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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/19/98

Panasonic A110 & A310 DVD Players

review by Digital Man, special to The Digital Bits

Last year, the world, or at least an eager group of new technology early-adopters, waited with baited breath for the first DVD players to hit the market. First out of the gate were units from Toshiba, Panasonic, and Pioneer. The offerings from Pioneer and Panasonic were noticeable inferior to the other players. That was a bit of a left hook to Panasonic, who along with Toshiba, originally developed DVD technology. So what do you do when you first effort is somewhat less than stellar? Come back stronger than anyone expected in Round Two.

At the Consumer Electronic Show in January, there were numerous announcements made of new DVD players by hardware manufacturers. It was here, that Panasonic first introduced its new line of DVD players for 1998: the A110 and the A310 were among these, along with a new high-end portable unit (the L10) and a new Karaoke-"enhanced" unit (the K510). The A110 an A310 had sticker prices of $399 and $599 respectively. So how do these two players compare to Panasonic's first offerings? More of the same, you ask? No way.

Both units use the same OEM 10 bit DAC that Sony uses in its highly praised 7000 and 3000 units. Both units also use a 96mhz, 24 bit audio DAC. And more significantly, both players have the long-awaited DTS output (which identifies the DTS signal so any outboard processor can read the disc). But wait - with features like this, why are these units so cheap?

Let's start with the A110. Every major manufacturer has a lower end unit this year. Panasonic just wants to have the best. The Panasonic A110 is effortless - that's the best way to sum it up. It doesn't quite have all the bells and whistles, but it does boast fast disc access, and seamless menu speed. It's a basic unit, so it only has limited video outputs (S-video and composite - no component). The front panel is fairly plain, with only the necessary disc access controls (play, stop, skip, etc…). The player identifies the audio with a touch of the button. Aesthetics is not what you pay for with this player… it's performance.

The video is smooth and crisp, with menu access speed to equal the Sony 7000. Clearly, any company that doesn't use a 10 bit video DAC from now on is crazy. It eliminates all the jitter and bugs that last year's players had. The color adjustments are smooth, with everything adjustable via an on-screen menu… and I mean everything. You can change chapters, titles, and subtitles on the fly. Initial setup is simple - quick, on-screen selection of your display type and preferences allows for a quick start.

The audio menu allows you to select linear PCM or Dolby Digital, and the DTS output can easily be turned on and off. The audio performance is smooth, just like the video. The built in DAC and separate CD pick-up lens makes the CD playback sound crisp and cutting. With Audio-only DVDs coming out later this year, look for stellar audio playback. The player also comes with a rather basic remote.

For the higher-end customer, the A310 has just about everything the big boys want except a zoom feature. It has all the basics the A110 has, adding component video and a shuttle dial on the face of the player, not to mention a built in Dolby Digital decoder. It's 'universal' remote (with Panasonic's unique joystick control) allows for easy menu selection.

The component video outputs allow the player to be hooked up to a line doubler or video projector, and to some higher-end, component-equipped TVs. This doesn't make a noticeable picture-quality improvement over S-video, unless you actually look at a disc like Video Essentials, and run the test patterns. The shuttle dial is handy, and allows for quick disc access. Its fly speed and frame rate is much faster than even the Sony 7000.

Just like its little brother, the A310's audio is great. You can hook this player up to any existing DTS processor and get instant DTS, without having to worry whether or not your processor identifies multiple speed DTS signals. The built-in Dolby Digital decoder is not very good, however, as a lot of internal noise is picked up through the chassis. I would recommend an external processor for Dolby Digital.

Both players also feature a variety of start-up messages on the LED display, and a 'flying' Panasonic DVD logo acts as a screen saver while discs load, rather than a blank screen (or blue, like the Toshibas).

Overall, the biggest downfall for both players is the lack of black level adjustment. If the player can't display below-black video signals, proper ISF calibration is very tough, but still doable. I recommend you have an ISF tech calibrate your set if you own one of these players, as it will be very tough to get it right on your own.

For the price, however, these two DVD players can't be beat. Performance from both is superior or equal to most everything out on the market right now. Add a separate DTS decoder, and you've got a winner.

Digital Man

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