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REVIEW: Philips Electronics DVD-963SA DVD Players

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Model: DVD-963SA
Category: DVD Players
Suggested Retail Price: $499
Description: DVD/CD/SACD Player
Manufacturer URL: Philips Electronics
Manufacturer URL: Philips Electronics

Review by Quadophile ( A ) on October 14, 2003 at 06:18:28
IP Address: 210.56.1.21
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for the DVD-963SA


I am not ashamed to admit that in the last two years I have ended up buying three DVD players. The first one was the Philips DVD-761K, which after a year started to misbehave and would not play some of the DVD’s. In frustration I had to get another one back in January this year which happened to be the Philips Q35. I picked up the Q35 without any research as I was in a hurry. Q35 turned out to be a great player in the sense that it could play anything, being a multi region player. It is still functioning and giving good service. Q35 however failed my test of being a good or even acceptable CD player. It sounds like a mass-market run of the mill CD player with no character to back it up.

OVERVIEW

The reason for my going for the Philips DVD-963SA was primarily to use it as an audio only player with option of watching the DVD concerts whenever I felt like. SACD happens to be its forte and that would make the player somewhat future proof (the way format war is going on nothing basically is). SACD Video is another format that would be bestowed on us poor consumers soon and we all would be having obsolete players to deal with. Certainly the current breed of SACD players would not be capable of handling the new format. Before this player gets obsolete lets consider what the current technology has to offer us.

FEATURES AND SPECIFICATIONS

· SACD Stereo and Multi-Channel
· Fully Separate Analogue and Digital Processors
· Favourite Track Selection (FTS)
· Separate Audio and Video Circuitry
· Video Circuitry can be switched off for purer sound when playing SACD’s or CD’s
· DVD, DVD-RW, CDR, CDRW Compatible
· HQ Progressive Scan with Faroujda DCDi
· CD Up-Sampling to 24 Bit 192Khz
· Advanced SACD Bass Management
· SACD CD Text
· 24 Bit 96kHz Audio Digital to Analogue Converters
· 13 Bit 108Mhz Video Digital to Analogue Converter
· Dolby Digital and DTS Outputs
· Dolby Digital and DTS Decoder Built-in
· Outputs
S-Video
Composite Video RCA x 2
Component Video RCA
Coax Digital
Optical Digital
Audio – RCA (L/R)
Audio – RCA (FL/FR/RL/RR/SB)

Firmware: 4.81.22 (servo 7.12.0)

The technology that went into this player is very much state of the art (as of today from the consumers point of view) boasting a 13 bit Video DAC, unlike many others incorporated with 10-bit/12bit DAC’s. The higher bit DAC helps the player expand the colour palette to 8192 for Y, U and V signals. The progressive scan out put is the preferred choice if one has a TV with input capability for same. On the other hand it also is bestowed with a high quality up-sampling converter for audio only playback (my views on this later). The video circuitry can be switched off with a button on the front panel for purer sound from CD’s and SACD’s (would put a smile on most audiophile’s faces). Another feature that I personally was very thrilled about was the tiny button at the back of the unit marked progressive/interlaced. This button comes in very handy when the TV is being switched from progressive to interlaced, the earlier models both had software switching which required the player to be switched on and you make the changes by viewing it on the TV. It is a very welcome feature indeed and hoping that this will be the trend in future for all players.

List of Equipment used for evaluation of the DVD 963SA

Television: Philips Pixel Plus 9420
Amplification: Quad 66 Pre and 606II Power
Speakers: Paradigm Reference Studio 40 v.2 and Chartwell LS3/5a 15 Ohm versions both on heavy duty custom made stands filled with river sand and adjustable spikes underneath
CD Players: Quad 67 CD Player,Marantz CD-63 Special Edition CD Player, Philips CD-Interactive Player CDI-205
DVD Players: Philips DVD Q35 Philips DVD 761K
Turntable: Rega Planar with Ortofon and A&R cartridges
Cables: Monster Cables, Cable Talk, Musical Fidelity and Music Interface Technologies
Power Supply: Surge Protected with EMI and RFI filtering.

VIDEO QUALITY

I am at a loss not having the ultimate test disk “Video Essentials” but I do have a very good Philips demo disk with many video clips and stills to evaluate and check the colours on any TV or DVD player. I used it to set up my system before any evaluation was done. I did the test using some of my favourite DVD’s which I have watched on various systems and I happen to have a very good reference of which include Diana Krall – Live in Paris, James Taylor – Live at the Beacon Theatre, Abyss, Lawrence of Arabia. I noticed that the detail this player was able to extract from the source disk was far more than what I was used to with the Q35. Compared to the Q35, this player had the uncanny ability to extract a lot more detail from the DVD. The sense of atmosphere was added to most of the outdoor concert videos when the lights come on in the dark. The other thing I noticed was that the shadows had much more detail. On the James Taylor DVD, the texture detail on the stage flooring while the camera is being panned was amazing, I had not noticed it earlier even though I must have watched the DVD 50 times if not more.

Watching high quality DVD’s will always give you a sharper picture and good colours due to high resolution of the medium even if you are using an average quality DVD player, but badly executed disks will actually give you the real picture and give you a very good idea of how good or bad the player is.

I used some VCD’s which I had purchased a while ago on my trip to far east and one of them being Sound of Music and the other a concert featuring Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour Live. Both the disks on the non-progressive player were having irritating artifacts (jaggies) which was not very pleasant to watch. Even the Q35 having the progressive scan capability was not a big improvement on the 761K. I switched it to the 963 with progressive scan engaged and the results changed; the artifacts were now hardly visible and the image was much more appealing. This means that the 108Mhz/13 bit video DAC was really working and showing a clear difference. The other two player’s were featuring a 54MHz/10 bit DAC. Its not just hype, the quality is there for anyone to appreciate.

