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Sony MDP-533D

Review of new PAL/NTSC combi player - The Sony MDP-533D also appeared in the North American market as the NTSC Sony MDP-333.

The PAL/NTSC MDP-533D is being sold only in the mainland European countries and Singapore, the price being in the £700 range. These days that's not a particularly cheap price but, arguably, the player tackles the PAL/NTSC feature in a more refined manner than Pioneer's CLD-1450, so the cost may be justified. The Sony player is also more comprehensively endowed with con­venience features than the rather basic Pioneer CLD-1450. 

Like she Pioneer CLD-1450, Sony's 533D plays all laserdisc and CD-Vs (PAL & NTSC) and CDs - a full combi player. Unlike the CLD-1450 the Sony is far more of a universal player. The big feature of the CLD-1450 is that it transcodes the signal on NTSC laserdiscs to make them playable on PAL TVs; it is of no use to anyone in an NTSC country who might wish to play PAL discs. Sony's 533D offers both pure PAL and NTSC outputs, in addition, PAL and NTSC signals transcoded into analogue RGB form. Consequently, the player can be taken to any country in the world and, providing a TV with an analogue RGB input is available, it will play a proper colour picture from any laserdisc. Though this review is primarily for UK readers, that information might be of use to readers in the US who hanker after PAL capability. 

Back panel - Understanding the options on the player is best done via a glimpse at the back panel. Two phono sockets (of a group of three) output the left and right audio signals and the other the composite video (PAL or NTSC, depend­ing on which disc type is being played). The 21-pin Euro connector (or Scart) socket duplicates these outputs and addi­tionally carries the transcoded RGB signal. Sony advises that users with a multistan­dard PAL/NTSC TV should utilise the composite outputs. This is taken care of by default if you connect the TV to the video phono socket. If you are connecting via the Scart it is necessary to switch to the composite output signal via a front panel switch Oust to the left of the fluorescent display). If you only have a PAL TV then, and providing it is RGB capable, you should connect the 533D via the Scart and set the front panel switch to RGB mode. This way the player modifies the laserdisc signal into a component form that is not tied to either PAL or NTSC and the TV will put out a colour picture. 

The reason for the bold-facing of the RGB capable warning is to point out that many TVs carry 21-pin Scart sockets but by no means all of them bother to connect up all the pins internally. (Not all pieces of video equipment work in RGB in any case.) You cannot just rely on the exis­tence of the socket as an indication of RGB being present. One word of caution, though. As with the CLD-1450, there might be variation in the picture area that is achieved with the 533D and a dedicated PAL (or NTSC) TV. You might only get a slightly squashed image with a 525-line NTSC disc on a 625-line TV. Also on the back-panel is a digital optical output for use if you have a digital audio pre-amp or (hopefully) for such as a CD+Graphics adaptor. There is a small switch to the right that governs auto repeat which might be of use to those using the player for continuous display, but is not likely to be much in demand for normal domestic use. A knockout (measuring 35mm x 12mm) is visible which has no obvious present use.

There is no voltage switching on the back panel. The 533D is apparently made in different voltage versions for the different territories: 220 volt for most of Europe; 240 volt for Australia (and, in theory, the UK). (There may be 100 and/or 110 volt options for other areas too.) 220 volts versions ought to really be modified to 240 volts (by the dealer) for UK use. It should only be a minor job. 

What else there isn't on the back panel is any aerial output. This player only connects via proper video connections. All laserdisc players should be made this way. No one makes CD players with FM modu­lators so they can be connected to your amplifier via your radio tuner. Accord­ingly, no one should be encouraging laserdisc player users to do something very similar via their TV tuner. (If you have to, you can probably buy a little modulator add-on that will allow you to connect via the aerial plug on the TV, but the player won't function fully as described in this review. Stay with the composite or RGB signals.

Front Panel - A comprehensive range of control options is available on the front panel without it making the design look too cluttered. The most noticeable feature is the rotary scan knob (shuttle ring) which functions at two rates. Rotat­ing the knob between 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock moves the scan at 10x normal speed (reverse or forward). Pushing the knob further round to 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock gets it going at a much faster 30x rate. This feature is duplicated on the remote control. Where the shuttle ring differs on the machine is that the centre of it is a push button that is used to initiate play. Quite neat.

 The illuminated display is reasonably large and clear. The 20 compartment calendar is particularly well defined.

