If - even a year ago - you told me that Tesco would be the place to buy the best-ever DVD bargain in the UK, I would have raised an eyebrow and guessed that you'd been at the elderberry wine. For, up until the release of the Wharfedale DVD-750 sold exclusively through 400 Tesco outlets, our only experience of worthy 'house brand' models invariably involved exclusives from companies such as Tandy, with roots in electronics and home entertainment. But Wharfedale is a major brand with a long history, and it is not Tesco's house brand. On the other hand, the player is restricted to Tesco, which - by definition - makes it a 'house product'.
Please: don't allow audiophilic snobbery to keep you from investigating this absolute gift of a player; such thinking probably kept a few of you from checking out the late, lamented Tandy LX-5 PRO. If anything, it's an absolute blessing if you've been putting off the purchase of a DVD player as you wait for a universal model which also handles SACD and DVD-A. (Don't hold your breath.) To suggest that the DVD-750 is only good for marking time until you find a 'proper' player which suits you would be to do it a grave disservice. The DVD-750 isn't just a near-giveaway at £179.99 - it's a magnificent player by
How wrong that is...
You will, quite naturally, be suspicious because conditioning has led all of us to believe that you only get what you pay for, and the price of the DVD-750 falls firmly in the 'entry level' category. Think again: Americans can now buy DVD players for under $200, or £130, and I paid £180 for a Pioneer deck in the USA in January 1999. If anything, £179.99 is about as deserved a price norm as first-time buyers in this country should pay. It just took the buying might of Tesco and the cleverness of Wharfedale to make it a reality.
Why? Because Wharfedale owns what is said to be the largest DVD manufacturing plant in China, where labour costs are lower. And yet the player houses a Sanyo-made transport, LSI Logic integrated circuits from the USA and Analogue Devices D/A circuits. Please, no angry letters about Third World exploitation. Having been to China, I suspect that the company's employees are more than ecstatic not to be working for the Commies. The cleverness and savings are in Wharfedale's design, careful sourcing on the part of the company's components buyer and the sheer might of Tesco.
What they've put inside this 430x94x308mm (HWD) unit is simply astonishing. Aside from the lack of DTS, the DVD-750 is so packed with goodies that it embarrasses dearer models. The player uses a universal switch-mode power supply so you can operate it on mains from 100-240V and 50/60Hz. It comes with a comprehensive remote control AND it avoids the cost-cutting seen on most other players which fail to duplicate all but the basic transport buttons on the fascia. The DVD-750's front panel, in addition to the centrally-positioned tray above the clear display, contains all of the transport keys
To the above the remote adds the complete array of commands expected of all DVD players: numeric keypad, title, subtitle, angle select, audio select, all transport and menu keys and a couple of luxuries not found on all players. The zoom command is a useful way of homing in on a small detail, as it magnifies a portion of the screen, and the direction keys let you change the area being magnified. (Use your imagination.) The TV System button toggles between NTSC and PAL, while MPX can turn off vocals for karaoke usage or (when playing a CD) will toggle between left-channel-only, right-channel-only or both channels. Apparently this is useful for sing-a-long purposes...
Read more about the DVD-750 on Page 2.
At the back, the DVD-750 shows its true universality, for it boasts
SCART, S-video and coaxial video output, coaxial and TOSlink digital
audio output, and two sets of analogue audio outputs. All that's missing
is component video output, but - in the UK - who cares? Another
welcomed aspect of the Wharfedale's behaviour is its comprehensive array
of icons to let you know on-screen what's happening. The 27 icons tell
you everything from transport status to parental lock to audio status.
While not necessary, they are comforting. Quite blatantly, Wharfedale
has packaged a player for mass-market consumption while utterly denying
audio snobs the opportunity to criticise it for any omissions. Again,
DTS aside, this player wants for NOTHING.
But I know what you're all waiting to hear about: the freedom from
regional coding. Yes, the rumours are true, and a quick search of the
internet reveals that merely opening the tray and tapping in 0-1-2-3
will turn this into a player capable of playing Region 1 discs. Maybe I
was sent one that had been pre-tweaked, because I've been playing Region
1, 2 and 0 discs without ever having to change a thing. But I'm not
complaining. In my hatred of regional coding, I agree with the Aussies.
