|Sampo DVE-611 DVD Player|
|Home Theater Video Players DVD Players|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Wednesday, 01 May 2002|
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Installation and Setup
The unit was the easiest to plug in: I only wanted component video and digital audio out anyway, and that took moments to connect. One caveat: S-Video and component outputs share some of the same drivers so you can’t connect both at once. The remote is not very pretty, but it is clear and unambiguous and contains a good many more buttons than you would usually expect to find. This machine plays Video CDs, remember, which are very popular in China but not so well-known here.
The first thing you do is to press Setup and you enter a very clear and easily accessed on-screen menu system that allows full configuration of the machine.
The next important bit you do is to define the TV standard from the TV Setup Page. There is a button on the remote for stepping through the options, and you may need this if your unit powers up set to PAL and you can’t see anything because your TV is NTSC (or vice-versa). But assuming you can see the menus, you can set the player to output either NTSC or PAL all the time, or "multi." In the latter case, a PAL disc will output PAL and an NTSC disc will output NTSC. In the other two positions, the player will output one standard or the other at all times, irrespective of the type of disc you play. Three TV modes select 4:3 pan & scan, 4:3 letterbox, or 16:9. You also select the S-Video or component output. Audio Setup allows analog, S/PDIF/RAW or S/PDIF/PCM to be output, while a Downmix option allows either stereo or LT/RT (for Dolby Pro Logic decoding) to be output from the analog jacks. From the Dolby Digital page, you select the type of two-channel output (stereo, left, right or mono to be output from each channel) and adjust dynamic range compression if desired. The 3D audio effect can also be made available (it is engaged by a button on the remote) and you can set the digital audio output to offer a maximum of 48 or 96 kHz.
The General Setup page covers various on-screen displays, such as the appearance of a marker for multiple camera angle availability, the language for on-screen displays and captions, and you can engage a screen saver. The Preferences page lets you set up a number of defaults: subtitle language, disc menu language, parental control and password (this is replaced by a manual "region setting" menu if your unit has been modified: you use this if the player can’t work out the region setting on its own).
The player performed much more than acceptably in all the modes I was able to test it. I set it to NTSC, so that it would always talk to my TV, and played a few discs, comparing them to the performance of my reference Kenwood 4070 DVD-Audio/Video player. The first thing I noticed was that the video output level from the Sampo was driving the TV harder than the Kenwood, resulting in whites being rather too hot and bleeding into surrounding areas, and color being a bit too vivid. Setting my Sony WEGA TV to "movie" mode, which attenuates the input a little, did the trick. That done, I noticed little or no difference in picture quality between the two units, with one exception: on the Sampo, menus with graduated colors (for example "Bond Live") tended to show banding instead of smooth color gradations, suggesting that the video D/A did not have quite as many bits available as one would expect. But in normal operation, this was not evident.
I looked at my often-used reference DVD, "The Fifth Element," and found both machines performed nearly identically, with a very slight edge for the Kenwood, which seemed to have slightly smoother handling of chrominance information. The same held true for "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence". It looked very much as if the Sampo was sensing widescreen on this DVD automatically, which was a surprise, but it did not do it on all discs.
I then switched to a PAL disc, the British Film Institute release of Nigel Kneale’s impressive 1972 TV ghost story "The Stone Tape." I didn’t even have color TV when this came out, and seeing it in color for the first time was a revelation. It was difficult, however, without knowing the quality of the master, to judge playback quality as opposed to source quality, but there did not appear to be any significant digital artifacts that one might expect as a result of standards conversion. This disc is not region-coded (this is the case with all the BFI "Archive Television" series), so it will play back on an unmodified Sampo. You can get it and others in the series (all amazing) from bfi.org.uk.
Another brilliant Nigel Kneale script features in the original 1957 BBC TV version of "Quatermass and the Pit" from Revelation Films, the original upon which the Hammer movie version of 10 years later (available on DVD in the US) was based. This is black-and-white TV from the late '50s and this Region 2 PAL disc played back fine on the modified Sampo, but you really couldn’t tell a great deal about the conversion quality. However, it was entirely watchable and significantly better than VHS quality, which was the main point.
The Sampo played CD, CD-R and CD-R/W as advertised (CD-R is the difficult one here, as it ideally needs a different laser pickup, which the Sampo has). I did not have any Video CDs of any kind, but I did burn an ISO9660 CD-R of MP3 tunes and was surprised at the results. MP3 is not "near-CD quality" unless you last heard a CD in 1984, but the Sampo delivered the best sound into my system I have heard from an MP3 source other than the recently-acquired Audigy card in my computer.
Not much, really, is the answer here, as the player did everything it was supposed to do and for very little money. The only thing you have to watch is that, when you turn the unit on for the first time, you may need to press the TV System button on the remote repeatedly until you can see anything, if it has come up in the wrong mode for a single-standard TV or you are playing a disc made to the foreign standard. If your TV only supports one TV standard, the Sampo needs to be configured to that standard before you play discs made to the other standard, or it will output the other standard. This hardly qualifies as a downside, though. Then there is the matter of the apparent lack of video bit-depth on menus, but I was not able to notice that effect in normal viewing.
I was expecting the software in this low-cost player to be a disappointment, as you might find with the Apex models, but in fact, it did everything it was supposed to do. If you need a multi-standard DVD player, there are several, but only a very few (the Sampo line, products from Mallata and the Toshiba 2715 are the only ones that spring to mind) include a built-in standards converter. The Sampo DVE-611 is probably the cheapest of these select few. If you look on the web, you can find these modified for region-free operation and with Macrovision disabled for a few tens of dollars more. Armed with one of those, you can play anything almost anywhere, and be happy with the results – especially at this price.