Axel for the manual page.
IF YOU'VE SPENT even a little time looking at videodisc players, you know that most of them seem pretty simple. Basically, they have one requirement to fulfill; superb playback of videodiscs and CDs (nearly every disc player made today plays both). if a model jumps those hurdles, you only have to decide if you want to pay for extras like digital special effects and/or double-side play, and then you're led to ponder truly vital questions like brand loyalties and whether you like a unit's styling.
Some disc players don't deliver the basic performance goods, of course, but Denons's LA-3100 ($1,200) is not one of them. It is, in fact, a terrific disc player. While it certainly isn't a budget box, it is in the ballpark for a loaded model (albeit a little on the high side). And loaded it is, with the performance and convenience features that define top of the line.
The 3100 automatically plays both sides of two-sided videodiscs. Digital still frame and multispeed play are on tap for standard CLV discs (these effects are encoded on pricey CAV discs, and any player can access them); regarding the multispeed feature, you can play videos at up to three times or down to one-sixteenth the normal speed. There's a "one-shot" memory, which you can use to hold a frame in digital memory and put it on screen at the end of the program. You can view a still frame while listening to an audio track. The strobe function lets you enjoy a montage effect, with the same range of choices offered for multispeed play.
Denon didn't skimp on the format's basic features either. You can designate a sequence to play over and over again. There are provisions for choosing between a videodisc's digital or analog audio tracks; movie companies often put a movie's soundtrack on the digital portion and use the analog track for things like the director's commentary. You can quickly access specific scenes by their "chapter" numbers when the disc has been encoded in this fashion (most are); you can also jump directly to a specific frame or time on a videodisc. There are various repeat-play modes for videodiscs, and repeat-and random-play modes for CDs. The jog wheel and shuttle dial (found on both the front panel and the remote) let you zip back and forth on a disc. And then there are the extra extras. First, there's the THEATRE mode, which is just a fancy name for a circuit that turns off the front panel's lights and on-screen displays. That may sound inconsequential, but you'll probably end up putting your disc player directly above or below your TV, and the lighting and displays can be distracting. Finally, there's the SOFT PICTURE function, which you can only use when you've hooked the player up using its S-Video output (a videophile method that separates the video signal into two parts for theoretically "cleaner" images). The SOFT PICTURE function actually diminishes picture detail. It isn't something you'd want to use every day; after all, the advantage of the videodisc format is the fact that its picture is some 60 percent sharper than that of a conventional VCR. It may come in handy, though, with "noisy" (read: poorly transferred) discs plagued by snow or other visual artifacts.
The 3100 doesn't throw any curves at you when it comes to hookup. Since it's a playback-only machine, you only have three or four outputs to worry about. The video output goes directly to a TV (not into an A/V receiver or other system controller); feel free to use the S-Video output if the receiving end has S-Video inputs. (If you can see an improvement over the conventional connections, consider applying for a job as a spotter with the Air Force.) The audio outputs should go into a surround-sound processor or A/ V controller, however. Easy. Note that the ' sor four" I mentioned above refers to those S-Video outputs.
Which leaves us where we started; performance. I plugged the 3100 into my system and compared it head-to-head with my own disc player, a heavyweight model from a rival manufacturer that I bought because it offers one of the finest pictures I'd ever seen. Plain and simple, both pictures were tremendousw and indistinguishable from one another. Colours from Warner's restoration of The Searchers (some of the most sumptuous Technicolor you'll find on disc) were superb. Ultrasharp images from the films of the Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky (brilliantly rendered on a handful of mighty expensive Japanese import discs), came across beautifully, proving that the 3100 delivers very high resolution. Noise was minimal; though this usually says more about the disc than the player (a badly pressed disc will look bad no matter what it's played on).
The 3100's digital sound was flawless; with videodiscs, at least. CDs only sounded very good (by highend standards), but that's almost always the case with these combination players. In any case, "very good" for a CD player means "great" by all other criteria.
Yes, the 3100 is well-designed and easy to use, and it delivers all the features and performance goods; in spades. Still, my experience with it left me feeling in a lurch. Yes, this is a great disc player. But I wanted something more for $1,200. Suddenly it hit me. A few weeks ago, I was browsing around New York City' s China-town and purchased a used disc of Erotic Ghost Story 11, an ultrabizarre film from Hong Kong. It's a great disc (really!} only it has a scratch on the second side that caused a 5-minute swath of the movie to jam, jump, and freeze. So I wondered: Maybe the 3100 could play through the damaged portion, since its inner workings employ something called a "Time Base Corrector"; Denon says it compensates for the kind of picture jitter you get with damaged or defective discs (its inclusion helps explain the player's slightly higher-than-average pricetag).
I slapped the disc in and, sure enough, the damaged portion played pretty well, only showing a blank frame here and there. Now I could see how the lusty demon Wutung unleashed his evil force on the village, driving the villagers to go mad and dance around naked. Priceless dialogue ensues: "Uncle Heng! What are you doing?"
"I want to be monkey!"
Unfortunately, things got jittery again, so l never found out if ol' Heng got his wish. Still, it was enough. Denon's LA-3100 actually outperformed my own beloved machine. This is a first-rate disc player.
Thanks to Hartmut Hackl for