Pros: Brilliant picture, fine sound. Plays everything (no DivX or HDMI). Flexible adjustments. Universal remote.
Cons: Chaotic, cumbersome remote/menus; distracting, oversized, mandatory on-screen displays; shallow disc tray; terrible "customer service."
The Sony DVP-NS50P is among a handful of very inexpensive name-brand DVD players, but its performance compares favorably with far more expensive models. The picture, whether in or out of progressive-scan mode, is very rich, detailed, and crisp, undoubtedly due to its 12-bit/108MHz D/A converter, compared with the 10-bit/54MHz components used for every other model at, and considerably above, its price range; it also has fine sound, comparable with anything available. Adjustment of the picture is very flexible--with separate presets or even more useful custom settings for brightness, black level, hue, color, contrast (called "picture" for some reason), and sharpness (tastefully kept to minimum levels of available augmentation). Given that the factory settings produce an unusually dark, overly-colorful picture, these adjustments are very welcome. There is a sizable array of audio options, including a dialogue expander. It seems to be constructed surprisingly well considering today's standard for consumer electronics, with a metal case and fascia. It plays all commercial and recordable/rewritable DVD/CD media without any problem--though I have caught it halting for an instant in places on ordinary DVDs where other players have not; it also plays JPEG images effortlessly. Despite its flexibility, it has no output for optical digital, it does not upconvert to 1080i, and it does not support HDMI, so some may find it lacking for these specific requirements. The remote is universal insofar as it controls power, volume, and function (TV/AV/Component) for many TVs. It is the only such remote I have run across that will operate a Samsung TV. Still, as you will read, it has significant design flaws.
Despite its extraordinary picture, there are a number of problems that make me ambivalent about the DVP-NS50P.  The instruction manual is very chaotic: 71 pages assembled in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. Set-up, therefore, was tricky--and I am very seasoned at such things.  The remote's arrangement is as chaotic and counter-intuitive as the manual. It is also too long and badly balanced, and if you press any button even slightly too hard, it registers twice, bringing you to the next menu item. By contrast, the few buttons on the unit itself are so stiff that unless you hold the unit down with the other hand, trying to press one will move the player. [2.1] Pressing the eject function on the unit, as with most players, will turn the power on, but using the same button on the remote will not: you must press the remote's power button first. Inconsistently, using the power button on either the unit or the remote will close an empty open DVD drawer and shut off the player.  Scan, skip, slow, etc. have rates that are unintelligible: they lurch in speed and movement from one click to the next, making it impossible to get where you want to be on a disc. The manual won't explain them: it describes the rates as "variable," refusing to assign them the usual values after "2X Play." After the on-screen 2X, it simply reads "1," "2," "3"; I have not determined whether the speeds of these mysterious descriptors are in any way consistent.  Trying to use most functions or alter any settings--whether it is finding a specific location on a disc, turning on the dialogue expander, selecting picture preferences, etc.--involves a convoluted process requiring several menus; and functions are described so idiosyncratically that one would seldom suspect what they were without either trial-and-error or--if you dare--searching in the dreaded manual.  The on-screen displays are very irritating: when pressing a function button, huge letters against a large rectangular blue background, present a 3-second announcement of what you just did. Does one really need to be heralded with "PLAY DVD VIDEO," especially when it's also on the player's read-out? Read-outs for other functions occupy up to half the screen: e.g., pressing STOP elicits a long, annoying, pointless legend, also in enormous letters against a blue background, about what will happen when you press PLAY again! None of these distracting displays can be turned off and they are visible long enough to disrupt the beginning any selected section. I won't even go into the appearance and behavior of the endless control menu. [4.1] Depending on the type of disc, initial scanning takes *two to four times longer* than any player I know--up to 30 seconds, all the while reading out "Loading" against the usual enormous blue on-screen rectangle; an ordinary commercial DVD takes 14 seconds compared with the average 7. This brings me to my next point:  Sony "customer service"--and the quotation marks are very deliberate--should NEVER be called for information. I made the mistake of phoning them to verify my conclusion that the annoying on-screen displays could not be turned off. The department has been outsourced to India; its employees are very under-informed; and they spew unintelligible double-talk for--and I am not exaggerating--over a half-hour without being able to provide an answer to simplest question. I wasted 35 minutes trying to understand heavily-accented, distant-sounding gibberish and was put on hold for ten minutes several times while the representative frantically went searching for information...from the manual!
My 3-year-old Toshiba SD-1800--the last Toshiba before that company's DVD players began to descend into garbage--is remarkably easy to use. The remote is very intuitive, every function accomplished with one or two clicks. Moreover, although made in 2002, it will play nearly *anything*--even the recordable/rewritable DVD/CD media that were truly in their infancy at the time. Its modest on-screen displays (little pale green arrows) *can* be turned off. Scanning is set to fixed rates (e.g., 2X, 4X, 10X, 20X). In addition, it has a feature that I consider essential: a "picture reduction" setting which diminishes the size of the image just enough to overcome TV overscanning so the entire frame can be revealed; it is incorporated into the 3-level "zoom/scan" enlargement function. Like all current players, including Toshiba's, the Sony disappointingly lacks this brilliant tool, and provides only 2-position "zoom/scan" enlargement.
There are two final troubling matters:  the depth of the disc tray is insufficient for confidently safe DVD insertion. I consider myself very careful, and even I had several discs scratched at the edges: the imperceptibly shallow depth of the DVD tray made it impossible to see that the the discs were not securely in place as it closed.  "Auto Shut Off" functions in an unexpected way. If the player is in "stop" mode, the player will go to "screen saver" in fifteen minutes and shut off entirely after a total of thirty minutes. However, if the player is left in "pause" mode, it goes to "screen saver" but never shuts off: the unit display apparently stays on, and one suspects that the disc simply keeps spinning with the pick-up reading same spot indefinitely. This suspicion seems confirmed by the fact that if "pause" is pressed after an hour of "screen saver," the disc begins to play immediately; yet from the "off" position, the player goes through its long loading process. If I am interpreting it correctly, this is not at all healthy either for the pickup laser or the disc.
The Sony's picture quality stands out among current models. Sony's component video is rich, clear, and beautifully focused; even composite-mode picture quality is superb. I wanted to try it as something with a more up-to-date internal design than my Toshiba SD-1800 (12-bit/108 MHz vs. old 10-bit/27 MHz D/A converters), but the Sony is simply too user-hostile and riddled with design peculiarities for me. I returned it after two weeks because its frustrating points outweighed its benefits; that is just my personal response. I still respect the unit's performance, so if prospective purchasers have no qualms about its functional eccentricities, they will discover that it is among the most brilliant yet inexpensive players on the market.
--Robert E. Seletsky