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DVD-Video - General Information - Playback Hardware

DVD-Video discs play on DVD players, some games consoles and PCs with DVD drives. There is now a wide range of hardware capable of playing DVD-Video titles including DVD-Video players, PCs with DVD capability and games consoles.

In addition new widescreen TVs and surround sound systems are available allowing consumers to experience the excellent picture and sound quality that DVD has to offer.

bulletDVD-Video Players
The first DVD-Video players appeared in Japan in November 1996 and in the USA in March 1997. Europe did not see players until a year later and it took another year before they were available in all consumer electronic stores.

All players play all physical formats, ie DVD-5, DVD-9, DVD-10, DVD-14 and DVD-18. All players will also play CD audio discs and most will play Video CD discs. Some recent players will play CDs/DVDs containing MP3 and MPEG-4 files. However only players with two lasers are capable of playing CD-R discs since the laser used for DVD is not compatible with the dye used for CD-R discs. Also not all players will play DVD-R/+R discs that are often used to test titles before committing to replication and for short runs. DVD-RAM discs cannot be played on DVD-Video players.

All players will connect to standard TV via composite video, while most have S-Video output. In Europe the SCART RGB component output is standard but in the USA component output, if present, tends to be YUV instead. Players in the USA output NTSC (525 line) video, while in Europe all players output both PAL (625 line) and NTSC. Some players may convert from PAL to NTSC or NTSC to PAL to avoid problems with TVs not being dual or multi standard. Players should be set to play discs of only one region (see region coding above) but many now can play discs of more than one region or can be switched between regions using the remote control.

Early low-end players did not include Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding. Now many players include both Dolby Digital and DTS decoding providing a 6-channel output to external amplifiers. Players without decoders will output digital audio to an external decoder.

bulletPCs with DVD
The number of PCs with DVD exceeds the number of DVD-Video players. Many of these are used to play DVD-Video discs, as there is a shortage of DVD-ROM titles. PCs offer additional functionality including Internet access. Adding DVD to an existing PC requires a DVD drive and DVD-Video decoder. The latter can either be software or hardware.

PCs with DVD drives and DVD-Video decoders must implement region playback control (RPC) in conjunction with CSS decoding. For PC implementations, but not standalone DVD players, the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) has defined two phases of implementation.

1. Phase I RPC where RPC and CSS functions were allowed to be in the DVD-Video decoder and was to be set to only one region per decoder.

2. Phase II RPC, which applies to all implementations from 1 Jan 2000, specifies that the RPC functions be implemented in firmware in the drive itself. The user may reset the region up to 5 times and may have this 5 times resetting capability re-established an additional 4 times.

This means that all DVD PCs and upgrade kits currently sold must implement Phase II RPC.

bulletGames Consoles
The first games console to be launched with DVD-Video playback capability is Sony's Playstation 2. This was launched in Japan in March 2000 and in the USA and Europe later that year. In Japan the launch stimulated considerable demand for DVD-Video titles.

Other consoles, including Nintendo's Dolphin and Microsoft's X-Box have DVD capability and were launched late 2001 / early 2002.

bulletWidescreen TVs
Traditional televisions have a 4:3 aspect ratio, but movies are filmed in widescreen at up to about 2.35:1. TV broadcasts of movies either use pan & scan to display a part of the movie image at full screen height or display the full width of the movie with black bars above and below the picture.

Widescreen TVs have a 16:9 (1.85:1) aspect ratio and allow movies to be displayed full width with no black bar or only a narrow black bar top and bottom. TV broadcasts in Europe have been gradually moving towards the 16:9 format for most new programs or the compromise 14:9 in preparation for widescreen TV. As a result widescreen TVs are quite common in Europe, but less so in the USA where screen size seems to be more important.

A trend has recently started to integrate other hardware with the TV. Thomson, for example, has released a widescreen TV with an integrated DVD player.

bulletSurround Sound
A full surround-sound system requires six speakers and a surround-sound amplifier. With conventional speakers this can be both expensive and require a lot of space. Therefore there is now a range of solutions comprising very small satellite speakers plus a sub-woofer. Some manufacturers offer DVD players with a full surround amplifier and speaker system. A few widescreen TVs include a centre speaker as well as stereo speakers and separate surround speakers. Some models provide a wireless link to the surround speakers to avoid cables trailing across the living room floor.

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