Component Reviews, Part 1 of 3
Published on September 1, 2004
V, Inc. Bravo D2 Scaling DVD player
320A Kalmus Dr.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 668-0588 (voice)
(714) 668-9099 (fax)
DVD player which plays DVD/DVD-R, VCD/SVCD, CD-DA/CDI-FMV, CD, MP-3, CD-R/CD-RW and supports MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, JPEG, DIVX. 8/16/32/48x fast forward and fast backward. Will output in 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080i. DVI, component, S-video, and composite video outputs for video, analog RCA, and both coaxial and optical digital outputs. Remote control included. Unit measures 16.9” W x 10.2” D x 2.6” H and weighs 5.5 pounds. 1 year warranty.
RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 50” DLP rear projection television, Fujitsu P42VHA30WS 42” Plasma monitor, Marantz DV-4400 DVD player (for comparison), Audioquest and Accell video cabling, Panamax 5300 line conditioner.
Although the manual that accompanies the D2 is full of color pictures and multiple hookup descriptions, some of the information is not quite correct. The manual states that it is necessary to connect a composite video cable to initially obtain an image, and then, via the setup menu, you can change the output resolution and select between DVI or component, etc. This is not true. There is a button called “TV Mode” at the top of the remote that will allow you to cycle between the various output modes until you get an image. Once you can see what you are doing you can go into the setup menu and set this as the default mode. If you select a particular DVI mode that doesn’t work with your TV (which I most promptly did), then you would normally be in trouble. In fact, the manual discusses a procedure to get the unit to return to its composite output state by holding down buttons and pushing a particular code in. This is completely unnecessary once you realize what the “TV Mode” button does.
So after forging ahead with the setup I realized that the DLP television set I was using will not accept a 720p signal via DVI (or anything else). This is unfortunate as its native resolution is 720p. Go figure! 480p and 1080i did work, so I used those modes when testing the DVI output. Later, with the plasma monitor, I was unable to get a fullscreen image with the 480p output even though its native resolution is 480p. Go figure! Isn’t this a crazy digital world? With this set the 720p and 1080i modes did work however. I should mention that there is a custom DVI setting menu. If you know about these things then you might be able to adjust parameters like PreHSync, HSyncTotal,VideoWidth, VSyncActive, etc. I didn’t mess with it because I was too worried about screwing something up. I had more troubles…
In the manual it states that the YPbPr output is for progressive video. Oh, no! What if you have a television that accepts component video, but doesn’t offer progressive capability (i.e. a set that is non-HDTV ready)? Well, never fear. It turns out that the component output will work interlaced as well. You just have to choose between outputting (1) S-video and composite or (2) composite and component. You can forget about using DVI and outputting to another TV, but you weren’t planning on doing this anyway, were you?
In the audio realm things were acting strangely as well. From my reading of the manual it seems that if you set the output of the D2 for digital that analog will not work and vice versa. As far as I can tell, setting these options did nothing. I was able to get analog output in either setting and digital as well. I thought it might relate to the decoding, but DTS worked regardless of the setting via the digital output. Hmmm…
Okay. So I finally had a handle on everything and decided it was time to pop in a disc like Akira with a THX Optimizer so I could make all the video adjustments and start looking at some DVDs. The unit offers adjustments for Brightness, Contrast, and Saturation on the DVI output and guess what? They were cranked all the way up! I played with the controls (and by the way if you don’t touch a button on the remote they disappear pretty fast) and noted that each adjustment bar made a huge difference. The bars were so coarse that I could only get so close to the proper setting. Luckily, the sets both allowed adjustments on the DVI input for contrast, sharpness, brightness, color, and tint. With the Scenium I was able to tune the TV and get the controls the way I wanted them. The plasma was another matter. When I adjusted the white level the black level was all out of whack and vice versa. Every way I tried (with the controls on the monitor or on the player) I could not get the image properly adjusted according to the test disc. I finally just gave up and watched some video material that looked all right. Just for kicks I tried another DVD player and found that with the component output on this player I had no trouble getting the image properly adjusted. For some videophiles this may be reason enough to pass on this player with certain displays.
The remote was a bit quirky too. It is not backlit and although some of the buttons glow in the dark, the ones that do are not the important ones like play, stop, skip, etc. This was unfortunate, but the main controls are at the bottom of the remote and it was easy to remember what they did. What seemed strange is the fact that there are numbered buttons (just like every other DVD remote), but I couldn’t figure out a way to use them. I tried entering 0′s, hitting “enter” after the buttons, but nothing seemed to make them work. All the other buttons on the remote worked as they should. On page 6 of the manual it shows a picture of the remote with a description of the keypad as “Number Keys (0-9).” It would have been nice if they told you how to make ‘em work!
