NOTE: This machine WILL NOT run official NUON games and software, but will run homebrew games.
Entertainment was meant to be an experience!
Finally a DVD Player that let's you experience entertainment the way it was meant to be. This RCA DVD Player is built with Nuon Technology providing many features that aren't available on a traditional DVD Player. Zoom into full-motion video, paused video, or even use slow motion forward and reverse to get a close-up look at these incredible Hollywood special effects or exciting sports highlights. Since this DVD Player has a 4-tap poly-phase filtering the picture stays clear and doesn't block up when you zoom in, as compared to a traditional DVD Player. For added convenience, this DVD Player has a Smart Resume feature that will remember where you stopped watching up to 10 movies. This player is also the first to support mp3PRO audio technology, which is both backwards and forwards compatible with standard mp3 and creates files that are 1/2 or less the size of original mp3 files, with great sound quality. Only Nuon Enhanced DVD Players have the Virtual Light Machine delivering "Music at the speed of light!" Simply play any CD or mp3 disc in the player and the television screen will erupt with visualizations of intense color and geometric patters driven by the energy of music. These are just the beginning of the long list of features that are only available with a Nuon Enhanced DVD Player order yours today!
The Samsung DVD-N501 had a beautiful user interface (UI) with highly graphical menus. Upon bootup, the user is greeted by a nice bluish, purple bitmap screen with the Samsung logo prominently displayed. When active, the screensaver consisted of a nice floating Samsung logo. During movie playback, a movie can be viewed in its entirety while adjusting the options through the menus because the movie runs in a large thumbnail window. The options have descriptive captions which detail the features' functions. However, the N501's UI was quite sluggish. Also, many of its functions were nested too deeply. This is noticeable when compared to other DVD players. The N501 was my first experience with a Nuon player so I can't compare to its predecessors.
The RCA user interface is relatively ugly. It looks very similar to the menus of other DVD players (Panasonic, Sony, etc.). Quite retro, harkening to the Atari 8-bit days (1200XL anyone?). When no disc is present, the main screen is shown with a number of configurable options. All these options should be hidden until requested. Many options cannot be accessed during playback. For example, the Virtual Light (VLM) option cannot be toggled during music playback.
During playback, the options are overlayed in a thin strip over the top portion of the movie. It is somewhat transparent but still obscures the movie. The text is very sharp, however, and looks better than the soft fonts on the N501. However, its functions are more readily available than the N501 and are closer to the surface (movie playback). The options are also quite responsive to user selection.
The Samsung and RCA units lack the ability to navigate and select options via the front panel. Therefore, if the remote is damaged or needs to be replaced, the abilities of the player is severely handicapped. Other DVD players (Oritron, Apex, Panasonic, etc.) provide some ability to navigate without the remote.
DVD loading times are dramatically improved over the Samsung. My friends always wondered why the Samsung took so long to load DVDs. They just figured it was due to the fact that it was a Samsung (traditionally, Samsung has been a lesser DVD brand). The RCA will load DVDs, VCDs, and tricked-up SVCDs with aplomb.
The Samsung was also a bit finicky with various types of media. Cheap, generic CDRs would read sporadically, and occasionally cause on-screen stuttering and physical screeching (which sounds awful). This was most apparent during VideoCDs and Super VideoCDs. After trying various brands, I avoided PNY, Imation, Memorex 650s (700s tend to run better), and generics. The best, by far, were the TDK Japanese ones which are still a bit pricy. The readily available TDK Taiwan CDRs were acceptable but not quite as flawless as the Japanese version. Sony and Fuji are excellent brands also. The RCA is much more tolerant of cheap media.
Both players recognize the VideoCD format. However, they cannot play the standard Super VideoCD format. For those who haven't experienced SVCD yet, you must because this is THE format for the enthusiast to inexpensively record home videos or to backup/copy DVDs from (unless you can afford a DVD burner). The VCD header trick does work with the RCA and Samsung units so you can still play SVCDs. For enthusiasts that want native SVCD support, look elsewhere. For example, my CyberHome unit can natively play SVCDs so I tend to use that player. It's a hassle to burn two sets of the same movie so that it can play on the RCA/Samsung (which leads to 4 CDRs per movie) and on true SVCD players.
