DVD Hardware Information

I currently own 3 DVD drives. Two of these drives are in my PC and the third is a standallone unit much like a normal cd player.

DVD Drives in my PC

I first got into DVD after buying a DVD-RAM drive for my pc. My primary intention for this drive was to use it as a backup device. DVD-RAM can use re-writable disks which can hold 2.6 Gbytes per side. My drive is a Panasonic LF-D101, it is a SCSI device and also has the ability to read normal cd's, cd-r's which I have burned myself and DVD's themselves.

Actually watching my first DVD movie was not as easy as I had expected. Even though I had a graphics card which claimed to have mpeg hardware decoding it just refused to work. So I went out and bought an ATI Rage Fury 32 Mbyte. This is a nice card and comes with a composite TV output so you can connect it straight to your tv. This card sorted out the problems I was having but suffered from the problem of totally freezing up my pc at random. I eventually realised that I wasn't changing my screen resolution (I run at 1280 * 1024) and it was just too high. So I started watching DVD's at 800 * 600 and this cured the problem.

At the end of 1999 I decided that it was time to buy a cheap DVD drive. I didn't want to continue using my expensive DVD-RAM drive for DVD movies. Also, at the end of 1999 all manufacturers of DVD drives were forced to enable region locking by default. So I bought a Pioneer A03S. This is a 6 speed IDE DVD drive which has a jumper at the rear which is 'on' when the drive is new. This is the region lock jumper and if removed will lock the drive to the region of the next DVD played. So if you never remove the jumper it stays region free forever. Sadly this drive broke so I had to buy a A05S which isnt region free. The first time you use it a ittle window pops up asking if you want to set the region. Now there are region free firmware which you can use but this must surely invalidate the warantee. I dont care ! I used it anyway !!

Overall the performance of DVD in my pc is very good. I use the ATI DVD player which is optimised for my graphics card. Only two minor things annoy me about watching DVD's on my pc. The first is that the colour depth when watching DVD's is reduced to 8 bit. This means that there are only 256 colours available at any one time. So if you have a scene where it goes from very light to dark accross the picture instead of a nice smooth colour change you can see the steps in the colour change. Believe me it gets annoying once you have noticed it. Secondly, whenever a scene pans from left to right it jumps in lots of tiny steps. This is caused by Windows 98 and is the result of read ahead cacheing. What happens is that Windows gets a command to read some more data. Windows being clever it reads more than it actually needs. This is read ahead cacheing. The problem happens because every time it starts to read more data it pauses just for a fraction of a second. This happens on both my DVD drives but to a lesser extent on my Pioneer drive. I have tried reducing the read ahead cacheing but without success.

Stand Alone DVD Drive

Having got a little fed up with my DVD drives in my pc (not to mention having to run out some long cables when I wanted to watch a movie on my tv) I decided to buy a stand alone DVD player. As pretty much all of my DVD's come from the States I had to buy a region free player. I got mine from Techtronics (www.techtronics.com) and although the delivery was held up over Christmas it was well worth the wait. I bought a region free Toshiba SD3109 which has the honour of being one of the few drives which can take 2 disks at once. I run the audio output through my stand alone DA converter so the sound is as good as listening to a CD. It does not suffer either of the problems that my drives in my pc suffer. It is a superb machine. At the time I was looking I considered a Sony machine and a Pioneer but both had good reasons not to buy them. The Sony will only output in NTSC if it has an NTSC disc inserted (some machines will convert an NTSC signal to PAL60) and I wasnt sure if my tv would like it. The Pioneer looked like the perfect choice but a quick search on the DVD newsgroups soon changed my mind. OK, so they probably sell many units but they seem to have a lot of problems. So for different reasons my two main choices were ruled out. Then I saw a review of the SD3109 which absolutely raved about it. It does output NTSC discs as PAL60 and it doesn't seem to receive much bad press in the newsgroups. The only thing I could find was firmware problems on machines made during June/July 1999.

The only problem with my Toshiba player is that it outputs PAL60 which isnt true PAL. So to be able to record NTSC DVD's I bought a standards converter. The hardware modification in my player to allow region free playback also allows you to force NTSC output so thats what I do.

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