SMR logoPanasonic DVD-A120 DVD/CD/Video-CD Player Review
Last year, Robert A. George, otherwise known as 'Obi', reviewed the highly regarded Panasonic DVD-A110.  More than twelve months have passed so now it is time for him to turn his attentions towards its successor, the Panasonic DVD-A120.  Will it improve upon the previous model?

Panasonic DVD-A120 Specifications
Component Video Output
DTS-capable
S-Video (Y/C) Outputs
Chapter Preview
100× Scan
10-bit video D/A converter
Plays DVDs, CDs and Video CDs
96kHz/24-bit audio D/A converter
Dual-focus laser pickup
5-speed Smooth Motion Scan & Slow
Headphone jack with volume control
Ergonomic remote control
Virtual Surround Sound (from just 2 speakers)
Optical and coaxial digital outputs for Dolby Digital, PCM and DTS
2 sets of A/V outputs (1 S-Video)
Audio S/N ratio 115 dB
16-15/16"W × 3-7/16"H × 12¾"D
Warranty: 1 year parts, 90 days labour
$399.00
Panasonic_Dolby_logo.jpg (7138 bytes) DTS Digital Output
(All specifications as per manufacturer)

Panasonic DVD-A120 DVD/CD/Video-CD Player

 

Panasonic DVD-A120      Instead of doing what I usually do this time of the week (writing disc reviews), Ive spent the better part of the day with the new Panasonic DVD-A120 DVD player.  It was just less than a year ago I was sitting down with the second generation DVD-A110 right after it came on the market getting much the same feeling of satisfaction (for the most part) that I am now getting from the incredibly popular A110s replacement.  In the year since, the A110 has proved to be an exceptional value in DVD players with only some small glitches and incompatibilities surfacing from time to time.  The two most reported "problems" with the A110 are a tendency to skip a chapter when passing the layer change point on dual layer (RSDL) discs (this seems to happen very seldom and only randomly) and a peculiar sensitivity to a specific type of MPEG encoding error that causes a drop in vertical resolution on the affected video frames.  This error is only visible when the affected 16:9 enhanced transfer is downconverted by the player for playback on a 4:3 monitor.  The two worst examples of this are chapter 26 on 'The Man in the Iron Mask' and chapter 1 of 'The Saint'.  There are other examples, but most are usually no more than a few frames.  Of course, my greatest curiosity was whether, and how, Panasonic addressed these technical design issues.  My first impression is extremely positive, but more on that in a minute.

     The DVD-A120 is directly connected to a Pioneer SD-P62A5 62" rear projection monitor calibrated with 'Video Essentials' using Monster Video 3 S-Video interconnect (Y/C).  Digital audio data is carried via Monster Lightspeed 100 optical interconnect to a Yamaha DSP-A1 processor/amp.

     Cosmetically, the A120 is slightly taller than the A110 and the faceplate is completely redesigned.  While somewhat "plainer" than the A110, the front panel is very clean and uncluttered.

     The back panel is equally spartan and easy to figure out.   Back panel connections consist of both optical and coaxial digital ports, two sets of analog audio jacks (not used here) with a composite video jack for each, one S-Video jack, and, new for this model, a set of component video jacks.  There is a small switch for selecting between composite/S-Video or component.  The AC power cord is detachable, which I find very useful.  Supported formats are DVD-Video, Video-CD, and CD.  The DVD-A120 will not play CD-R.  As with 98 model Panasonics, the A120 is compatible with DTS® audio.

Panasonic DVD-A120 Screen-saver      Internal differences with this new model begin to show as soon as the power is turned on.  Gone is the "bounding ball" screensaver of the previous model replaced by an attractive blue-on-black low contrast graphic that stays on screen until disc play begins.

     All other basic play functions and on-screen graphics are mostly unchanged.  I do note a slightly different font on the "display" graphic that is a bit "cleaner" and easy to read.

     Im sure the biggest question most current Panasonic owners have is, did they address the two problems noted above.  The short answer is, yes.  The MPEG decoder in the A120 is definitely redesigned from the previous model.   Playback of the two affected discs mentioned above revealed smooth, clear images where very noticable loss of vertical resolution occurred on the A110.  The second problem, that of chapter skipping at layer changes, may only be definitively answered over time since this error occurs only rarely (Ive only seen it three times in nearly a year).  However, after testing several dual layer discs, including two that have skipped in the past, I found the layer change characteristics of the A120 to be very fast and very smooth.

     Speaking of "fast", Panasonic has offered another nice refinement on the new models.  Menu access is noticably faster than not only previous Panasonics, but every other player I have used save the Sony DVP-S7000, and the A120 is comparable in menu speed to the Sony.  Yet another "speed" feature is something Panasonic calls "Quick Start".  This feature cuts the time it takes to load a disc and begin playback by roughly half from the previous model.   Now, if I close the player drawer when I load a disc, I dont even have time to make it to the sofa before the first images are displayed.

     Playback quality is exceptional.  The redesigned MPEG decoder is at least as good as the highly regarded A110/A310 models, if not a bit better.   I have yet to find a DVD player that produces a sharper, more detailed image from downconverted 16:9 transfers than the Panasonics, and this player is going head-to-head with a $1,000 Pioneer Elite in my own system.  Another area I find the Panasonics to excel in is color reproduction, particularly subtle gradients and detail within color.   This player has exceptional performance in black level reproduction.  This is quite evident with letterboxed images with dark backgrounds, such as starfields.   Even very subtle variations in black level, which lesser (but often more expensive) players tend to blend together are clearly delineated.  Of course, careful monitor calibration is very important for accurate black level and Panasonic has now made it a bit easier to calibrate a monitor.  Unlike previous models from Panasonic, the new A120 will display "0" IRE black level found in the PLUGE Panasonic DVD-A120 remote controlpattern on test discs such as 'Video Essentials'.  DVD video experts will tell you that this feature will not change the way a player performs on normal program material since reference black level for DVD video is 7.5 IRE and all players will reproduce 7.5 IRE.   Be that as it may, the ability to display "0" IRE makes accurate black level calibration much easier.

     Of course, nothing is perfect, and I have a serious problem with this player.  This also happens to be the same problem I had with the A110 a year ago.  The remote control sucks.  I mean, it works okay, but it is an ergonomic nightmare.  The remote is small and crammed with small, tighly spaced buttons.  With the interactive nature of DVD, especially those containing elaborate supplemental content that requires a great deal of menu navigation, the design of a remote control is very important.  I hate this one.  So much, in fact, it led me to replace the A110 with a A310 simply for the better designed remote.  Never let it be said I dont learn from my experiences.  Before getting rid of the A310, I checked to see if the remote worked with the A120.  It does.  Panasonic sells replacement remotes for the A310 for around $48 bucks.

     Thank you very much.

     As I said at the beginning, my first impressions of the Panasonic DVD-A120 are very positive.  As with its predecessor, it appears Panasonic has another winner on their hands.  With a retail price $50 less than the A110, $449 vs. $499, the DVD-A120 is a definite "keeper", even with the added expense of a new remote.

 

© Robert A. George 1999.

Correspondence with Robert should be directed through the Home Theater Forum

 

Purchase a Panasonic DVD Player On-line...

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More information about Panasonic Consumer Products can be found upon the offical Panasonic web site

Text © Robert A. George; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © Robert A. George & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission.  Dolby Digital is a registered trademark of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation, THX is a registered trademark of LucasFilm, DTS is a registered trademark of Digital Theater Systems.  The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 17 July, 1999

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