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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 2/6/99



Sony DVP-S7700 DVD Player

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

DTS Digital Out

Sony's DVP-S7700 Performance Rating: A+
The S7700 delivers phenomenal performance - period. Under the hood, you'll find a flurry of refinements to the basic design pioneered by Sony's highly regarded S7000. Each serves to add an extra measure of quality to the overall design. Impressive.

Ease-of-Use Rating: A-
At first I disliked the remote - it's a bit big and clunky. This is not an ergonomic wonder, by any means. But once I used it for a while, my feelings changed. Now I'm hooked. The setup menus are very good - logical and easy to navigate. The manual is also fairly clear and easy to use.

Value/Overall Rating: B+/A
The $1299 SRP is going to be a bit steep for some. But if you demand the highest video and audio performance from a DVD player, this is the one to buy. It should easily replace the S7000 as the new reference standard.

Specs and Features

Performance Features: 10-bit Video Digital-to-Analog Converter, Advanced SmoothScan™ picture search with 32-bit RISC microprocessor, Smooth Slow, Digital Video Noise Reduction, Field and Frame Still, Dual Discrete Optical Pickup System, plays DVD, CD and Video CD (VCD), 96 kHz/24-bit audio D/A converter, Variable Coefficient (VC) digital filter, Variable Analog Audio low pass filter, DTS Digital Out, Audio Priority (5.1 auto-select), Audio Dynamic Range Control, Surround on/off switch

Convenience Features: DVD Navigator™ universal-style remote control with Jog and Shuttle dial and glow-in-the-dark keys, Menu Disc™ operation with point-and-click selection, S-Link™, Video Bit-Rate meter, 99-step Play Programming, Parental control, Last language memory, CD-EXTRA on-screen picture display, Program display with dimmer

Output Terminals: AC-3 Bit Stream / PCM Optical Output, AC-3 Bit Stream / PCM Coaxial Output, Analog Audio Output x 2, S Video Output x 2, Composite Video Output x 2, Component Video Out x 1. Headphone jack

Other Features: aluminum front panel, bulk molding compounds tray and base, off-center isolating feet, glass epoxy circuit board, 1 Year Parts and Labor Warranty

Review

Is it possible to fall in love with a DVD player? If it is, then this is the one that will grab your heart. Let me say it plainly - the Sony DVP-S7700 is an awesome player. I've used several different models, but this is definitely my favorite of the bunch. And that's saying a lot, because I was extremely happy with both the Toshiba SD3006, and the Pioneer DV-414. To be fair, this player benefits from a couple years of manufacturing experience with the DVD format, something that the 3006 didn't have. And I still love the DV-414. But neither of them holds a candle to the 7700.

The first thing you notice about the 7700, is that it's built like a tank. It's a whopping 15 pounds, right out of the box. The construction is designed to minimize any possible adverse effect the player's environment could have on picture and sound quality. So you get offset feet to minimize vibration. You get a rock-solid disc tray, hidden behind an aluminum face plate, to minimize dust contamination and provide more stability for the disc, while spinning. You get a separate, glass-epoxy A/V circuit board. The result is that you could probably do your morning calisthenics, with the player sitting on the floor right next to you, and you'd cause nary a skip or glitch in the playback.

The design may sound familiar to some of you, and for good reason - the 7700 is basically a refinement of the original Sony DVP-S7000 DVD player, which was widely regarded as the industry reference standard. As good as it was, lots of subtle refinements have been made under the hood, to make the 7700 even better. The player's dual-discrete laser pickup design has been improved, and a new DSP Servo control has been incorporated to dramatically decrease menu-access time (it sure does - more on that in a minute). The player also boasts a 32-bit RISC-based Smooth Scan feature, which provides for a crystal-clear, and rock-steady picture while fast-scanning (or slow-jogging), both in forward AND reverse. And the 7700 features the DTS Digital Out as well, required for 5.1 audio playback of new DTS-encoded DVDs.

Armed with several good DVDs worth of test material, I plugged the 7700 into my Mitsubishi rear-projection TV via both S-Video and Component. I set Starship Troopers in the disc tray, and watched as it whispered quietly back into the player, followed by the face plate, which gently lifted back into it's normal position. I headed for the couch, and by the time I'd turned around and set by butt down, the disc was already playing! This player boasts extremely fast disc access time. And thankfully, no real setup was required - the player was factory preset to non-anamorphic mode, so there was no Squished Picture Syndrome here.

Let's talk picture quality - I was really impressed. The image (via both S-Video and Component) was tremendous. Rich, vibrant colors and deep, detailed blacks. I saw no artifacting at all - the player just crunched right through even the toughest scenes. The hyperdrive scene of Lost In Space looked phenomenal. The whole sequence is white-washed with bright sunlight, yet no artifacting was visible, and plenty of detail was still apparent. On the other hand, the dark interiors of Star Trek: First Contact were nicely conveyed by the 7700, with a good range of contrast and plenty of shadow detail. The warm hues of The English Patient were beautiful in appearance, with lustrous golds, reds and browns rendered, and nicely accurate flesh-tones. As I've seen with DVD in general, the S-Video picture looked to have a slightly crisper, edgy quality to it, and very slightly more saturated color. The Component signal, on the other hand, was more film-like, and had more accurate color rendition - I definitely preferred it.

One of the strikes (the few that there were) against the original 7000, was that the electronic down-conversion that the player does on anamorphic DVDs, resulted in an overly-soft picture on standard 4x3 TVs. The 7700 has definitely improved this process - the picture still has a slightly soft quality to it, but is much improved over the 7000. And absolutely no artifacts can been seen, as a result of the conversion process. I was very pleased with the image overall - again, it was very film-like in appearance.

