We've waved goodbye to DIVX, the most universally hated video format of our time, but what of the DIVX capable machines out there on the shelves, are they all bad too? Robert A. George (Obi) decided to overlook format politics and investigate what one such machine can offer - you may be surprised at the outcome.
ProScan PS8680Z Specifications Component Video Output
DIVX-Enhanced DVD Player
95dB signal-to-noise ratio
20Hz - 20,000Hz frequency response
Dolby Digital & DTS compatible
Backlit universal remote
Enhanced Cursor Control on Deck
Multiple Repeat and Programming Functions
Shuttle control & cursor control on deck
Multi-Language/Subtitle Capability (Non-DIVX Discs)
Optical Digital Audio Output
Component Video Outputs
RF Adaptor Output
RJ-11 Phone Jack
Front Headphone Jack with Volume Control
Two Sets Gold-Plated Audio/Video Outputs
One S-Video Output
Telephone Line and Telephone Line Splitter
RRP - $499 (availble for a lot less)
15"W × 2.9"D × 13˝"D.
(All specifications as per manufacturer)
ProScan DVD/CD/Video-CD DIVX Compatible Player
If you are one of those kneejerk moralists that starts foaming at the mouth at the very mention of the word "DIVX", you can stop reading now because I'm about to say some very complimentary things about the ProScan DVD player. Although DIVX is now a dead format and you couldn't register a player now even if you wanted to, the ProScan is a remnant of Circuit City's pay-per-view scheme. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a good deal on a great DVD player, read on. I found a gem of a DVD player tucked away in the belly of the beast disguised as the evil DIVX.
Some weeks ago, I was looking for a new player to replace another model that I was not completely happy with. I stepped into the local Circuit City to check out a couple of the models they sell and immediately noticed the ProScan among the brands offered. Although I considered the ProScan the best looking player of the bunch and a cursory glance at performance showed it to be a competent performer, I was not of a mind to take home a DIVX player so I quickly moved on. Then there was the April issue of Sound & Vision magazine and a fairly glowing review of the ProScan player. That, coupled with the recent demise of the DIVX format and Circuit City's "fire sale" pricing of DIVX equipped DVD players, was enough to get me to reconsider this machine.
Sold under Thomson Electronics' ProScan brand, the PS8680Z is the top of the line DVD player from that company. Although this is the highest priced player in the line, it does not include a built-in Dolby Digital® 5.1 decoder. The designers chose instead to concentrate on DVD playback performance and it shows.
The first thing one will notice in the proverbial sea of black metal and plastic that is the average electronics boutique is the titanium gray face of the ProScan. If the power is on, you may also notice the attractive lighted buttons on the front. The front panel is clean and uncluttered with contemporary styling befitting a product of this type.
Build quality is better than average, on par with the mid-line Sonys and more substantial than the Panasonics, Toshibas, and JVC. The disc tray slides in and out with a quick, smooth stroke. On-screen graphics are easy to read with selections arranged in a "tree" form. Owners of RCA DBS receivers will recognize the graphics right away. They are nearly identical.
Back panel jacks include:
- 1 × detachable AC power cord
- 1 × S-Video
- 2 × AV jacks (composite video/analog audio)
- 1 × Component video set
- 1 × Optical digital
Something I have not seen on any other player is a special RF adapter port at accepts an RF adapter plug that allows for connection to a television without AV jacks. There is also a phone jack on the back, but I suggest not touching that. You never know what you might catch. Digital audio output is limited to the single optical port. No coaxial digital output. The player also outputs DTS® audio (without the annoying dropouts of the JVC XV-501). The default setup is for the DTS audio off. One must change the audio setup before playing DTS DVDs.
The remote is of the universal variety. There are quite a few buttons, many of which don't have anything to do with DVD, but will come in handy if you use it for controlling other components (it can control as many as six, including the DVD player). Remote codes for most RCA and ProScan components are already loaded and there are codes for just about every other manufacturer available for programming. There is a backlight on the remote, but there are not enough buttons lit to make this a worthwhile feature.
Enough of all this, on to the really important stuff. Performance. If performance is what is really important to you (instead of politics), this is a DVD player to beat.
Basic video playback quality is, as one should expect, excellent. Black level is very good and color rendition from the S-video output is very accurate. Black level setup is 7.5 IRE so this player will not display the 0 IRE part of a PLUGE pattern. The one area of video performance that sets this player apart from every other one I have tested is its ability to downconvert 16:9 enhanced DVD transfers for playback on standard 4:3 televisions. This is simply the best machine at handling this very important feature that I have seen (and was good enough to sell me the player on that alone). There are two basic types of downconversion in players today. There are the Sonys with the smoothest picture but at a loss of sharpness and detail, then there is just about every other brand that produce sharper images than the Sonys but have varying degrees of horizontal line artifacts. The ProScan offers a welcome combination of the Sonys' smoothness while retaining the sharpness and detail of other brands such as the Panasonic and Pioneer.
Another important performance feature of DVD players is their ability to handle the layer transition on RSDL discs. The best I have seen are the Sony machines, with the JVC 501 a very close second in terms of speed. The ProScan easily rivals the Sony for speed and is slightly smoother than the JVC. I have also noticed some players can be prone to a brief static burst (like a "pop") at the layer change on some discs. There seems to be some sort of buffer in the digital audio signal path of the ProScan as there is only the very briefest loss of audio and the transition in the audio bitstream is very smooth and clean.
While I do like the video performance of this player quite a lot, there are two minor but annoying omissions. There is no button to open/close the disc drawer on the remote and there is no "title" button. This is the first player I have encountered that does not have these features and I do miss them.
I have spent many hours going though as many discs as I could think of that exhibit one glitch or another on other brands of players and I cannot find one that the ProScan does not play flawlessly. Even what has become my dual layer torture disc, Artisan's 'Mountains of the Moon', plays though without a hitch. Even after the firmware update, the Panasonic A120 (review here) still will not play this disc without severe pixelation and both the JVC 501 and Pioneer Elite DV-05 hang-up at the layer change. The ProScan played through the layer change on this disc with barely the briefest pause, the first time I have seen that happen.
Perhaps the best thing about this player is its new price. ProScan lists this model with a retail of $499. Circuit City has been selling this model for $449 up until DIVX took a dirt nap and now have them priced to move at $329. At $449 this is player is a good deal. At $329 it's a no-brainer. Be warned, however. That evil four-letter word does adorn the front panel and the menu firmware still includes everything necessary for the unsuspecting to set up their accounts with "big brother" (now non-working). So, only the open-minded videophile need apply.
© Robert A. George 1999.
Correspondence with Robert should be directed through the Home Theater Forum
More information about ProScan Consumer Products can be found upon the offical ProScan 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, DTS is a registered trademark of Digital Theater Systems. The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/
Last updated 25 June, 1999
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