Remote - Because the 533D con­tains more convenience features the remote is more complex. At first it appears a bit messy for casual use in the dark; the buttons are small and close together. However, the most used laserdisc buttons are located on the perimeter - at the top and bottom - so it's not as awkward in practice. The shuttle ring is a nice con­venience feature. There is full audio switching avail­able from the remote. Like Pioneer combi players, this Sony will also switch between audio channels on CDs. (It's not part of the CD standard but a very nice feature to have.) The Analogue button only works with NTSC laserdisc, to switch between analogue and digital soundtracks. This is a feature that does not come as standard on the CLD-1450 (only via modification). A cluster of buttons that look more like TV controls turn out to be TV controls. These only work in conjunction with certain Sony TVs.


Construction - The player is rather more attractive than some other Sony disc players; its predecessor, the 515D for example. The 533 is finished in the currently fashionable grey. However, it doesn't look quite as appealing 'in the flesh' as its publicity photographs. Possi­bly the shuttle ring could do with some sort of cosmetic highlighting to prevent it looking quite as heavy as it does. (It doesn't function heavily, it needs be said.) From a performance point of view, it doesn't matter that the loading tray is a lightweight affair, but the frantic manner it

shoots in and out does make it appear tackier than it is. The insets for the smaller CD size discs are not furnished with any extra indents for the fingers, making placement slightly more demanding. There is an indent for 20cm discs and 30cm discs don't need anything anyway. It pays to be careful when loading discs; there is a safety-tripping device built into the loading tray that retracts it if knocked too vigor­ously. It by chance, you rather clumsily drop a disc into the recess that can be enough to cause a retraction. That should be no problem, but if you haven't centered the disc properly the player will also try and go into the play cycle regardless. The ensuing internal noises can be disquieting and can only be arrested by hitting Eject and quickly!

 The player - a conventional single-motor design - is not particularly heavy but feels solid. Underneath are five feet that are composed of some sort of cork type material to minimise vibration. Mechanical noise is quite low - lower than the CLD-1450 - but there is still room for improvement.

 In Use - On-screen graphics displays are almost non-existent in normal use unless summoned up intentionally by using the Display button. Depending on disc type, a plain blue or green (yukky green) screen is displayed. With laserdiscs the end of side screen comes up too quickly, making side changes very distracting, not discreet at all. The player also seems to go into the eject mode very quickly at side ends. (On the other hand, if you scan up to the end of a side, the player automatically drops into pause rather smoothly, awaiting a further command.) During review the coloured screens would often go into a momentary partial roll or slight break-up while stabilising which, though causing no disruption to the actual picture, did come over as a bit rough and ready for an expensive piece of gear. The cause may be something to do with internal signal processing; the graphics look cleaner than normal and, along with the coloured screens, are possibly being routed through the RGB coder (and back).

Despite the rapidity of the tray, the load cycle (from pressing Play to having a picture running up on screen) works out to 17 seconds, about the norm, certainly no faster. Changing sides on a laserdisc takes 25-30 seconds from initiating eject, again nothing very exciting. The time for a chapter search over a 60-minute laserdisc side is about 14 seconds on CLV and a more athletic 7 seconds on a CAV laserdisc.

 Features - Search functions vary little from the CLD-1450. Other than a track chapter search, which can be initiated by just hitting the appropriately numbered key, all searches have to be entered and then set into gear by the Search/Next button. The player respects the mode you begin in (pause, still-frame etc). With this method it is not possible to go from still-frame and drop directly into slow motion, for example. The Yamaha CLV-1 remains the only player encountered to operate in this more efficient manner. The Sony can approximate certain of these mode changes in search, if after you press Search, you hit the relevant mode button straight after. However, though this works with pause and play, it doesn't with multispeed. Indexes are respected by the 533D. Just above the chapter/track skip buttons (ACS/AMS as Sony calls them) on the remote are similar Index buttons. The indexing only appears available in this way and there is no option to key in a search to a specific index point. Custom Index is a new feature that allows the user to place up to six index points on a disc. The index point is assigned with a letter (A to F) on the remote. These index points are deleted when the disc is removed from the player; there is no storage option. The indexing works on CDs and LDs.

 As might be expected, programming is provided and up to 20 chapters/tracks can be stored. Repeat playback for sides, chapters/tracks, and A-B sequences is also possible. The Auto Program feature would appear to be to facilitate recording CDs onto a double-sided compact cassette tape. Intro Scan plays just the first S or 10 seconds off each track on a disc. Auto Space and Auto Pause allow breaks to be inserted into various playback modes. The Auto Space lasts 3 seconds. Adventurous users might care to use Shuffle Playback, which will replay tracks and chapters in random order. (Not much good on movies though, one would imagine.)

