The third NUON-enhanced DVD player, and the first new NUON deck of 2001 is finally here – the Samsung DVD-N501. Rumors of this player started flying around January during CES, where the player made its first public appearance. Rumors of MP3, CDR, enhanced VLM and more started circulating around and got most everyone excited for this new entry to the NUON lineup. It’s here and it’s good, but just how good? Read on…
Initial pictures of the N501 weren’t exactly favorable, so it was surprising to open up the box and find a sleek, silver machine inside. The color is the same as most of the new “flat screen” TV’s you see around these days, and it looks great sitting next to my Sony WEGA. The angled look really makes it stand out on the shelves, and when stacked up in your A/V rack. The blue-colored readout on the front matches the “futuristic” feel of the player perfectly. And, to top it all off, there’s a nice big NUON logo on the upper right, and the words “NUON-Enhanced DVD Player” on the upper left – leaving no doubt that NUON is inside this machine. A smart change of pace from the “Extiva” moniker that Samsung was attempting to attach to their series of NUON DVD players with the N2000.
Note: this review will mostly compare the N501 to the Samsung N2000 as I’ve not had sufficient experience with the Toshiba SD2300
Powering up the N501 reveals a new intro splash screen along with a new, easier-to-navigate GUI system. The graphics are much brighter and easier to read, and the menu is basically just more logically laid-out. No more digging through many sub menus to find what you’re looking for. The new Virtual Light Machine (VLM) menu system works well, too – thanks in part to the “VLM” button on the N501’s remote.
Speaking of VLM, there’s much to love for VLM enthusiasts packed inside the N501. 152 total effects allow for even more variety than before, and (thankfully) user-interactivity via analog joystick is implemented here too. Previously I hadn’t been too excited about interacting with the VLM, but after experiencing it I must say it definitely enhances the experience. What was once a passive “cool to look at” fancy screensaver now becomes a more engulfing sensation…having control over those insane visual effects on screen is just mesmerizing.
The enhanced beat-detection on the VLM is a very welcome addition as well. Where the N2000’s detection seemed a bit off and/or limited at times (HDCD’s worked wonderfully though), the N501 is simply wigging-out all the time. But, perhaps you’re not exactly happy with how the visuals are responding to the audio? No problem – just cycle through the different beat detection options depending on what type of music you’re listening to – Classical, Rock/Pop, Techno, and even “Chill Out.” I’ve tried a wide range of music on the N501 and have had great response with all types.
Now, I must take issue with the “lower resolution” issue on the N501 VLM. Supposedly in order to keep the VLM running quickly with so many other resources being used in the background, the resolution of the N501 VLM was cut in half. Would you notice this if you’d never used the N2000? Probably not. What if you had used it but didn’t hear about the lower resolution on the new VLM? Definitely not. While some effects tend to look blurrier than others, they’re mostly the new effects. Ones that carried over from the N2000 don’t look a whole lot different. In fact, some look cooler with the blurriness up a notch – they just look that much more trippy. One thing’s for sure, the lower resolution definitely does not make the effects look blocky at all. If anything, they look smoother and more liquid.
One of the huge additions to the N501 over the N2000 (and the SD2300) is official support for CDRs. I say “official” because the previous two NUON DVD players were not designed to read CDRs, though some people did have success with CDRWs and certain brands of CDR media. Here on the N501, there’s no problem whatsoever. Every brand of CDR I’ve tried has worked flawlessly, just like non-CDR disks. This is perfect for burning your collection of CD’s into MP3 format and cranking them out through the VLM.
Speaking of MP3’s – yes, that feature is in here too. A folder-style navigation menu handles the organization of the files, though names are truncated thanks to the limited space and lower screen resolution of standard TV monitors. Something that would have been great here would be the ability to play random MP3 files with a shuffle feature, but it appears not to be available on the player. Fast-forwarding and rewinding of MP3s is not standard, but does exist as a hidden feature accessible via a combination of key presses on a controller with an analog stick. I would have preferred just hitting the fast-forward key on the remote, but it’s better than nothing I suppose.
One of the favorite features of NUON, the zoom feature, is back once again as well. For some reason the zoom-in is limited to 15x over the N2000’s 20x (and 16x on the SD2300), but it moves very smoothly – that is, once you figure out the control scheme. If you’re used to the N2000 it will take a minute to adjust to the new setup. Previously controlled by the joystick on the remote only, now zooming in and out is accomplished with the Screen Fit and Digest buttons (adjacent to the Zoom button) and panning around the image is controlled with the stick. Not bad, but to me it was easier to control with the older method.
The remote is sleek and silver, just like the N501 itself. More compact in size than the slightly bulky N2000 remote, but what it gains in a trimmer size, it loses in the sizes of the buttons. The number pad, volume and power buttons are fine but the smaller buttons such as the track skip and NUON/repeat/strobe buttons at the bottom tend to be hard to hit with larger hands. Not to worry, though, because with time you’ll learn where the buttons lie and will be able to hit them without much strain.
One disadvantage for those with “Digital Ready” stereo receivers is the lack of a Dolby Digital decoder in the N501. Also, you won’t find the abundance of video and audio outs that were readily available on the N2000. But, under normal circumstances, these won’t be missed as there are still plenty for most home users. Optical, coaxial, stereo, component, composite and S-Video are all available here, while the N2000 provided pairs of composite and stereo outs. These features were most likely left out to keep production costs down, as the N501 retails at a low MSRP of $229 (the N2000 launched at $349). Also missing from the package is a NUON controller and demo disk, though I a copy of Ballistic does come packed-inside.
All in all, the N501 handles a lot smoother and just “feels” better than the N2000. The improved VLM easily beats the old versions with its highly improved beat-detection and interactivity. CDR and MP3 support simply put this player over the top – if you’ve no need for a Dolby Digital decoder and a few outputs on the back, go for the N501. While the N2000 was a great machine, the N501 is here to stay and has features good enough to make it a worthy upgrade for N2000 owners and new adopters alike.
- Frequency response:
4 Hz - 20.05kHz (44.1kHz, ±1 dB): 4 Hz - 48.0kHz (96.0kHz, ±1 dB)
- Signal-to-noise ratio: 68 dB
- Coaxial digital
out: 1 set
- Composite video
out: 2 sets
- Net dimensions:
17"(W) x 2 3 /4 "(H) x 9 1 /2 "(D)
Supplied Accessories: Audio Video Cable, S-Video Cable, Instruction Book, Joystick Universal Remote Control with 2 AA Batteries
UPC Code: 036725605015
- Shipping dimensions:
20 1/2 "(W) x 6 1/2 "(H) x 15"(D)
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