Face Off: Step-Up DVD Players JVC XV-511BK
The company that put videotape on the map has now embraced DVD. Actually, this isn't JVC's first player, and, in some ways, it shows. Although the JVC came out as one of the higher-rated players in this Face Off, a few design choices on the XV-511BK present some interesting reviewer and user dilemmas.
To begin with, the JVC player has fewer output connections than the rest of the group. This doesn't mean much, though, since the XV-511BK meets what we consider to be the basic requirements for any home theater arrangement and also includes the more-coveted component output. Unlike the other players, the JVC doesn't include a coaxial digital output, which may limit flexibility in certain systems. The optical output sends almost all digital signals to your external digital processor, with the exception of those DVDs recorded with 24-bit/96-kHz signals. The player does, however, offer the Compulink connection that lets you network the DVD player with other JVC components like, say, a JVC receiver. The resulting combo can then talk back and forth and make sure everything is working as it should be. For example, the receiver will switch to the correct input when the user presses play on the DVD player. This feature isn't found on any of the other players and would be a definite bonus for owners of other JVC gear.
Unfortunately, setting up this particular DVD player isn't quite as easy. Accessing the setup menu requires that you stop the DVD and press the "onscreen" button. As official Face Off calibrator, I'd have to say that I didn't find this particularly intuitive. Labeling the button "setup" would make more sense.
What the player's setup menu lacks in simplicity, the small handheld remote makes up for in ease of use. One of the better remotes of the comparison, this controller benefits from the color-coded sections and symmetrical layout. The only button missing is the "audio" function that allows the user to switch from, say, the two-channel English track to the 5.1-channel track. This can be particularly important when you're playing discs from studios whose software doesn't automatically default to the 5.1 track (see sidebar). You can still make this change within a movie's menu, however.
Ergonomics aside, the player won points when compared with the others in the Face Off. Clint described the JVC as having the richest, most saturated colors of any player in the group. He didn't think the unit had as many, or any, noticeable artifacts. Maureen, on the other hand, felt that the colors were too bright and seemed a little exaggerated. Mark agreed with Clint's assessment, feeling that the 511BK's colors stood out and were more dynamic than on the other players. Mark, of course, had no way to know for sure if JVC's color palette was correct, but he sheepishly admitted that, even if it wasn't, he preferred it to the other players. He did mention that he thought the better-looking colors came at the expense of some clarity in the image.
Although I'd admit the colors had more punch than on the competing products, I noticed that black levels seemed low and that shadows were being lost. Then again, I had checked out the player before our test and saw that the black level was considerably darker than that of the other products. JVC apparently has set the player's black level at 0 IRE, with no way to change it. If your TV or projection display can set a different brightness level for the DVD player, compared with other sources, then you won't lose shadows and you'll only notice an improved dynamic range in the image. However, setting the display's brightness level becomes a tad more difficult, since this player also doesn't pass the handy PLUGE test pattern from Video Essentials. If your TV uses one global brightness setting for all inputs or if you direct all sources through an external switcher, either the JVC's image will be too dark or other sources will appear too bright.
In our test, the projector was set up at the more-common 7.5-IRE level, which accommodates the other players' setting and seemingly puts the JVC player at a disadvantage. Had we played dark scenes with lots of shadows, the player's 0-IRE black level would've become more of an issue. As the best compromise, we limited our evaluation to bright scenes to conveniently compare the players without exaggerating the issue. Since a user would conceivably set the brightness of their display to match their DVD player, this problem wouldn't occur.
For the most part, the panelists liked the JVC's image. Taking the black level out of the equation made colors look good. The player's performance, combined with a simple remote and adequate features, would seem a good fit for many systems. We must caution you, however, to consider your system and check with your salesperson. If you can't accommodate the JVC player's different black level, the majority of images won't look good. In those systems that can make the adjustment, everything will look great.
• The excellent color saturation won points with most panelists
• Easy-to-use and well-laid-out remote control