V's Bravo D1 DVD Player
May 15, 2003,
For whatever reason, mainstream manufacturers of DVD players have been unable to recognize that DVI output would be a highly desirable feature on a DVD player. With more and more projectors and other video display products hitting the market with DVI inputs, it seems that an obvious move for makers of DVD players would be to include DVI output on their products. Yet this has not happened. So while product managers at the big brands snooze, a new Southern California based company calling itself simply "V" commenced shipment of its new DVI-enabled DVD player, the Bravo D1, on April 15. It has two enormous advantages over most of the big brand products—it has DVI and it costs only $199.00.
For those new to the video world, DVI stands for either Digital Visual Interface or Digital Video Interface depending on whom you talk to. DVI is just another way to connect a video source (like a DVD player) to a display device (projector, TV, monitor, etc). A DVI cable is required to connect the two. It carries a video signal just like S-video, component video, or RGB. However, the big difference is that DVI is a digital connection rather than analog.
In a conventional DVD player, the player reads digital information from the DVD then converts it to analog for output in S-video, component, RGB, or whatever. Once the projector receives the signal, it must convert the information back to digital so it can be fed to its LCD panels, DLP chip, or LCOS chips, depending on what it's got inside. This D/A conversion process can compromise the integrity of the data and create some noise and artifacts in the resulting picture.
DVI simply eliminates the need for the D/A conversions and keeps the information entirely in the digital domain from the time it is read off the DVD to the time it hits the screen. So you get a very clean picture.
The Bravo D1
The Bravo D1 is an impressive product considering its price. It is certainly not as elegant in design or operation as the more expensive models from Denon, Sony, Pioneer, etc. But for $199, nobody should expect it to be. If the buyer has properly calibrated expectations, the Bravo D1 will be seen as a terrific value. So let's talk first about what it doesn't do all that well.
The Bravo D1's weaknesses are varied. The manual does not cover certain items that would be helpful. For example, people will buy it for its DVI output. Naturally, you would hook up a DVI cable to your projector and hope for a signal. You won't get it. There is a TV button on the remote that you can use to toggle through the outputs until it hits DVI. However that bit of info is not in the manual. Without knowing this, the alternative is to hook up a composite video cable along with the DVI cable. The unit defaults to composite output, and you can get the menu to appear on your video display using that connection. From there you can select DVI.
If you've got your composite cable hooked up and the menu appears, you can select several modes of output. However, if you select "component" output on the menu, composite output is discontinued and the menu immediately disappears. You can either unplug the unit and let it recycle to factory default, or move the composite cable over to the Y inputs on the component jacks to reestablish a connection (assuming your projector has RCA jacks for component input).
The Bravo D1 gives you four different formats on outputting your DVI signal—480p, 720p, 1080i, and 852x480. The first one, 480p, is the native DVD format of 720x480. The other three outputs allow the Bravo D1 to rescale the native DVD format for output to match the format of your projector. (No, rescaling DVD into 720p or 1080i does not make it the equivalent of an HDTV resolution source).
The rescaling options sound good, but it is not necessarily beneficial to use them. The scaler on board your projector may be of higher quality than that on the Bravo D1. So you may end up with a softer picture by using the Bravo D1's rescaled output formats. We found this to be the case on the Optoma H56 we tested it with. The sharpest image was derived from the Bravo D1's native 480p signal because the Optoma's scaling electronics are better than those in the Bravo D1.
That may not always be the case however. IF the Bravo's scaling is superior to that in your projector, it may be to your advantage to select one of the Bravo's upscaled output formats. The only way to know is to try it both ways and see what looks best to you. And don't make any assumptions about which "should" be better--just trust your eyes. The bottom line is that you don't buy a Bravo D1 for its comprehensive scaling capability. You buy it primarily to avoid the D/A conversions and get the pristine 720x480 DVD signal into the projector. If it happens to deliver better scaling than you get in your projector, that's a little extra gravy.
Most DVD players have clumsy, hard-to-use remote controls, and the Bravo D1 is no different. This remote is indeed fully functioned. However buttons are extremely close together and poorly labeled with small light gray lettering. V says the next batch to ship will have white lettering on the remote to help alleviate this problem. Nevertheless, there is no back-lighting, and until you learn to operate the remote entirely by tactile sensation, you will need to turn on the room lights or use a flashlight to see what you are doing.
If you do not have DVI input on your projector, then you are left with analog composite, S-video, or component output options. We would not recommend using this product as an analog source. Buy a Bravo D1 if and only if your projector or other video display device has DVI input.
And by the way, since you are planning to use the DVI connection, be aware that the Bravo D1 does not come with a DVI cable. This is not a complaint. It shouldn't come with a DVI cable for the simple reason that everyone needs a different length cable. Furthermore your projector may not have a conventional DVI input connector either. DVI cables are not cheap, so it makes no sense for a manufacturer to package an expensive cable in with every product, increasing the cost of the package, when many users wouldn't be able to use the supplied cable anyway. Don't be surprised if you end up needing to fork out up to another hundred bucks or so for the DVI cable that best fits your needs, depending on the length you need in your theater or media room.
Now. Having enumerated a few weaknesses of the Bravo D1, we can turn to its essential strength. Does its DVI output beat the competition's analog outputs? We put the Bravo D1 up against the Denon DVD-3800 we have on hand. (Noteworthy detail: retail price of the Denon is $1199, or six times that of the Bravo D1). The result? When using the native 480p output, the Bravo D1 delivered an image that was very subtly sharper than the Denon. But more importantly it was noticeably more stable with fewer artifacts and less jitter. No surprise however. These are precisely the benefits you would expect to get from the elimination of the D/A conversions.
Our conclusion: with all its idiosyncrasies, we will keep the Bravo D1 in the lab as a permanent resource. And when anyone around here is settling down to view a movie for pleasure on a projector that is DVI-enabled, the Bravo D1 will clearly be the DVD player of choice. We will use the Denon for non-DVI projectors to get a good analog signal.
The Bravo D1 performs one critically important function: it captures the data from the DVD and delivers it to the projector fully intact in its original native format--no D/A conversions, no scaling, no nothing. For $199, it performs this job like no other DVD player we know of. The result is a beautiful, solid video image that cannot be matched by analog DVD players many times its price.
The Bravo D1 can be ordered directly from V Inc. through the company's website.
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