The Bravo D1 DVD player is a leap forward. Unlike other new technologies it does things not only by making them simpler but, at a retail price of $199, also cheaper. The D1 is a brainchild of V Inc. (now Vizio), a company started by a group of people from Princeton Graphics, a name known not only to those who have followed HD televisions, but also computer monitors. Among the first of their products is a pair of plasmas (review forthcoming) and this rather unique player that (surprise, surprise) is made for plasmas.
You see, the D1 is one of the first players to offer a DVI output to digitally link it to a DVI-enabled monitor or projector. The advantage of the DVI connector is that there is no digital to analog conversion at all, minimizing resolution loss and added video noise. Instead, the digital interlaced signal is decoded by the player's MPEG-2 decoder, converted to a progressive scan signal in the digital domain, and transferred as an uncompressed digital stream via the DVI connector to the display device. The D1 with its Sigma Designs integrated chipset takes this one step further by upscaling the picture from 480p to 720p or 1080i. Upscaling is the process by which information is interpolated between existing scan lines to create a higher resolution. In this case, a 720p signal closely matches the native resolution of most HD capable plasmas (and HD fixed-pixel projectors). Although DVI can use the HDCP encryption mechanism to prevent non HDCP enabled devices from accepting signals above 480p, it turns out that the D1 does not need to use HDCP encryption for 720p or 1080i signals, so even those of you that have a display without the latest and greatest monument to the MPAA's paranoia can get the benefits of the upscaled picture.
Unique Features - The Bravo D1 is a rather unassuming DVD player, finished in black (or silver) plastic in the now de rigueur two inch high fashion. The back of the player has coaxial and digital audio outs, composite/S-Video/component video outs, and the all-important DVI output. The front has the disc tray to the left of an LED panel and several player controls. There is a master power switch to the left of the tray, but only the remote can place the player in standby. The open/close key does not power the player on, so if the D1 is in standby the only way to turn it on is via the remote, or by turning the master switch off then on. This was just the first of the quirks that I discovered in the D1. The second was a manual that is minimal at best, missing important information at worst. It took a phone call to find out that you cannot set up the player using the DVI out, as it comes from the factory with the S-Video/composite outputs on, and you must hook one of these up to switch video outputs. The D1 cannot output from multiple video outputs at the same time; you must pick between them in the menu. Although that helped me to get the unit up and running, the shipping company had treated my first review sample too harshly as the display never worked. V Inc., to their credit, was kind enough to replace my review unit immediately, and the new one worked without a problem.
Click to Page 2 for Installation, Evaluation, and the Final Take.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - I set the DVI output to 720p, and hooked up the player using a Monster Cable DVI cable to a 50" Fujitsu plasma. The DI. was plugged into the HTPS7000 power conditioner, with a coaxial audio output to my Krell HTS 7.1 Standard processor. The rest of the system included the Parasound Halo A51 amp, Krell DVD Standard, and KEF 207/204c/201/Rel Strata III speakers.
A word on the remote, as it has the comprehensive control set for the D1. The buttons are laid out rather poorly, as the transport controls are small and on the bottom, while the navigation keys are larger and on top. None of these are backlit. The labeling is grey on black which makes it difficult to read during the day, and impossible to read with the lights dimmed. Fortunately, I understand that new versions of the remote have a white background which should make this job infinitely easier.
Final Take - When I had finally hooked up the D1, I popped in a DVD, and began my first experience with DVI. I was immediately stunned. The picture quality was excellent--clean and detailed. Video noise was very low and black level was quite good, creating not only a smooth picture, but also a sense of depth. Deinterlacing with the Sigma Designs chipset is the weak point of this player. It is mainly a flag-reading player, and certain DVDs do trip it up, so occasional combing can be seen. It's a bit confusing when you're sitting there staring at the jaw-dropping clarity and you cannot decide whether you should really be annoyed by that artifact you just saw. I guess it's probably going to be hard to complain until someone brings out a player with such a well implemented DVI output and a great de-interlacing chipset. Who knows, at this rate it may well be V Inc.
The MPEG decoder does not have the chroma bug. Don't bother wasting your time with the component outputs as the picture is soft, and the S-Video output has considerably more grain. No, the real reason to own this player is the DVI output, and it certainly does work well. I tried the 1080i setting, and this looked very similar to the 720p. Both looked sharper and more detailed than the 480p setting, which is exactly what the upscaling is trying to achieve.
The picture quality is so good because there are no digital to analog conversions in the chain. This is what leads to that clean, crisp picture quality, and the cleanliness of the picture rivals many of the best players out there. For those with fixed pixel digital devices such as plasma, LCD and DLP, there is no conversion to analog until the one reaching your eyes. This is very different from a normal DVD player with component output, as the picture is converted to analog within the player. The clarity of this output is dependant on the quality of the analog stage of the player. You can have the player do everything perfectly in regards to de-interlacing, chroma bug, etc., yet the picture may be soft or grainy from the analog stage. If using a fixed-pixel device, the analog input would then be reconverted back to the digital domain. These conversions cause loss of information and resolution, and the DVI output (which keeps all the information in the digital domain) avoids this. Essentially, there is no analog stage to muck up the picture. (This, of course, assumes that the DVI output is implemented well.)
Aspect ratio control for 4:3 discs is handled via a zoom button which makes the image fit in a 16:9 screen. Personally, I have never been all that fond of zooming 4:3 material--I prefer a stretch mode. The D1 player has the standard goodies such as a subtitle toggle switch, parental protection, and a reasonably quick layer change.
It still boggles my mind that V Inc. has put out a player that has a DVI output and upscales for $199. This is so cheap that every plasma/DLP/LCD owner should have one. There are some downsides to this unit, however. I do not understand why all the video outputs can't be turned on as in most DVD players, why the manual misses so many details, and a better de-interlacing chipset would really be nice. You certainly will not feel that it is built like a Krell, but once it's playing movies, who cares what it looks or feels like? The very fact that it can put out such a clean picture via the DVI port makes this an exceptionally unique unit. I can live with the quirks for this level of picture quality and, judging by the Dl's ambitious nature, something tells me that the folks over at V Inc. are going to be an interesting bunch to watch.
Bravo D1 DVD Player
Dimensions: 2.5H" x 17"W x11"D
Media Supported: DVD-Video, SVCD,
VCD, DVD-R, DVD+R, CD, CD-R, CD-RW,
MP3, MPEG-4 AVI files, Kodak Picture CD
Video Outputs: Composite, S-Video,
Analog YPbPr video, and digital DVI (Progressive
or Interlaced) scalable up to 1920 x 1080i or
1280 x 720p resolutions
Analog Outputs: Stereo analog, TosLink,