DVD up-scalers are all the rage these days. They cost all the way from $100 to more than your HDTV does. But what are they?

DVD up-scalers take a standard 480i signal and can present it to the TV in a variety of resolutions. Generally you would want to give the HDTV its native resolution. i.e. most plasmas are 720p so that is what you should set the DVD player for. Most digital TVs can only display one resolution and have scalers built-in, but sometimes they are not that great. These DVD players are designed to help, or replace, those internal scalers which will theoreticaly make a better picture. Will they make the DVDs high-def: no; will your DVDs look better: most will.

Neodigits was kind enough to send us their lastest up-scaling DVD player the HVD2085. This thing is loaded. Up-scaling all the way to 1080p via HDMI and component, 5.1 digital and analog outputs, VGA, and "Smart Play." (more info in the full review). Click on for the full review.

Build and construction

Small and sleek. Those are the only words for this DVD player. The front controls on the right are nice buttons with a good feel. (But who uses these anyways?) The DVD tray is kind of flimsy and somewhat cheap looking. On the other hand, it is smooth and quiet. Lastly, the LCD screen is small and crisp; there is nothing worse than a dark media room being lit up by a bright LCD display.

The real gem of this player is the back. This player has every jack for any type of situation it might be needed for. Check it out. Audio options: standard two channel, 5.1 analog outputs, optical and digital. Video options: composite, s-video, component, VGA, and HDCP compliant HDMI. It is nice to have all these options even though the single HDMI cable can take the place of most of these connections.



 

Remote

Well the remote looks familiar. It seems to come from the same mold as many older Hitachi's. This is O.K. with us though 'cause if it is good enough for their TVs, it is good enough for a DVD player. The remote has direct buttons for different resolutions. There is no need to go into the menu in order to change from the component jacks to the VGA option. While this is nice to have, it would be very convenient to have them on the player itself. All the buttons tend to be a little small though and while my eye sight is fine, I can see some people having an issue with them. Backlighting would be helpful with smaller buttons.



Menu

I am in love with this menu. There is nothing worse than a slow, bloated menu. (besides a bright LCD display in a dark room of course) This menu is very quick and simple. It gives just enough info without consuming the entire screen. I have a feeling that it might be a love it or hate it thing though. Some people like the menus that give you all sorts of options and looks a little more fancy, but the cool thing about doing a review is that it is my call and I love it.

The content is more important about the looks though. The menu system lets you quickly change everything from the resolution to "Smart Play." (almost to the explanation) Did I mention it is very quick?




Video playback and picture quality

This is what you came here fort; you want to know if this DVD player will look better on your HDTV, right? Well, my friend, I have good news. But before we get to the details, lets explain one of the coolest feature of this player. "Smart Play" is an option that allows the player to skip all the previews and menus and go right to the movie. It's cool.

Back to the picture quality.  Many of you are skeptical about how much an up-scaler can do for you and so was one of my best friends, Dan. He was kind enough to let me use his 51-inch Hitachi while my 36-inch Sony was being serviced. (doesn't accept any high-def input - very frustrating) We sat down and watched a couple of movies one afternoon.

First, we watched The Matrix: Reloaded on his Sony DVP-NS725P. This player was hooked up with Monster Video 2 (let the flaming begin) component cables and set to progressive scan. The movie looked great. It was colorful and the sharpness was fine. We were both satisfied with the picture and skeptical that the Helios could produce a better image.

So we then popped another copy of the movie in the Helios to compare the image. First, we picked the scene were Neo has to fight off hundreds of Mr. Smiths. The results: the Sony produced a great image and there was not any noticeable increase in detail from the Helios. In fact, the background often appeared more "noisy" from the Helios. There was one very noticeable difference however, the Helios was a lot smoother. We didn't even notice that there was a problem when we watched the movie the first time, but then the Helios was played, it was very obvious.

This smoother picture become even more evident during the highway scene. The picture was just a lot smoother. I am not even going to speculate why this is the case (maybe 3:2 pull down) but after watching the Helios the Sony kind of made us nauseous.

We came to almost the same conclusion about King Kong. While it was still a smoother image, there was a slight increase in detail. It needs to be noted that the computer generated items, like Kong himself, was not where it was noticed but rather in the "real" details. Naomi Watts face was sharper and more detailed, but the Helios did nothing to make those nasty bugs look real. This has to be in part that the image of King Kong and the giant bugs were generated to look good at a specific resolution.

Rating this DVD player is a tough decision. Was it better than a higher-end 480p Sony: yes; was it better enough that my buddy Dan was going to throw out his Sony and buy one of these: not really. The images were, by far, smoother and they were clearer most of the time. This players claim to fame though was that it increased the resolution of the DVDs and for that, it did not produce a very noticeable difference.



Overview

This is a very good DVD player. It stands up against one of the better DVD players out there and produced a smoother image. Was it unfair to match this up against a standard DVD instead of another up-scaler; I don't think so. That is what many of you have questioned.

The player is well built with a good amount of options. You cannot ask for a more hookup friendly player and it gives you a lot of setup options. The menu is quick and simply. The most important detail though is the picture. It was in fact smoother and generally had more detail then a standard 480p DVD player.

HDBeat can give this DVD player a solid recommendation.



Side test

In true scientific style, I set up a single blind test at a local major electronics store. (note: the results had no effect on my personal review) The Helios player was hooked up to a new 42-inch Panasonic TH-42PX60U through an Onkyo TX-SR703 via component cables and compared against the stores best DVD player: a Harmon Kardon DVD 22. The receiver allowed me to quickly switch between the two players with out giving away the true source of the picture.

Both players were feed the stores demo disc and cued up to the same scene with a ±7 second delay. This allowed people to pick out something specific to judge. These scenes were short little clips and the first up was Master and Commander. Everyone liked the outline of Russel Crowes face better on the Helios and the dust from the cannon fire was "less blurry" on the Helios. The color was even better then the Harmon Kardon.

Next up, was the scene from Band of Brothers. It was the part of the series just before the air drop when they were riding in their transport planes. Everyone noticed that the image was smoother and just a bit clearer.

By this point everyone was in love with the player on Video 1 and they were sure it was the HK, but it wasn't, Video 1 was the Helios. On of the participant said it best though, "I wouldn't throw out my current DVD player just to buy this one, but if it died, I would buy this one."

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