High End DVD Players

High End DVD Players $500 . Discriminating tastes only need apply.

At this point, sitting as we are on the cusp of new optical storage technologies (Blu-Ray and HD DVD) that will invariably turn our fond DVDs into a distant memory, it's difficult to recommend spending big money on a DVD Player. The higher end of the DVD player scale starts with an MSRP of about $500, but that means you can find these in the real world for around $300.

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In this price category you find some elite players in the hi-fi industry, like Pioneer Elite and Denon. You can certainly spend a lot more on exotic DVD players made by the likes of Classe and Arcam which give you best of the best for over $1K, but they're more showpieces than workhorses. There is a level of diminishing returns on your DVD player dollar and the steep decline in returns in features and audio/video quality starts with every dollar over $500 you spend. The DVD players I'll cover here are 'high end' for those of us not born to silver spoons and who want gear that works as hard as we do.

Here in the high end you get better quality DACs that produce video and audio just about as good as it's going to get with today's DVD technology. You're also sure to get one of the high resolution audio formats either SACD or DVD-Audio, a must in this price region where it's assumed you're looking for top-notch audio quality. You'll get a host of decoding, all the DVD/CD R/W platforms you can shake a burner at and will decode all the important formats like MP3, WMA, Dolby Digital, PCM, DTS. Suspiciously absent up here in the middle high end (but later restored in the absolute high end that starts around $1K) are the new digital output formats like HDMI and DVI. It's really an honest cost-cutting measure; yes, we know you're spending good money and that money is put to good use with higher end DACs and a build quality that should mean you'll only have to buy a DVD Player once in your lifetime. But digital outputs are a convenience that doesn't necessarily mean better quality video despite what the marketers of the lower-end gear will tell you. You'll get no hollow promises of HD upsampling here, and that says a lot about the feature.

First up is the NAD T533 DVD player. NAD wrote the book on audio components with a work ethic. Their uncluttered design appeals to the hi-fi enthusiast and the gun-metal grey exteriors project that we-mean-business attitude.

The NAD T533 doesn't stop at high-end video processing and sound quality that makes hi-fi critics use adjectives like "warm" and "musical"; the T533 also reads a host of formats and platforms such as DVD-R/W, R/W, JPG and Kodak picture viewer, MP3, WMA, Dolby Digital, DTS and PCM. It has a 5.1 audio output for DVD-Audio, the high-resolution audio format you'll definitely want to explore if you're using a DVD Player in this price category.

The Cambridge Audio Azur 540D is a DVD player designed to old-fashioned audio component standards. Cambridge Audio has designed its Azur line with a build quality rarely seen in gear under the kilo-buck territory.

With high-end, lightning-fast DACs video and audio performance are well above expectations for its price range. This is a DVD Audio player that specializes in great sound. The clean design on the outside is a taste of the clean engineering on the inside - simple circuitry, and a stable power supply that won't muddy other systems in this component will assure you of powerful yet clean audio and video signals to your amp and TV. A 12-bit video processor that operates at 54Mhz is standard in models higher than this one. All the rewritable DVD platforms you would expect and decoding for MP3, Dolby Digital and of course DVD-Audio. Suspiciously absent here is DTS decoding which can simply be passed up to the receiver through its coaxial digital output. Lack of DTS decoding is made up for with its region-free feature. This is the DVD Player with a true international flair and can play discs from any region.

This was just a taste of what to expect in this price range. The players mentioned in this outline aren't necessarily the best of their respective price categories but should be typical, if not exemplary. If you're doing some comparison shopping you'll now know what to expect. Given the impending obsolescence of the DVD format in a couple of short years, it's probably not prudent to spend a lot of money on a player. However, all those DVDs piled up in your closet aren't going anywhere unless you plan to re-buy. Soon you'll soon see some great bargains on DVDs at retailers as they make room for the new formats while the DVD players we've examined get cheaper and cheaper. Long live the DVD.