A lot of people love the convenience of driving an automatic car. Its smooth shifting and ease of driving are priceless to them. Of course naturally not everyone’s chooses an automatic car. Those with performance and fun in mind know that a manual transmission can deliver just that plus more. A manual transmission also allows better control of the car. But enough about cars, after all this is a hifi magazine.
Let me get to the point. You could say that Harman Kardon’s DVD 31 has both automatic and manual transmissions. The automatic part means that straight out of the box it will deliver great picture quality. Its manual qualities surface once you open the more advanced menus in the onscreen setup. The DVD 31 offers playback of DVD Audio and Video, MP3, Windows Media and still images from a CD. Its pixel-by-pixel progressive scan processing and an audio control system for DVD-Audio discs places the player above the average DVD player.
On the outside the player is perhaps one of the best looking DVD players out there. Its gray and black finish is nicely complemented by four silver feet that float the player higher off the shelf than most DVD players. An embossed Harman Kardon logo stretches across the top panel of the player. Six buttons to the left and one to the right of the disc tray are present without any labels. Not powered on, the player looks simple yet very classy. The only visible items are the Harman Kardon logo, model number and a small power indicator. Powering the unit on brings the labels above all buttons to life in a comfortable, cool blue. The main display shines in a brighter easily readable blue. On or off, the player looks absolutely stunning.
The remote controller carries the same silver finish as the player. Unlike most DVD player remotes this one is fully backlit. Why aren’t all remotes backlit? Have we not learned the advantages yet? Most of the buttons on the remote are either round or square and are not labeled directly on the buttons so the backlight doesn’t do much for them. However important disc navigation buttons are shaped according to their function and channel buttons have labels right on them, so standard operation even in complete darkness is no sweat.
I connected the DVD 31 to an Onkyo TX-SR701 receiver using a component cable for video, an optical cable for sound and 6-channel analogue cables for DVD-Audio. The unit offers one each of composite, S-Video and component video outputs. The audio is outputted as optical, coaxial, L/R analogue and 6-channel analogue. Pressing the On Screen Display (OSD) button brought me to the player’s setup menu. Initially I only changed the aspect ratio to 16:9 to fit my Panasonic TH-42PX20 plasma and changed the video output to progressive scanning. I watched a few scenes from three different DVDs. Out of the box the DVD 31 delivered a great picture and sound. For someone that doesn’t want to configure any other settings that’s great.
Of course as a home theater enthusiast I couldn’t wait to see what else was on board. On the video side, the DVD 31 has a multitude of settings that can be configured including color, contrast, brightness, tint and black level. To make the video adjustments easy, the setup menu comes equipped with a test signal that displays both color bars and gray scale along with 100% black and white fields. It is recommended to adjust your television’s video settings first, and then fine tune them using the DVD player’s controls.
Next I navigated through the audio setup menus. Since the DVD 31 is aimed at mid to higher-end home theaters it does not do surround sound decoding by itself. It simply outputs the original signal (either Dolby Digital or DTS) from a DVD disc and lets your choice of receiver handle the decoding.
Now might also be a good time to mention that the manual that comes with the DVD 31 is one of the best manuals I’ve ever read. It is well written and should be easily understood by beginner and advanced users alike. Detailed manuals like this are hard to come by with today’s electronics.
In the holiday spirit, I began my movie watching session by playing the Elf DVD. And what a funny movie it is. Right off the bat I noticed that the DVD 31’s color reproduction was bold and consistent. The black level and shadow details were also handled very well by the DVD player. Color-wise both interlaced and progressive scan performances were equally great, although the progressive picture had its obvious advantages. The nice thing about the DVD 31 is that you can change the interlace picture to progressive and vice-versa as the DVD is playing. This allows you to see the differences in overall quality right away. Harman Kardon’s pixel-by-pixel progressive scan picture delivered a much crispier, sharper picture without any horizontal black lines in any scenes. Opening dark scenes from The Day after Tomorrow once again reassured me that the DVD 31 could deliver an impressive black level and good contrast.
On the audio side of things, the DVD 31 offers bass management and several other adjustments accessible through its onscreen menus. In the first audio menu you can configure whether the digital output should be original (Dolby Digital or DTS) or PCM (that can be fed to a receiver that doesn’t decode Dolby Digital or DTS data streams). Here you can also adjust the PCM frequency limit (to match your A/V receiver) and the dynamic range (so that you can enjoy the full impact of a soundtrack at lower volume levels).
The second menu offers detailed settings for a 5.1 speaker system including the size of your speakers, delay time, and volume level. You can also select the crossover frequency for your subwoofer.
You can also choose to bypass all the audio adjustments in these menus and let your receiver handle them.
The DVD 31 played the Eagles Hotel California DVD-Audio disc as its dynamic, smooth sounding self. I listened to some of my favorite songs two or three times in a row picking up sounds I haven’t heard before. The highs were clear and crisp and easy on my ears. The bass notes reached appropriate depths and packed a strong punch. The guitars in “Hotel California” sounded so smooth and realistic, it was almost like sitting front row at a concert.
Blue Man’s Group Audio album (also in DVD-Audio) sounded just as dynamic and spectacular. From beginning until the end of the album I was surrounded by this unique new age music coming from every speaker in my home theater. The sounds of the drum bass, bongos and Blue Man Group’s own innovative instruments came through clear and precise, and packed enough bass when necessary.
The response time of DVD 31 was very quick during both audio and video discs. As soon as I press a button on the remote the player executed the requested function with no delay.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, my experience with Harman Kardon’s DVD 31 was nothing short of amazing. Although it doesn’t up-convert video signals, its video performance exceeds many of the players that do up-conversion. The stereo and multichannel audio performance is comparable to players at a much higher price bracket. A combination of great performance and sleek styling the DVD 31 is definitely worth a look.
MSRP: $449 (Canadian)
Harman/Kardon DVD 31
Playback of: DVD video, DVD-Audio, MP3, Windows Media and JPEG discs
enhanced pixel-by-pixel progressive scan video processing
component/S-video/composite video outputs
5.1 channel audio outputs (for DVD-Audio playback)
Dimensions(WxHxD): 17-3/10” x 1-15/16” x 12” (440mm x 49mm x 330mm)
Weight: 7.3 lbs (3.3 kg)