JVC XL-FA900 DVD Changer Reviewed

JVC XL-FA900 DVD Changer Reviewed

A multi-changer with DVD-A functionality as well the JVC can house an entire season of your favorite series to continuous viewing, or mix it up and add in some of your best DVD-A discs

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The weather is starting to get cold here in New England. The leaves are becoming bored with tree life and heading for my lawn in greater numbers every day. Hot chocolate has become the preferred after-work beverage. In short, winter is coming. Much like the squirrel gathering his acorns to survive the season, the movie nut rounds up the latest and greatest DVDs before settling in for those long winter weekends.

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When it's too cold to move, the act of changing discs on the DVD player can seem like a major chore. Fear not though, because JVC has come to the rescue with their newest DVD changer, the seven-disc XL-FA900.

Whether you're looking for progressive scanning, DVD-Audio, or just the ability to watch the entire first season of 24 without getting off the couch, the XL-FA900 does it all. If you're in the market for a new DVD changer, and you'd like to play with some of the newest formats available, you would be wise to consider the XL-FA900 from JVC.

Unique Features - It's not hard to understand why many people have trouble keeping track of DVD technology. With all the format names floating around, it makes my head spin from time to time. As luck would have it, the XL-FA900 is a regular Swiss Army Knife when it comes to format support.

In addition to now-customary support for things like Dolby Digital and DTS, the XL-FA900 will also handle DVD-Audio, CD-R, CD-RW as well as some DVD-R media. It also offers JPEG and MP3 file playback, but it does not support CD-TEXT. Did you get all that? Just remember that the only major gap here is support for Super Audio CD (SACD), the primary competitor of DVD-Audio. Other than that, the XL-FA900 will tackle most anything you're liable to throw at it.

On the back panel, the XL-FA900 offers both coaxial and optical connections for outputting your digital audio signal to an external processor or receiver. There are also composite, S-Video and component video connections, with the latter being the preferred choice if your television or projector can accept it. You'll also find six analog outputs, which you would use if playing a DVD-Audio disc or using the XL-FA900's onboard Dolby Digital/DTS decoder during DVD-Video playback.

On the subject of DVD-Audio, the JVC XL-FA900 offers a comprehensive bass-management section for properly configuring DVD-Audio. Using the on-screen menu, you can set the size of each of your speakers to either "small" or "large" and designate whether or not bass information should be directed to your subwoofer or to your front left and right speakers. This is a wonderful feature that belongs on all DVD players offering multi-channel audio support.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - DVD changers are rarely given the same respect as comparably equipped single-disc players. I'm not quite sure why that is, but I suspect it has a little to do with build quality. DVD changers have more moving parts than single-disc, tray-style players, and as a result their functions can sometimes perform at a louder level than would be desired (such as the carousel mechanism present in many changers). Such is the case with the XL-FA900 from JVC.

The XL-FA900 features a unique tray design, whereby discs rotate on the tray's lower shelf leaving two discs exposed at all times in a fixed window on the upper shelf. The result, while nifty, is also very noisy.

The player's remote is functional and well laid-out, though I'm not a fan of flush cursor buttons. For these high-traffic buttons, I prefer a concave arrangement so I can easily feel my way around in the dark. JVC has opted for several glow-in-the-dark buttons in lieu of back-lighting, which is unfortunate but forgivable considering the price point for this player.

Read more aboout the XL-FA900 on Page 2.
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The front display on the XL-FA900 is legible and compact, but it's
also a bit distracting. If you plan on having the player in your field
of vision while watching a movie, take note that the XL-FA900 has seven
large lights on the front panel (one for each disc) and the currently
active disc light blinks while playing. This might seem like a minor
annoyance, but like a bad pixel on a laptop screen, once you know it's
there, your eyes are inevitably drawn to it.

Aside from these minor irritations, the XL-FA900 offers phenomenal
performance for the money. As a matter of fact, the small nuisances I
just enumerated left me quite unprepared for the playback quality
exhibited by the XL-FA900.

One of the first things I do when testing a DVD player is connect it
to my 32" Sony television to see how the player handles anamorphic
downconversion. Anamorphic downconversion is what happens when a
widescreen-enhanced DVD is played back on a non-widescreen display. To
accomplish this task, the DVD player must manipulate the image to fit
your screen. Often, this manipulation will result in distracting
shimmering lines or "jaggies" around horizontal edges, making the
picture almost unwatchable.

My favorite test for downconversion is chapter 29 in Lethal Weapon
4, where a bad guy's Mercedes gets creamed in a car accident. After the
accident, the camera slowly pans over the totaled Mercedes and it is
here that poor downconversion can really be seen. Some players,
including a Toshiba unit I used to own, make the Mercedes look like
it's composed of liquid metal, with movement all over the place.
Thankfully, the XL-FA900 did a very good job with this scene and
shimmering was minimal.

When connected to a high-definition 16:9 display, anamorphic DVDs
like The Mask of Zorro (Superbit) and Starship Troopers looked
wonderful on the XL-FA900. Color intensity and image integrity were
both very impressive. Perhaps more impressive though, was the
XL-FA900's handling of non-anamorphic tides like Titanic and Armageddon
(Criterion Edition). Thanks to the exceptional automatic scaling of the
XL-FA900, both of these films delivered a smooth, film-like picture
comparable to that of many anamorphic discs.

You'll also be happy to know that JVC's XL-FA900 does not suffer
from the "chroma bug," which is still rearing its ugly head in too many
DVD players. (See our December 2002 issue for an explanation of this
pesky artifact.) All in all, the XL-FA900 doesn't disappoint when it
comes to video.

Audio, on the other hand, was only average. Dolby Digital and DTS
sounded good on the XL-FA900 but, then, they do on most players. I
didn't notice any new details nor did I detect any glaring omissions
during scenes with which I'm intimately familiar. When it came to
DVD-Audio, my favorite band, the Barenaked Ladies, sounded good but not
great on their album, Maroon. The sound field on tracks like "Never Do
Anything" was comprehensive but not overly engaging.

Final Take - Considering its $350 price tag and robust feature set,
there are few DVD players or changers on the market today that can
match the value of the XL-FA900 from JVC. Boasting excellent picture
quality, support for DVD-Audio, and room for seven of your favourite
discs, it's hard not to recommend this player.
Though I was unimpressed with its build quality, specifically around
the disc tray, the positives do outweigh the negatives. If you value
function over form, I'm sure the XL-FA900 will make you very happy.

Suggested Retail Price
$349

Additional Resources
• Read more source component reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Find a receiver to pair with this source.
• See more about the audiophile world at AudiophileReview.com.
• Discuss all kinds of gear at hometheaterequipment.com.

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