There is a slight issue with the RCA unit and VCD 2.0 applications (either true VCD 2.0 or "tricked SVCD" as VCD 2.0). Some VCDs, that were encoded to use the <Enter> button to select the title screen menu option, could not be loaded without turning off PBC. Upon pushing the <Enter> button, the track selection feature pops up. However, I could not load the movie after many attempts through this method. Turning off PBC started the movie immediately. While this was an adequate option for watching the movie, I lost all the other menu options like movie trailers, slideshows, etc.
On a side note, I don't know if the RCA has region-free capability which the Samsung has. Although the Samsung cannot do PAL to NTSC conversion, the feature is still useful for Japanese and Chinese DVDs which are NTSC. If you're curious, the CyberHome unit can play all the formats, has region-free capability, does PAL to NTSC (and vice-versa) conversion, and even has the ability to disable Macrovision. It also has much better MP3 playback support than the Samsung. The CyberHome also can display JPEGs (although it can't display JPEG Progressive images). It only runs for $60 too. So you can understand that it's a bit of an uphill climb for the RCA/Samsung units to compete. Today's players are stacked with features now.
The image quality is nice and sharp (aliasing is more noticeable when compared with the N501). The N501 seemed a bit softer. The color seems more intense on the RCA. Again, like all Nuon players, there are no options to adjust video quality (sharpness, color, calibration, etc.) like on other DVD players.
Layer switches were quite noticeable on the N501, regardless of the DVD. This problem is quite minimal on the RCA unit. In fact, after watching a number of DVDs, it was difficult to find the layer changes unless I was carefully scrutinizing for it.
A problem that carried over from the Samsung player involved color shifting during zoom and during VCD playback. This problem was quite noticeable and disturbing. I first noticed it during Video CD (VCD) playback. Soon afterward, I saw it during DVD playback while using the zoom function. The easiest way to see it is to play a VCD. At first, playback seemed fine. However, I noticed the colors were slightly off and a bit muted. I then used the zoom function to shrink the image to the smallest setting (0.5X on the Samsung). At this point, the image was quite sharp and the correct colors were displayed. While VCD playback clearly illustrated the problem, my friends started noticing it with DVD zooming after I showed it to them. While it is significant on the Samsung unit, it wasn't quite so noticeable on the RCA. Perhaps they improved the zoom algorithm or perhaps RCA had significant input.
I believe the decoder enlarges the VCD image from the default 352X240 resolution so that it fills the screen rather than display it at its native resolution. This has its benefits and drawbacks. The drawbacks include a very soft image (like the Nuon's zoom function) and an incorrect, color-shifted image. However, the softer image tends to hide artifacts quite well. I compared it to a couple other DVD players, including the CyberHome CH-500 Progressive Scan player and the Panasonic RV-32. While the other DVD players displayed greater clarity and sharpness during VCD playback, artifacts were more noticeable particularly during low-motion scenes.
The Samsung and RCA units did not decode equivalently. On the RCA unit, artifacts were more noticeable than on the Samsung. This occurred during VCD or SVCD playback. I actually preferred VCD and SVCD playback on the Samsung. For DVDs, the RCA was the winner.
The audio options are similar to the N501. It would've been nice to have a built-in decoder, but since most people now have a nice audio receiver, the feature is not essential.
The RCA unit provides more details on the disc than the Samsung.
- time description
The following options are displayed when the DVD options are requested during playback:
Three options are available: normal, enhanced (stretches the image somewhat but leaves a small portion of the black bars onscreen), maximum (stretches the image fully to completely encompass the 4:3 screen)
The screen's aspect ratio is still distorted like on the N501 because the image is stretched vertically to fill the entire screen. However, the stretching seems less severe on the RCA than on the N501. On the other hand, the N501 screen fit had much greater clarity and retained the sharpness of the original DVD image. The RCA screen fit seemed like a modified version of the normal zoom function, resulting in a soft image. That being said, the RCA has greater functionality and would be a feature I would actually use. On the Samsung, the 1.59X zoom is more useful than the Screen Fit.
The fonts of the various DVDs look cleaner and sharper than on the N501.
The audio options were equivalent on both systems. The RCA seems to normalize the audio to a greater degree than the N501 (which often seemed to perform no normalization).
The RCA unit can have up to six bookmarks (the N501 had three). Response is much better than the N501. Interface is much better and intuitive. All bookmarking done by the direction arrows and the 'OK' button. This allows the user to place the bookmark more closely to the intended spot. The bookmark also has a time description. However, the bookmarking feature only works during DVD playback. VCDs (and SVCDs with VCD headers) cannot be bookmarked like on other DVD players.
