MDP-650D - The
first Sony LD/CD combi to be marketed in the UK
first UK LD/CD combi is a welcome arrival. Sensibly, Sony has only brought a
PAL/NTSC machine in, so even without local software support, owners of the
player will not be short of titles. Any Japanese or US laserdisc will be usable
too. Launched at £599.95, the price of the 650D has now risen to £649.95 to
counter the recent devaluation of sterling. The original price was on the high
side but the extra £50 does not improve its appeal.
Subjective as such an assessment must be, the new machine is a step backwards from the external design of the 533D and the champagne-finished MDP-740D. The 650D is just a plain square black box with a diminutive status display and no pleasant lines, regardless of which angle it is viewed from. However, its blackness will ensure colour compatibility with the rest of Sony's A/V range. Basic transport functions are on the front panel.
rotary dual-speed Scan control incorporates Play and Pause buttons and adjacent
are Chapter/Track Skip (which Sony terms ACS/AMS), Stop and Open/Close drawer
buttons. Behind a flap there is a numerical keypad and several function buttons
that duplicate many of those on the remote. The remote offers the most
comprehensive range of operational functions bar two, which are only to be found
behind the flip down panel. One of these is the RGB switch. This operates only
on the NTSC signal and re-codes it into RGB to make it suitable for
non-multistandard TVs (provided they have RGB usually to be found incorporated
in the scart wiring). The other is Picture Enhance for which there are three
settings. Unless user-altered, on switch-on the player defaults to the standard
position (i.e. un-enhanced), but there are soft or sharp options. Without the
player positioned in line of sight of the TV it is very difficult to assess
the consequences of the enhance function. If your TV has its own sharpness
control it is probably easier to use this. There are advantages in having the
feature built into the player in that you might wish to have a sharpness setting
on the LD player that is different from your other picture sources. Sony might
have been better advised to let it be calibrated from the viewing position via
the remote. The front panel also contains the headphone socket and its
associated volume control.
rear of the player incorporates a scart socket three phonos (video and left and
right audio) and an optical digital output for connection to digital amplifiers.
There is also a Control S input that works with certain Sony equipment
control systems. The captive mains lead comes fitted with a 13amp plug but Sony
declines to supply any audio/video connecting leads whatsoever. How mean can you
Sony does, however, at least provide the batteries for the remote. The remote duplicates the rotary scan control on the player and has 46 other buttons as well. Three of these are for operating Sony TVs, but the rest are all disc related. The Chapter/Track and CAV buttons are sensibly located close to the Scan knob; within a thumb's reach. Further a field, the buttons might be better operated with the fingers on the other hand. Beyond the recently introduced LD-G type, the 650D is compatible with all the consumer PAL and NTSC laserdiscs released so far and therefore the Frame/ Time, Analogue, Audio Monitor and CX controls will offer no surprises. The Audio Monitor function enables channel switching on CDs as well as LDs.
is a brief run-down of the other controls:
into account the number of controls, the operational ease of use of the remote
is satisfactory. For chapter/track access Sony uses the 10+ key system for
numbers in excess of 9. This can be cumbersome when entering numbers above the
twenties and thirties.
Chapter/Track Skip buttons unfortunately require a press for each advance,
unlike 5ome players where just holding the button down automatically advances
the entry. Such 'active' buttons are often quicker to use than entering a
specific chapter/track search.
operational convenience that is infinitely preferable to the Pioneer approach is
that it is only ever necessary to make a single key press to eject a disc.
Sony is both heavier and more solid feeling than the Pioneer CLD-1750, its main
competitor. This seems to have a major advantage in that the player runs a lot
quieter. It does have its own characteristic rumblings, however, but still at
a comparatively low level. The illuminated status readout on the player is next
to useless. It is both small and has insufficient detail to represent figures
clearly. For £650 it is decidedly shoddy and Sony would be better off
dispensing with the drop down flap and putting a decent size display in its
place. As has become a trend, the player is live all the time once the mains
plug is powered up. The best reason any reader has come up with for dispensing
with a proper on/off switch is that, provided you don't mind listening to or
watching the same disc over and over, it saves getting up out of your seat.
However, this cannot be Sony's reason for adopting the approach as in the
instruction manual it advises against leaving discs in the player for any length
the smoothness of the Sony machine in any way attributable to slower than
average access times? The player seems a bit sluggish when one is trying to
eject a disc but then all players seem slower than they should be at this.
takes around 15 seconds from pushing Play for a picture to appear on screen.
