Ten Things You Should Know is a new feature series here at Gizmodo aimed at first-time buyers or people who don't have (or need) extensive knowledge on a product before making a purchase. To blast things off, we're starting it up today with Ten Things You Should Know Before You Buy an Upscaling DVD Player.
Although the high definition players are already fairly cheap (HD DVD at $299 and Blu-ray getting close), the lack of content and their uncertain future is still putting a lot of people off. What's the alternative? An upscaling DVD player that turns all of the movies you ownâ€”plus all the ones you can rent from Netflix or Blockbusterâ€”into high definition goodness.
Sure, the quality isn't going to be as good as HD DVD or Blu-ray, but if you add in the extra features that these very refined DVD players haveâ€”streaming, Internet radio, and DivX playbackâ€”you can possibly get an even richer media experience. Here are the ten things you should know before you buy one.
0) Before we start, you should understand that Upscaling DVD players aren't the same as actual HD DVD or Blu-ray players. You still have the same amount of data in terms of pixels you came in with, namely, a lot less pixels than actual HD players. These don't turn SD content into HD content technically, they just make your SD content look a whole lot better than they do on regular SD players.
1) Does it upscale to 1080p? Not all players doâ€”especially the very cheap ones (under $100). If you've got a fancy HDTV that supports 1080p, you'd want a player that can output everything your display can handle. However, it's not a huge deal if both your TV and the player are 1080i. The difference in quality isn't enough to make it worth your money to upgrade your equipment for at this point.
2) Does your TV support HDMI? Some players that do upscale to 1080i or 1080p only do it over HDMI. If you've got an older set with only component cables, check to make sure the DVD player you get upscales both DVDs and other video files over component and not just HDMI.
3) Does it support DivX, WMV, XviD, and other file formats? One of the benefits of getting an upscaling DVD player over either Blu-ray or HD DVD is the addition of file playback. If you regularly download TV shows or movies off of BitTorrent, you'll be happier if the player you get can play these back on your widescreen TV. For the DVD fans, you'll want to find out whether it supports playback of DVD images as well. Instead of having to switch out DVDs, you could essentially make your own DVD changer by dumping 100 of your favorite movies onto an external hard drive.
4) Does it support video/audio streaming? Instead of having to burn DVD-Rs (which could get costly) or DVD-RWs (still time consuming) whenever you've downloaded something new to watch, why not just stream the files directly from your PC or file server? If the player supports audio streaming as well, you've got yourself a nice music player in your living room at no extra cost.
5) Does it have wireless? If your player does stream, check to see if it supports 802.11g as well. You may not necessarily have your entertainment center wired up for Ethernet cables as well as it's wired for audio/video equipment. With wireless, you can stream data with no extra wiring involved.
6) Does it have 5.1 audio? Is it a built-in receiver with speaker tabs? Almost all the upscaling DVD players will have 5.1 audio with either optical or coaxial audio outputs, but if you're going the super cheap route ($50 and under), you should make sure it's got the right connections. If you don't have a receiver already, you could go the opposite route and spend a little more on a DVD player that's also a receiver built in (Home Theater in a Box gives you speakers as well).
7) How are the extras? This is optional, but some players have extras like shoutcast Internet radio streaming, Internet TV stations, and Weather forecasts. If you're into stuff like Internet radio then make sure the player you have supports it.
8) Is it region-free? Not all players are, and if you're going to be playing back DVDs you buy overseas for $2 a pop, you should make sure the player you buy supports it.
9) Does it play back burned discs? Again, if you're going to be copying discs "you already own", you should be sure that there's support for it. Then again, there's nothing more fun than taking merchandise back to the store because it doesn't work the way you want. So, it's mostly up to you.
10) Would you be better off with a Home Theater PC? Instead of getting a set-top box that tries to emulate everything a PC can do, why not get a PC? If you're looking for all these features, plus DVRing (for recording your TV shows), gaming, Internet browsing, and BitTorrenting all in one, then you won't go wrong with an HTPC. The only thing to worry about is the price, which will probably be a bit more than what you'd spend on one of these upscaling DVD players.