Problems - Because of the troubled life of the 533’s predecessor, the 515D, one would hope that this new Sony model might enjoy a fairly uneventful introduction to the market. Sony has had plenty of opportunity to iron out all the bugs. This review could only uncover one slight problem with the machine. Like the Pioneer CLD-1200, the Sony would occa­sionally cause a flash or flicker at the top of the TV screen due to some flaw in the disc. (Scanning the disc back would cause the image to be disturbed in exactly the same manner.) With the 1200 the cause was an over-energetic dropout compensa­tion circuit that proved relatively easy to correct. Presumably this Sony machine will require nothing much more than a slight tweak to remedy. (Though, as with the 1200, the cure might have to be off-set by a slightly lower level of error correc­tion.) The flashing was mostly noticed with NTSC discs. PAL discs hardly see­med to be troubled. Beyond this flashing (which was more subdued than that with the Pioneer 1200) the Sony player worked fine and all the comments that follow about its performance are purely ones of relative merit.

Performance - Picture performance of the player in NTSC and PAL modes could be closely compact to the sort of image quality that readers might already be familiar with on recent Pioneer players such as the CLD-1450 and CLD-1200.. There is less ringing on the PAL grating than encountered with the Pioneer CLD-1450. Subjectively, the 533D looked to have slightly better signal-to-noise perfor­mance than previously seen players (Sony quotes no figures.) Certainly this was evident in chroma performance; the player did seem capable of producing brighter and less noisy colours. NTSC discs, in particular, had a bit more sparkle and brilliance. With PAL the difference was not quite so noticeable. (It should be born in mind, however, that no player can reduce the 'digital noise' present in a lot of current PAL digital sound discs. This is a shortcoming of the medium itself and, if improvable, will only be by modifying the way the discs are mastered.)

The prominence of speckles and dropouts proved similar to the results with recent Pioneer players; NTSC discs invari­ably looked very clean, with compensation not as effective on PDO, Blackburn-made PAL discs. Crosstalk performance was good, though possibly not quite as good as on the Pioneer CLD-1450. There is usually no trouble with crosstalk on Blackburn PAL discs anyway, but Pioneer in the US has taken to letting out more warped discs again of late. Occasionally these would show up with the wavy horizontal patterning. 

RGB In Use - The player does produce greater resolution via the com­posite output than via RGB. That would seem to be in accordance with Sony's advice in the instruction manual (though it is not couched in such directly unfavour­able terms). The resolution rolls off earlier in RGB, giving the pictures in NTSC a slightly 'glazed' look. In PAL, one would go as far as to call the RGB pictures noticeably unsharp. It should be remem­bered that the signal on the disc is coded in composite in the first place so, in one respect, a composite output is the 'purest output. Converting the signal to RGB may only offer a superior signal if the RGB encoding stage is of a higher standard It would be interesting to compare with some of the more expensive professional players with RGB to see whether their perfor­mance is better. 

The RGB output does have certain advantages in NTSC in that it acts like a Y/C (S-output) might and cleans up the spurious colour side effects of the signal. Cross-colour - the colour 'rainbow' effect on areas of fine detail - and cross-luminance - the crawling colour dot move­ment on sharp vertical edges - are all suppressed in the RGB mode. On the Sony test disc Tune-Up A.V. there is a specific resolution grating in Chapter 4 to show the worst effects of cross-colour. On a conventional composite output into a non comb-filter TV the grating is invisible as it is obscured by a mass of coloured dashes. The 533D, via its RGB output, reproduces this grating perfectly, with no false colour information whatsoever. This sort of performance should be attainable with a TV containing a comb-filter, but that Tune-Up A.V. grid has been previously tried on a conven­tional player through a comb-filter NTSC TV and the suppression of the cross-colour was nowhere near as effective. Without doubt, the 533D playing NTSC discs in RGB mode produces much cleaner images than via the composite output. The resolu­tion trade-off might be acceptable to some readers.

With PAL there is no discernible difference on the RGB output in suppress­ing the cross-colour effect. That may have been anticipated considering the more complex PAL signal which requires a lot more work (and hence cost) to clean up. (Even expensive professional TV monitors omit circuitry for cleaning up colour interference effects on reasons of consider­able added cost.) There was some apparent reduction in ringing on verticals in RGB still-frame mode but little other benefits were noticed. The PAL composite output is definitely the better option. There is a considerable loss of resolution with PAL run through the RGB converter, enough to make the picture sharpness unacceptable to most readers, one would hazard a guess.

Unlike the first Philips & Marantz combis, the teletext signal is not affected by the RGB coding.