[See box, ]
Tested alongside the Pioneer DV-414 (Region 1) and the Pioneer
DVL-919E (Region 2), the DVD-750 quickly showed itself to be the
near-equal of either, with superb detail, vivid colours and a freedom
from smearing. The two Pioneers, for whatever reason, showed blacker
bars when viewing wide-screen material, but this would not be an issue
if you use a wide-screen monitor or a properly set up projector and
screen. The DVL-919E in particular bettered the DVD-750 for contrast,
but this was only clearly evident when using test DVDs. Meanwhile, the
DV-414 had the whitest whites (is the Tesco link making me think in
terms of washing powders?) of the three, but the whites via the
Wharfedale were hardly dingy.
Sonically, the gap widened a bit. Using a diet of both Dolby Digital
recordings and audio-only CDs, the two Pioneers delivered a crisper,
more detailed sound with substantially greater lower octave kick. The
DVD-750, on the other had, sounded more 'analogue' and a bit sweeter at
the top. Vocal clarity had the edge via the Pioneers, but with a tiny
trace of sibilance not heard through the Wharfedale. As for differences
according to region, there were none of note, the DVD-750's
characteristics consistent with discs from both zones.
It's hard to be objective about this player because, in years to
come, we'll fully appreciate its historical importance. I am convinced
that we will one day look upon it as the player which established DVD in
the UK despite the industry's and the government's active attempts at
discouraging it through regional coding, price and censorship. But
historical worth aside, the DVD-750 is a remarkable offering, an
achievement at its price point which will do nothing for the credibility
of dearer players. It's so competent, so well-equipped and so enjoyable
to use that I'm buying one for myself; two friends have already bought
them to their utter delight and total satisfaction. I might even start
shopping at Tesco for food.
TESCO, WHARFEDALE AND REGIONAL CODING
Tesco's championing of fair pricing is not a recent obsession; a couple
of years ago, Tesco defied the Rip-Off Britain mindset by standing up to
a major blue jeans manufacturer, self-importing stocks for sale in the
UK at new-U.S. prices. On 16 October 1998, Tesco issued a writ against
Levi Strauss in response to legal threats; the case will be heard in the
European Court of Justice. (Which, given its previous record, will
probably find for Levi Strauss...) With the Wharfedale link, Tesco could
be the company which did more to introduce DVD to the British market
than ANY other player, software or hardware. And, if my maths aren't
wrong, it might even be that the Tesco's exclusive player is outselling
all other DVDs combined. And now it's software which requires Tesco's
In February, Tesco sent out a press release headed 'Tesco Go To
Hollywood To Fight For Fairer DVD Standards', its main concern being a
call for 'dramatic changes to the global DVD market to bring customers
lower prices.' Tesco is calling for an end to the 'unnecessary practice'
of regional coding, the company believing that 'This is against the
spirit of free competition and potentially a barrier to trade.' Tesco
World Sourcing Director Christine Cross said, 'We're committed to
bringing down prices so British customers get a better deal. If we find a
practice that we believe is keeping prices high - we'll fight to change
it so prices come down.'
Whether or not you ever shop at Tesco (I admit to using the local
Safeway and M&S...), the company deserves your gratitude for being
the first major corporation to stand up to the evil that is regional
coding. How disgusting an indictment of the A/V industry it is that the
opposition to regional coding is led not by one of the world-famous
brands involved with DVD from the outset but by a supermarket only
recently involved with home entertainment. The major brands should all
be ashamed of themselves for ever letting regional coding happen in the
[Note: this, of course, is ground that has been covered by every
magazine bar the gutless movie mags which are afraid of angering the
film companies. But it bears repeating that enough major film companies
are also linked to hardware manufacturing, the latter being the
companies. If the words, 'tail', 'dog' and 'wagging' spring to mind, so
be it. Moreover, I for one find it galling that the amassed might of
Sony, Philips, Matsushita and the rest wasn't enough to drive
Hollywood's lawyers and accountants into the sea.]