the way around.
Quicktip: A digital cable – be it HDMI or DVI - will perform flawlessly, or will be obviously be very bad. Some of the longer cables from major brands just aren’t good, and only a few select brands of high end cables claim to be able to run lengths of 25, 40 or even out to 65 feet without problem.
Again, so far there aren’t that many DVD players with digital out, but it is the preferred way to go. Within a year most will sport digital.
Another feature offered in a relatively small number of DVD players will scale the output. DVD is 480 lines of resolution (referred to as 480i – interlaced or 480p – progressive). Since your home theater projector is most likely native 720 resolution (if over $1500), this breed of DVD player, will convert the signal to the projector’s native resolution, so that the projector doesn’t have to do it.
Audio from your DVD player comes in basic stereo outputs plus coaxial and optical. For surround sound you do need coaxial or optical. Optical is the better way to go, so look for it on the DVD player you select.
With all these choices – what works best?
- Interlaced or Progressive output
- Digital or Component video
- 480 output or rescaling to 720 (assuming a 720 projector)
Interlaced or Progressive Output: Generally, unless you spring for a really top quality performance DVD player, you will want to output an interlaced (inferior) signal to your projector – typically through your AV receiver. The reason is simple – a $1500 or $2500 or $5000 projector will have a better de-interlacer (that converts from interlaced to progressive) than what you will find in a $150 DVD player, and the result will be a better image.
Digital or Component video: Cable quality notwithstanding (budget too) go digital, but today there is very little difference between a good digital and a good component signal. The future, however is digital output. Just a year ago, you couldn’t buy a AV Receiver with digital switching for under $1000 - $1500. Today they are starting to appear around $500. (You’ll want a digital switching so you can have two – or more – digital devices such as your DVD player and your cable/satellite box, hooked up and have your receiver select the source feeding your projector.
480 output or scaling up to 720: As with the Interlaced vs Progressive choice, you will almost always get better results letting your projector convert the 480 DVD source to 720 lines of resolution. Why, again, they spend more on the circuitry, and should do a better job. (Now if you are springing for a $500 or $1500 DVD player – all bets are off.)
What brands to consider?
I don’t evaluate DVD players, but three highly regarded choices are the D2 from Bravo, which offers Digital out, and a new brand name Oppo, which has received good press from critical reviewers. Lastly Samsung has several models which have received very good grades from reviewers. The better Samsung units start in the low/mid $100 range, and expect to be in the $200+ range for the D2 and Oppo.