AUDIO QUALITY

The audio output marked audio L/R is to be used for connection to the TV only and not for High Quality output. You must use the multi-channel out put to feed to your amplification as this is meant for the very purpose. If you are into two-channel audio you can use the menu system to set up the audio accordingly.

CD AUDIO

Being an audiophile I had to ask this question to myself, is this the player that can replace a stand-alone CD player? With the burning question in my mind I set out to test it as if it WAS a stand-alone CD player. Out of the box, the sound was good, rather acceptable but not as upbeat as my Marantz CD-63SE or the velvet smooth and slightly higher end Quad 67 CD Player. The sound that was there led me to believe that the player has the potential to sound better once broken-in. During my research about break-in period the general consensus seems to be a 100 hours for each of the format DVD Video/SACD/CD. I have not yet completed it and cannot say for sure if that is what it takes to get the player to open up. As time passes this player sure is sounding better and better. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that a time will come when this player will sound as smooth as the Quad 67 and as upbeat as the CD-63SE. The up-sampling feature initially was very confusing as I was getting different results with different albums. However, now I have come to the conclusion that the up-sampling feature is not to my liking and I prefer the feature switched off rather than have it engaged. I ended up using my usual reference CD’s comprising of albums listed as follows:

Sting - Soul Cages, Brand New Day, Nothing like the Sun
Patricia Barber – Café Blue, Companion, Verse, Nightclub
Diana Krall – The Look of love, When I look in your eyes
Dave Brubeck – Time Out
Strunz and Farah – Primal Magic
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Porgy and Bess
Dave Grusin – Migration, The Gershwin Connection, Collection, Mountain Dance
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook – Night Song, Mustt Mustt
Alan Stivell – Harpes du Novel Age, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp
Keb Mo – Slow Down
Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now, Clouds, Court and Spark, Blue
Vivaldi – Four Seasons - Seiji Ozawa conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra with Joseph Silverstien
John Williams – Concerto de Aranjuaz

SACD AUDIO

I had the opportunity to compare one track that I happen to have on both formats, normal CD Audio as well as SACD version, which was Diana Krall’s “The Look of Love” featured on the Philips SACD Hybrid Sampler. The first thing that I noticed was the high frequency which on the SACD version sounded very clean and extended more towards analogue side than towards digital. The other noticeable difference was in the lower octaves, which to my surprise was sounding boomy on the normal CD and sort of anchored on the SACD version. Finally I did the test on high volumes and the difference was even more in the sense that the SACD was sounding very controlled whereas the CD version compelled me to lower the volume a bit. This track is a 5.1 remix from the analogue master. On the same sampler another track which also sounded very good was the track from James Taylor’s album “Hourglass” entitled “Jump up behind me” the separation of the instruments and layers in the front and back of the speakers was just incredible. I have heard the live version of same song on the James Taylor’s DVD “Live at the Beacon Theatre” and I somehow preferred this studio version in terms of expanded soundstage. This track was also remastered from a 5.1 PCM master.

The last two tracks on this Philips SACD sampler in my opinion were true representation of what the SACD sound is all about as they were both recorded using the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) format, one being the “Theme from Papillon” composed by Jerry Goldsmith and the other, Johann Strauss’ “Long Live the Hungarians”. On both tracks I felt that somehow there was a noticeable improvement in the Dynamic Range and the soundstage had expanded even more.

IS IT A PERFECT PLAYER AT THE PRICE POINT?

Not quite! There are a few things that some may find irritating about this player. First of all the transport although is very smooth but it sure takes its time to read the disc. The blue lights on the front panel are a bit on the brighter side as far as my own taste is concerned, I would have preferred a small LED instead of the one it has which lights up around the Audio Switch (for switching the video circuitry off). The other one lights up on the left side when up sampling is engaged. The display although is big but the lettering is a bit unsophisticated when it comes to CD text display, Dot Matrix would be a better option rather than the slanting alphabets. The fast forward mode when playing audio discs is the most irritating one for me as it jumps few seconds at a time with sound interrupted in between. This attribute of the player makes it very difficult to search for a passage and start playing from a particular point.

Although there are a few things which I would have wanted in this player to be different, but one thing is certain – there is nothing wrong when one is either listening to the music or watching the video through this player, both are excellent at this price point.

CONCLUSION

Whether you are in the market for a DVD Player or an SACD/CD player in either case you owe it to yourself to short list this one. There are many players in the market to choose from but few which have the capability to give you better than average return in all departments. At this price level this is a fine piece of gear and I am more than happy to have it in my system.

Thank you for dropping by and reading what I write.


Product Weakness: Slow transport, display could have been better
Product Strengths: Good in all departments, video circuitry can be turned off, competitive price for the package


Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Quad 606II
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Quad 66
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Rega Planar 3, Quad 67 CD, Marantz CD 63SE, Philips DVD Q35, Philips DVD 761K
Speakers: Paradigm Reference 40 V.2, Chartwell LS3/5A 15 Ohm versions
Cables/Interconnects: Musical Interface Technologies, Monster Cable, Cable Talk
Music Used (Genre/Selections): All types
Room Size (LxWxH): 15 x 15.5 x 9.5
Room Comments/Treatments: Basic Furnishings, Carpet, Drapes etc
Time Period/Length of Audition: 3 weeks
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Surge Protected with RFI and EMI filtering
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner




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Topic - REVIEW: Philips Electronics DVD-963SA DVD Players - Quadophile 06:18:28 10/14/03 ( 4)