The "Eject" feature is tied to the 'Stop' button. This is better than having no option at all.
There appears to be no universal programmability even though the manual does state in one section that it can be programmed. It can only control RCA devices which is a terrible limitation. The target population that likes to buy all components from a single manufacturer are not going to be picking RCA/Proscan as the foundation of a home entertainment center. Sorry, not going to happen.
The RCA controls are more closely located than on the N501 remote which is very long and unwieldy. There are also less buttons, leading to a cleaner layout. Neither the RCA nor the N501 have a solid base so the user cannot stand the remote (if you've used Panasonic or Sony remotes, you know how nice it is, both aesthetically and functionally).
The remote is not backlit. However, layout is much better than the N501 remote such that buttons can be found more easily without glancing at the remote (through location, button sizing, and lesser buttons). However, they could've found other means if they didn't want the cost of backlighting. For example, the CyberHome remote has glow-in-the-dark buttons. During the daytime, the glow-in-the-dark buttons are "charged" so they glow at night.
The RCA has a very cool and useful feature through the remote's "Again" button. It works very much like an instant replay button and plays back the last ten seconds. Very cool and useful (especially for helping those people who go, "what did he just say?").
The Zoom function is much more responsive than the N501. There is no text description on the RCA like on the N501 (i.e., N501 will display "1.59X"). The RCA had similar color shift problems like the N501. However, the change was not as noticeable. Using the buttons is much nicer than the N501 flimsy joystick. The zoom is nice and responsive. However, it is blurrier than zoom options on other DVD players. Some other DVD players also have a small thumbnail of the movie in the corner during zooming. This is lacking on the Nuon players.
The available options were: 2X, 4X, 8X, 16X, 30X, 100X
Scanning was much smoother and more responsive (particularly when cycling through the various rates) than on the N501. It seems like more frames are displayed during rapid scanning than on N501. There is no audio during scanning on the RCA. The N501 had audio snippets during 2X scanning.
There are 4 settings. Again, the RCA is more responsive than the N501.
Wow, the increased resolution over the N501 is very noticeable. Some effects were dramatically better on the RCA. A few effects did not seem to fit the screen properly when compared to the N501 (as if the RCA had a zoomed-in look on the effect). Although the image was sharper and more smoothly animated on the RCA, the N501 seemed to have better beat detection and appears more synchronized to the music than the RCA on a number of occasions. As for the number of effects, it seems to be equivalent to the N501 but there is no means to verify it. The duration of an effect seems variable which is a pain because the player can stay on a dull effect interminably while a cool effect can be displayed for only a couple seconds.
There is no customization on the RCA unit. You can only toggle its activity. The feature can only be toggled while the audio is stopped.
One of the defining features of the RCA player, in my opinion. This feature is simply awesome. The player will remember up to three stoppages of a DVD, whether it's been ejected or not. Let's say you're watching DVD "A". Around the 10-minute mark, you need to go to the bathroom. You'd rather stop than bookmark. Then at the 18-minute mark, you want to go get a snack. Then the other people in the room want to watch another movie. So you eject the DVD at the 20-minute mark and insert DVD "B". Then after a couple of minutes you go back to DVD "A." Upon insertion of DVD "A", you will be presented three thumbnails of where DVD "A" was left off: 10-minute, 18-minute, and 20-minute. Very, very cool. With this feature, you can skip the annoying warning screens and preview trailers. The N501 will only resume if the disc remains in the player. If the user accidentally hits the 'Stop' button twice, the N501 will also forget the stop position and playback has to begin at the beginning.
There is a bug in the "Resume" feature, under a particular scenario with VCDs, that can cause the RCA to lock up. However, the average user may not encounter it.
CD Audio playback was excellent. Virtual Light was a nice experience, particularly if the user is used to experiencing VLM on the Samsung. All features that are typical of a CD player are present. The user can also create customized playlists.
MP3 and MP3Pro Audio
128, 160 and 192 kbps MP3 files were tested and found to perform well. Variable bitrate MP3s and MP3Pro files were not tested. In a time when 40 and 80GB hard drives are commonplace, there should little need for VBR and encodings below 192 kbps. The RCA has better file management than the N501. The filename descriptions are longer than on the Samsung though. The MP3 player still has limited capabilities. There is no file scanning. There is no shuffle or randomization function. Playlists cannot be created. ID3v1 and ID3v2 tags are ignored. There are no equalizer functions. Virtual Light is also active during MP3 playback.