One odd thing - the original Sony 7000 was able to reproduce the blacker-than-black bars in the "Pluge" pattern on Video Essentials. The 7700 seems unable to do this. I haven't had a problem with related to this, but it does make calibrating your video display device more difficult. In addition, the 7000 allowed you to adjust the black level coming out of the player - the 7700 has omitted this feature. I think this latter omission is actually a benefit - allowing a person to "adjust" the video signal leaving the player creates all kinds of problems. The signal should just be correct - period.

I mentioned the fast disc-access speed a moment ago - something I can't stress enough. I put the 7700 through every test I could think of. From the Earth to the Moon, for example, features a very complex menuing system, with lots of animations. The 7700 chewed right through the menu pages, as I surfed them - boom, boom, boom. My mouth almost dropped open - it was that fast. I jumped into a random spot in the program from the scene selection menu, then quickly hit the DVD Menu key on the remote. The change in picture was lighting quick, with very little hesitation. This is a really pleasing feature, and one that I can't over-emphasize it.

Perhaps the best feature of the 7700, however, was the Smooth Scan capability. The remote features a Jog/Shuttle dial, that took some getting used to. But as I paused the picture, and rolled the dial slowly clockwise, I watched, frame-by-frame, as Paris was devastated by a meteor strike in Armageddon. I could see every detail, as the blast wave spread slowly, tossing miles-worth of buildings into the air. Then I rolled the dial counterclockwise, and watched the same scene in reverse. The picture was rock-steady. Roll it a little more, and you get two speeds of slow-motion playback in both directions. Roll it a little more, and you get two speeds of fast-scanning. Best of all, as the picture is so clear, there's no chance of missing the scene you're looking for. This is an awesome feature (available on the newest Sony players), and one which I'd never seen on DVD before - only on laserdisc players. By the way, the feature works just as well on audio CDs too - the sound is sampled at varying speeds, so you can still hear exactly where you are in the song as you scan.

So how about the audio performance, you may be wondering? It's equally good. There are dual analog outputs, as well as a coaxial digital and a Toslink optical digital out (there are no on-board audio decoders). The player features the much-loved Sony Audio Priority selection feature, whereby the player automatically finds the 5.1 track on most DVDs (with the exception of some titles from Paramount, for example, where this feature has been software-disallowed on the disc itself). The 7700 also reads the proper flags on DTS-encoded DVDs, allowing you to output the sound data to an outboard DTS decoder. I saw no problems with audio sync whatsoever.

As for audio CDs, believe it or not, the 7700 performed as well as my stand-alone Sony CD player. The sound was rich and full, with little of the edgy quality that some DVD players add to CD audio. I was really surprised at this, so I gathered a dozen of my favorite CDs to spin in the 7700, to see if I was hearing correctly. I tried REM's UP, The Police Live, Peter Gabriel's Secret World Live, Robbie Robertson's Music for the Native Americans, Throwing Copper by Live, and even some Stones - all music I'm familiar quite with. Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, the remastered Star Wars soundtrack, and James Horner's excellent Braveheart score were also tested, among others. The 7700 handled them all with ease - I was really impressed. I'm sure a seasoned audiophile would find it inferior, but I'd be willing to bet that most people will be quite happy using the 7700 as their main CD player, in addition to its DVD duties.

The convenience features on the 7700 are also wonderful. The setup menus pop on-screen quickly, and you don't have to stop the disc to use them - the program keeps playing in the background. Navigating them is a breeze - there are 4 pages for you to tab through, with all of the options logically arranged and easy to change. The on-screen display includes a video bit-rate meter - a very nice feature to have when reviewing discs. The face plate features an LED display that can be dimmed if you prefer. The face also incorporates basic disc playback controls right on the plate, but with activators that you only have to tap - not push - to use (thereby reducing physical and mechanical stress on the mechanism). Additional controls for DVD navigation are found behind the plate (which can be dropped, without opening the tray, by the touch of a button on the front of the player). There's also a headphone jack on the front, with adjustable volume - a nice touch.

The remote is a bit over-large and clunky. I have to confess, I hated it at first. Compared to remotes I've used with Pioneer and Toshiba players, it's not exactly an ergonomic dream. But I'll be dammed if it didn't grow on me. The disc navigation key (yes, you heard me right - key), took some getting used to. Basically, it's a single round button, in the center of the jog/shuttle dial. You press the right side for "right", the top for "up" - you get the picture. To select an option, you press the center of the button - "Enter". But, once I adjusted to this arrangement, it was very easy to use. The remote features glow-in-the-dark keys, for easy use in a darkened room. As I mentioned, the jog/shuttle dial took some getting used to. The way it works, is that you roll it in the direction you wish to scan - the more you roll, the faster the scan. Hit the nearby Jog button, and you've got slow-mo. Again, it was easy to use, once I got used to it. Best of all, the remote controls my TV (including switching video inputs), and the volume of my Technics receiver, in addition to the DVD player - very handy indeed.

Bottom line

Love this! The Sony DVP-S7700 is simply the best DVD player I've yet had the privilege to use. I have no doubt that it will replace Sony's 7000 model, as the reference standard. The $1299 SRP may be a bit steep, but for those who need the highest audio and video performance a DVD player can deliver, that's a fair price. My recommendation for most of you, is to buy it via mail-order over the Internet (you can get it for a couple hundred off retail at some places). If you do invest in the 7700, you'll soon be glad you did. We like it so much at the Bits, that we've decided to make it our official player for review purposes. Need we say more?

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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