Just when you thought it was safe to go to the front panel…Hey. Wait a second. There seems to be something missing. Well, actually there are two things missing. The first may seem a bit superfluous but I don’t think so. There is no “stop” button. You read correctly. There is reverse and fast forward–apparently those are important, but no “stop.” Just in case you are wondering, yes I tried the “open/close” button and sure enough–the tray opened up! There is a “stop” button on the remote, so I guess I could make do. But one thing I seriously missed is no chapter or track number. Even an old DAK CD player I borrowed from a friend back in 1985 had track numbers. How could someone think this isn’t important? If you have the TV on you can push “info” and get the chapter information, but it is not on the front panel.
When I left the tray open for a while and walked away and tried to get the machine going again nothing happened. This same thing happened two other times. The remote didn’t have any effect and the buttons on the front panel didn’t do anything either. I finally just pushed the manual power button on the unit and the controls seemed to work again, but no picture. What was going on? I pushed the trusty “TV mode” button and got picture. I entered the setup menu and, sure enough, all the settings were back to default! How could this be? The unit lost all the settings. I made some adjustments and confirmed that turning off the power lost all the settings. After living with this problem and readjusting everything from scratch I began some Internet searching and found many others who had encountered problems with this unit. I plodded on and was reassured by the fact that this player could upconvert DVDs and play mp3s, photo discs, and divx discs. In my reading I noticed that there was a firmware upgrade. Read on.
One of the capabilities of the Bravo D2 is the ability to update the firmware on the player. For the hearty computer user this will be a snap. Even for me it turned out to be only a small amount of extra work. The firmware on the player was 1.1.9 and the new update would take it to 1.1.10. The first thing to do was download the update. It is a .iso which means you have to burn the image onto a CD. Your favorite recording software should offer this as an option–mine was an older version of Adaptec CD Creator 5.0 Basic. After burning the CD you need to push a few buttons, hold down another, click a few times on the remote, and viola, updated firmware. Although there is no mention of the actual fixes, I can tell you two things that were changed. For one, the settings now stuck whether the unit was hard-powered off or not. The second was the display settings such as contrast were default in the center positions. Other than that, I can’t tell you what else is different. I haven’t experienced a lock-up since the firmware update, but who knows if that is just a fluke or not. Only time will tell. At least now I don’t have to worry about losing the settings if I do have to turn the hard-power on and off. On to the video…
If you’ve made it this far, then you must be interested in why this product is worth all this trouble. The reason is pretty simple: flexibility, DVI output, and price.
There have been other units that output DVI, but most of them have either been fairly expensive or mediocre machines at best (with quirks worse than the D2). The purported advantage of the Digital Video Interface (DVI) output is obvious–it’s digital. I can hear the vinylphiles scoffing as I write this. If you have a digital display like an LCD, DLP, LCOS, or a plasma monitor that can accept a DVI input, then it is possible to send a direct digital signal from the DVD player without conversion to analog and conversion back to digital inside the television. Theoretically, this should give an visual improvement due to the avoidance of A/D and D/A conversion.
The fact that this machine can play VCDs, SVCDs, and divx (or MPEG-4) is a big plus. You can play movie discs, etc., that were burned in a computer as easy as playing a DVD. The machine will play mp3 music discs and photo discs as well.
Lastly, some of us audiophiles have spent a lot more than $249 on power cords. A friend of mine swears by his D1 (an older model), and lets his son play VCDs of cartoons and the like without worrying about damaged DVDs, etc. Another has combined several DVDs onto one disc so that his daughter can watch her Disney movies one after the other. All just a few of the reasons why this machine is unique.
Viewing, Part I–480p, 720p, 1080i, oh, my!
The first bit of testing I did was to see if I could tell much difference between the different output resolutions offered by this player. For the neophytes: 480i is standard interlaced DVD output, 480p is standard progressive DVD output, 720p is one of the ATSC High Definition standards that is currently used by ABC, and 1080i is what most people think of as High Definition and is used by most broadcasters. All high-definition-ready digital sets will accept a 1080i, so that this output should work on any set. That is the same case with 480p, but on the plasma the 480p signal through the DVI input did not work properly–the image was inset in the center of the screen and was too small. The RCA Scenium set did not work with 720p but possibly the custom DVI configuration menu might have fixed this.
Within a short time I became aware of another limitation of the D2. Although the player has a selection for component video output at 1080i, it did not work. I just got an error message that I couldn’t play the disc, so I finally gave up on doing this sort of test. I wasn’t too concerned as I really was interested in the DVI performance and not the component. For anyone who doesn’t have a digital display and thinks that perhaps they would like to use this player for upconverted component–take heed. This brings up another important issue: Are you gauranteed a better picture by doing upconversion in a player versus using upconversion in the set itself? The answer is: not necessarily. On to the tests.
DVI 480p vs. 1080i. I tried this test first and realized that I couldn’t try 720p because it wouldn’t work on the DLP. I used chapter 7 from Akira. On the 480p I noticed what looked like combing and some jitter on vertical motion. It looked a little like what deinterlacing errors look like. Colors were rich and vibrant which boded well for the image through the DVI output in general. When I switched to 1080i I thought the vertical motion had improved and clarity was improved and at the same time the image seemed smoother–somewhat of a contradiction, but that is the best way to describe it.