Unloading at the end of a side and re-starting takes 26 seconds. A chapter
search on a CLV disc takes 11-12 seconds maximum. CAV searches are a much
speedier 5 seconds. The slow scan time for a 60 minute side is 6'30" which
is slow enough to be sure you won't miss what you are looking for, with 1
'20" being the time for a fast scan.
difference between the MDP-533D and the Pioneer CLD-1450 (1991) was minimal. In
the two years since (1993) Sony has obviously made significant strides forward
and the new machine is, as far as picture quality is concerned, clearly a grade
above the Pioneer CLD-1750. One of the most encouraging aspects of this
is that the player is good in all aspects of performance, a very reassuring
asset on an all-purpose machine. One doesn't get the feeling that either PAL or
NTSC performance has been compromised and both types of disc produce solid,
colourful results without any undue artefacts (unnatural enhancements etc.) The
composite resolution gratings show good performance in the higher frequencies
to support this.
RGB performance of the 533D was not considered that outstanding; a useful
compromise if one was without a multistandard TV but no more than that, lacking
the bite of the standard composite picture. In the 533D instruction manual Sony
suggested composite was the preferred output option too. The RGB on the new
machine is more encouraging.
assessment of RGB picture quality is confused by the apparent lack of sharpness
of the image: it often exhibits a slightly 'glazed' look compared to straight
composite. However, composite circuits of TVs are often tweaked to provide a
superficially vivid image. However there is some obscuring of the vertical
detail. This might account for real viewing situations not producing the full
benefits of the extended RGB resolution. On colour bars, for example, the
streakiness that is always in evidence on the red and violet bands was less well
defined than when viewed in composite mode at a similar intensity level. It may
therefore be the case that, while the black and white part of the picture is
resolved well, in RGB the colour signal does not fare quite as well and this
might account for the slight detail disadvantage. That said, the RGB output
often proved very satisfactory to watch and, with the additional advantage of it
removing all the cross colour effects around the 3.58MHz frequency, it was often
the preferred method of watching specimen type laserdiscs. In RGB the
suppression of cross colour was far more effective.
RGB image could not match the composite for colour intensity. Though the
accuracy of the RGB colours was definitely better, in the main most discs looked
under coloured. One must assume that the levels on a Sony LD player and Sony TV
monitor would be matched, so the likelihood is that the level of colour
provided is as much as the RGB coder can manage. But, considering that
standalone RB encoders usually cost more than the price of the whole 650D, the
RGB output of this player would seem to be in keeping with its price.
problem with RGB use (beyond that of the lack of control over its colour
intensity) is that it prohibits straightforward connections to A/V amps -all of
which function with composite or Y/C signals. Also, the RGB encoding only works
on the NTSC signal, so even if you have to use the RGB for NTSC you will
probably need to reset your TV picture controls each time you play a PAL disc.
Rarely do composite and RGB inputs seem to coincide in contrast and brightness.
publicity for the player places little emphasis on its superior picture
quality, favouring comments about the improvements it has made to the audio
circuits. Indeed, the reason Sony UK has been giving for not introducing an LD
player sooner is that it wasn't happy with the audio performance of previous
models (though one is wary of believing this to be the total reason for its
reluctance to get into laserdisc here).
there may be in the 650D, but the Sony did not immediately impress as being head
and shoulders above the competition. Good, yes, but then the current range of
combis is fairly good anyway, though there must probably always be a quality
gap of some sorts between the sound of a combi and a dedicated CD player. A
limited amount of time was spent listening to some analogue audio LDs. The audio
quality seemed perfectly satisfactory and no compatibility problems were encountered.
The only hiccup with the player involved the clamping mechanism which would
occasionally become confused by polycarbonate discs - both 20 and 30cm sizes.
Sometimes the player would clamp and play them without hesitation, but on
occasions the clamp would seem to be unaware there was a slimmer disc in the
machine and there would be some high revving/slipping sounds from within which
could only be eliminated by going through stop and re-starting the play
650D was expensive when Sony launched it at £599.95 and obviously can't be any
more of a bargain now it is £649.95. A few years ago Sony was talking of
attacking the PAL market with players at the £350 price point. The 650D is in
performance terms everything that someone wanting to set up with laserdisc for
the first time would want, the price most certainly isn't. In Japan the
equivalent NTSC-only model lists for just under Y70,000 (below £400) which,
incidentally, is the same price point Pioneer has for its CLD-1750 equivalent.
However, if we are going to have to pay over the odds for our laserdisc hardware then the slight premium for the Sony over the CLD-1750 is well worthwhile unless your TV is PAL-only and copes better with a transcoded PAL signal than an RGB one.