Purchase Options – If you don’t have a multi-standard TV then the RGB output on NTSC laserdiscs is undoubtedly a better choice than the transcoded signal put out by the Pioneer CLD-1450. The achievement of correct colour is a better compromise than the loss in resolution. There is a loss of control over colour saturation involved -when you switch to RGB on a TV you sacrifice the ability to alter the level of colour - but this is again a small comprom­ise. Most discs have a more accurate level of colour intensity than the composite output from players would suggest. The RGB colour output tends to be slightly less saturated but it is unlikely you'll encounter a disc that would be too pale-coloured.

The RGB aspect is possibly the best way to judge the relative merits of the Sony MDP-533D in comparison to the Pioneer CLD-1450. You buy one of these two players for the PAL/NTSC capability. For the UK reader the 1450 is the cheaper. If you have a multistandard TV then a modified 1450 (to give the proper NTSC 3.58MHz output) is again the cheaper route. If you don't have a multistandard TV and don't envisage trading in your present PAL TV (which has to be RGB-capable, remember) in the near future, then the Sony comes into the frame. The extra price might be of no great consequence. It's a slightly better featured player (but the shuttle knob should not be over-valued, its convenience may be more apparent than actual) and there may be readers who value the optical digital output.

If one was addressing readers who had a TV they were itching to replace and were in the market for a new player as well, the advice would be to favour the cheaper Pioneer 1450 with the NT5C 3.58 conversion (or, probably better still, the latest Y/C option being touted) and a multistandard TV.  If you wanted to spend a bit more money, the Sony player is a possibility, but it might be wise to wait till there is a fix for the top of picture flashing rather than have to go through a protracted repair episode straight after purchase. (Note, though, that if you were going the 1450/multistandard TV route then it is still advisable for your TV to incorporate RGB and Y/C inputs, while neither this 533 or the earlier Philips CDV 475 have realty fulfilled the promise of RGB, that is not to say that there might not be future improve­ments that could.)

Audio - On the audio side, the instruction manual is coy about what sort of digital processing is employed, A continental brochure specifies 2 D/A con­verters, 8x oversampling and 18-bit digital filters. The perceived judgment of the digital quality would put it in the class of the better-sounding combis such as the Philips CDV 475 and Pioneer CLD-1450. Most of the limited amount of time available for this review was spent on the player's picture qualities, but that time used in auditioning CDs resulted in a favourable opinion of the sound quality.

Analogue sound laserdisc reproduc­tion also revealed no flaws. Side by side comparison with other players (both PAL and NTSC) manifested sound differences but these would unlikely be any more than different equalisations being employed.

To close - just to clearly summarise the position for American readers who might be interested in a PAL/NTSC machine - the 533D displaying PAL via RGB is not as good as hoped. You'd end up thinking PAL discs were nowhere near as sharp and detailed as NTSC, which is not generally the case. 

Sony MDP-533D Specifications

Bandwidth; 440 lines PAL(425 lines NTSC)

Digital Audio
Frequency response; 4-20,000Hz (+0.3dB)
Signal-to-noise ratio;  100dB (EIAJ)
Dynamic Range; > 95dB (EIAJ)
THD; 0.003% or less (EIAJ at 1kHz)
Channel Separation; > 90dB (EIAJ at 1kHz)
Audio Switching; Available on both LDs & CDs
Analogue Audio
CX; Auto & manual

Size:   430 x 1155 420mm (w s h x d)
Weight; 8.4kg

Power; 220
V AC, 50160Hz (as reviewed, other voltages are manufactured)
Consumption; 40 watts
Lead; Captive, two-pin plug

Composite Video; 1.0 Vp-p, 75 ohms unbalanced (via phono and Scan)
RGB Video; 0.7 Vp-p (via Scan only)
Analogue Audio; 200 mVrms (1kHz, 40% modulation)
Digital Audio; 200 mVrms (1kHz, -20dB)
Digital Optical Output; - l8dBm, 660nm wavelength
Headphone; 28 mW (32 ohms), 8 ohms

Remote Control (+ batteries)
Instruction Booklet (English+French/ltalian/German/Spanish)

Disc Compatibility
Sizes; 5/12120/30cm
Types; LD/LD Single/CD-V/VSD/CD
Formats; PAL & NTSC

CAV Options

Still Frame Advance/Reverse
Multispeed in 11 steps (X10 down to 1/90th)

Convenience Features
Search; Time/Frame/Chapter/Track
Repeat; Chapter/Track/Side/A-B sequence
Program; Up to 20 chapters/tracks 
Auto Program; For computing cassette side recording Intro Scan; Plays first 5 or 10 seconds of each track/ chapter
Auto Pause; Drops player into pause at end of selection/s
Auto Space; Inserts 3 sec gap between tracks/chapters
Custom Index; Enables S indexes to be put on disc
Shuttle Playback; Plays tracks/chapters randomly
Dependent on disc configuration