Component 480p vs. DVI 1080i. I continued to use Akira and there were more obvious issues with artifacts especially regarding vertical motion with the component output versus the DVI output. This may vary based on display and depends on the quality of the progressive component output as well. Later I compared the quality of the Bravo with a similiarly priced player by Marantz, the DV4400. But first, I switched over to chapter 2 on the superbit version of Seven Years In Tibet. With the component output the image was slightly soft, but colors were good. With the 1080i DVI output there was more noticeable film grain but improved clarity and depth. On certain scenes it definitely looked more natural than the component output. On this player it is clear to me that the preferred output would be the DVI.
Viewing, Part II–Aspect Ratio Troubles
This player handles 4:3 material by placing the image smack dab in the middle of the 16:9 frame which will work fine for most people. Black bars are on the sides, so if you get freaked out about the possibility of burn-in on your plasma monitor then be warned. The problem begins with older, non widescreen-enhanced movies. Anyone who has had experience with HD material that is in the wrong aspect ratio can empathize–there is nothing you can do unless you happen to have an analog projector with various settings to correct for the error. With digital displays it is a no go. What this means is things are stretched when they shouldn’t be and letterboxing looks way too skinny. The only solution is to run this material in the component and then select one of the zoom modes on your television. This should blow up the image to fit in the 16×9 screen shape and make everything look correct. If you have a 4×3 set then there is nothing to worry about anyway.
Viewing, Part III–Comparison with Marantz DV4400
Say you don’t care at all about all those extra features that are unique to the D2 (like MPEG-4 playback). How does the unit stack up against a typical progressive scan player with component output? Good question. Let’s see…First I calibrated the Marantz using the THX Optimizer on the same Akira DVD. I began the comparison with chapter 11 from The Red Violin. My notes about the image with the Marantz say: “Creamy, colors like velvet, slight softness.” With the Bravo I just wrote: “Colors appear richer.” Succinct, but yes, it does sum up the difference. The D2 had a way of showing more depth, more vibrant colors in an almost overly rich way. The Marantz was softened by comparison, but very easy to watch–one viewer preferred it, another preferred the D2.
Next was chapter 19 from Gladiator. With the Bravo the colors practically popped off the screen and were more vivid and three dimensional. Still, there was something about the smoothness of the Marantz that made it more film-like. In many ways the D2 looked like digital video and the softer look of the analog component output of the Marantz reminded me more of film. I should note that there was an occasional, repeatable flickering that occured in this scene as the camera panned from right to left in the arena when there was a closeup of the statesmen. It only occured with the DVI output on the DLP set. It did not occur with the component output with the DLP, nor did occur on the plasma with the DVI. I can only surmise it was some strange anomaly having something to do with a strange interaction between the DLP and the D2.
As mentioned previously, I was not able to properly adjust the player to work with the plasma monitor. I didn’t bother with any comparison and just viewed a few different scenes with the DVI output set to 1080i. The image looked good, but not really any better than the progressive component output. It may be that with a higher resolution panel the advantages would be more apparent.
Viewing and Listening–Mp3s and MPEG-4
I had an mp3 disc that I had burned a year or so ago. It played fine in the D2. The first screen that comes up when you put in what the player displays as an “ISO CD” lets you select Audio, Video, Photo Pictures, Playlist. The playlist seems to be the same as either the audio or video depending on what type of disc you put in. I didn’t try the photo CD capability although I have no reason to think it wouldn’t have worked perfectly well.
With the mp3 audio disc the list of songs showed up on the screen once I had selected audio and I was able to scroll down through them and select the song I wanted to play. There is a skip page up and down function that lets you go through 11 songs at once. This particular disc has over 350 songs and they all seemed to be listed. Below, the folder the songs are listed. The song information is not displayed in the display on the D2 itself. You will need to have a separate video display connected in order to see all the choices and select what you want to listen to. Another drawback relates to the number keypad which I was not able to get functioning with the audio discs (CD or mp3) either. It would have been nice to be able to punch in track 237. Maybe this will be available with a future update?
I downloaded some generic videos off the Internet–one was a music video and the other seemed to be an advertisement for a camera system. Both of these played fine and were selectable from the video menu and worked in the same manner as the audio menu. One strange thing however. I’m not really sure, but with my computer there is no problem outputting digital audio with MPEG-4 files. On the Bravo D2 though, there is only analog output.
The Bravo D2 is an interesting machine, but in many ways is still a work in progress. Although its price and feature list are very attractive, the problems and issues might scare some people away. Those who’ve made it this far through the review should be able to assess whether or not this player makes sense for you. If a standalone DVD product that plays MPEG-4 discs is important then look no further. And for those looking for a way to get a better DVD picture via a DVI output to a digital display for the least amount of money, this product should be at the top of your list. For everyone else under the impression that analog component video is dead, look again. Although there were differences in picture quality between the digital and analog video outputs, the “better” one was not always the preferred one. In any case, this machine offers both so you can compare and decide for yourself. [For those of us who may have thought home audio was complicated and confusing, welcome to home theater!..Ed.]
– Brian Bloom