This feature is excellent, with a few flaws. No longer is the user restricted to creating MPEG Stills CDs for photo presentations. A user simply needs to generate a CD filled with JPEG files. Directories can be browsed in Explorer-type fashion. A simple fade effect occurs during the switching of images. Manual switching between images is quite slow if using the skip buttons. This slow rendering is masked during automatic skipping because the subsequent image is rendered while the current image is displayed. There are three speeds for the slideshow. The normal setting was quite lengthy so I can imagine how slow the lowest setting would be. The fastest setting was not too fast but fast enough that a person would have to be somewhat concise in describing the image to slideshow attendants.
The tested images were grabbed from a digital camera. While a television cannot match the resolution of a monitor, the image quality could have been better and sharper. Although the color intensity was adequate, the image was somewhat soft and much detail was lost in many images. Switching to higher quality video cables (S-Video and component video) could quite possibly make a significant difference. However, it may not because still frame DVD images appear to display at a higher quality than JPEG counterparts. Nonetheless, the human adapts to the softer image and after a few frames, the picture appears fine. Much like how the low-res VLM appears fine on the Samsung unless the user has observed the higher-res counterpart.
For images that are vertically-oriented, the image can be rotated via the 'Angle' button. However, for high resolution images (1600X1200 and above), the rotation can be quite slow and frustrating because the unit was often sluggish and would cache multiple presses. I would advise owners to rotate and place the image on a 4:3 canvas through an image application like Adobe Photoshop.
However, the most glaring mistake of the Digital PhotoView feature is the inability to permanently remove the photo caption from the bottom of the image. The bottom 20% of the screen displays the photo number of the image and its filename. The user has to remove the caption manually for each image. When the next image appears, the caption reappears. This forces the user to be constantly aware of two buttons throughout a slideshow presentation: 'Clear' to remove the caption and 'Angle' to rotate images that are vertically oriented.
The RCA instruction manual is sorely lacking in detail. In fact, it doesn't even describe a feature of Digital PhotoView where the user can use the 'Menu' button to display multiple thumbnails of the images of the CD. If there is a way to permanently remove captions from the slideshow, it isn't in the manual.
While all DVD players can run MPEG Stills CDs and a number of others have a JPEG slideshow option, the RCA Digital PhotoView does has one distinguishing feature. The user can have MP3 files concurrently play during slideshow execution. The user simply has to start MP3 playback and then begin the slideshow presentation. It's amazing how much music can spice up a slideshow presentation.
Overall, the DRC-300N is an excellent player. Nearly all of its features are equivalent or improved on the RCA over the Samsung. The lone exceptions are the colorful pseudo-3D menus of the Samsung and the customization abilities of its VLM. Since the RCA doesn't have controller ports and cannot recognize Nuon content, it can't match the Samsung on those fronts. However, the reality is that Nuon content is dead. I don't expect many people to be playing Tempest 3000 in a couple years. These players have to be compared on DVD and other multimedia functionality. On those counts, the RCA is clearly a better choice.
So the RCA DRC-300N is clearly a better DVD player than the Samsung. How does it measure against other models and brands? I paid $119 (out the door) for it through Amazon.com. For that price, it's a good value. Not great, simply good. It has an excellent overall image and a broad feature set (much broader than the Samsung DVD-N501 in my opinion). It doesn't match up against higher-priced models which feature progressive scan capability, multiple DVD discs, image correction, etc. Even comparing it to cheaper brands is tough. For example, the aforementioned CyberHome DVD CH-500 player is becoming a fan favorite and has multiple fan sites. It can have its Macrovision disabled, is region-free, performs excellent PAL->NTSC conversion (even properly preserving aspect ratio and framerate), has progressive scan ability, recognizes more media, plays true SVCD discs, JPEG ability, and MP3 playback (more flexibility than the Nuon players). Its feature set is quite rich. All this for the $60 price (mine was a Christmas gift that was $40 after rebate). Other enthusiasts cheapies include models from Apex and Sampo. While they have rough spots (slightly inferior image and unpolished user interface), they offer many features of the Nuon players and more, in many cases. It's a ruthless marketplace. Good for the consumer, tough for Nuon players.
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