Pros: sub-$100 price, multiple format playback, progressive scan, wealth of outputs, JPEG, MP3
Cons: Remote not illuminated, not as spiffy looking as other brands in similar price range
For the most part, I've used my XBox, PS2, or computer to play most of my DVDs. Seeing that I'm using mostly a 20 inch Sony TV from 1997 it mattered little to me since I believed that the medium sized TV would show much difference from these options versus a dedicated DVD player. The only other DVD players I was used to were some Apex players and a Toshiba SD-3750 progressive scan DVD player unit purchased for father's day 2001. Now upgrading to a LCD TV... I got a birthday present from my brother... one of the new Panasonic DVD-S35K progressive scan DVD players!
The DVD-S35K and the DVD-S35S models are the same player in different case colors. K stands for the black casing while K stands for the silver casing. Since I was pairing this with a black LCD TV/monitor, a XBox, a PS2, a dark grey JVC VHS player, a black JVC SVHS player, a dark grey Mitsubishi LD/Karoke player, and a PlayStation original unit and an black Sega Saturn unit, the black casing made more sense for my decor.
Some minor updates... added my Pros and Cons section and some comparison to the older Toshiba SD-3750 progressive scan player in my parent's house.
The Short Take
With a MSRP of under $100 and at the time of this writing a $10 mail in rebate, you can get a quality progressive scan DVD player for $90 + sales tax at any local store. If you're willing to shop through the internet, the cost is often $93-94 dollars at sites like amazon.com and buy.com where you don't pay sales tax and can often get free shipping and handling. You can read my epinions article The Art of Buying... Getting your money's worth! for tips on internet shopping for electronics.
Don't think that you're getting a basic DVD player for your $100 dollars either. You're actually getting a rather full featured DVD player that includes MP3 playback, JPEG playback, DVD-R compatibility, DVD-RAM, DVD-Video, SVCD, VCD, and CD compatibility, and component video output on top of the progressive scan. You lack an aspect-ratio control that you find with higher end DVD players but it isn't a problem for me. Considering the cost and the feature set, there is very little to complain about. I wished that the remote had some type of illumination... even if the remote buttons didn't illuminate even the use of light absorbing keys that glow in the dark (like in JVC remotes) would have been nice.
1) under $100
2) Progressive scan DVD playback
3) S-Video port
4) Component and Compositive video out jacks
5) Optical Digital Audio out
6) thin profile
7) MP3, WMA, and JPEG playback
8) VCD and SVCD compatibility
9) CD-R/RW compatibility
10) DVD +R and -R compatibility
11) full featured DVD player
1) Not as sleek looking as competitors
2) On-screen menus dull and can be confusing at times
3) DVD +RW and -RW playback not reliable
4) Lackluster remote
5) Non-illuminated remote
Some basic specs... dimensions of 16 15/16 x 10 8/16 x 2 7/16 inches (WxDxH) and a weight of 4.7 lbs. don't make this the lightest and smallest by any means. However, it is still a fairly slim profile and light weight versus the other major players (i.e. Sony, Toshiba, JVC, etc.). You have S-Video output, stereo audio, standard video out, 3 component video out (Y/B-Y/R-Y), and a digital optical audio out. You get a fully featured remote that unfortunately doesn't illuminate. The plyer itself has access to basic DVD playback controls on the front panel with a will illuminated front panel display.
There is no compatibility for DVD-Audio for US and Canadian versions of the S35... although international versions that are not marked with a PX designation can play DVD-Audio. Note that the DVD-S31 model is extremely similar to the S35 except it cannot play WMA and JPEG files. The S31 can be found in warehouse clubs like BJ's and CostCo for the $89.99 usually before the $10 mail-in rebate.
The overall look of the unit is decent... although parts of it do look cheap versus other low cost players from major manufacturers. The Panasonic logo looks and feels rather cheap with a silverish-copper like color. Where you could convince yourself that the logo on a Sony or JVC looks more metallic, the look of the Panasonic logo screams plastic through and through. The model doesn't look as sleek as offerings by Sony and JVC either. I might even class the Pioneer low end player better looking but not by much. The player is low profile overall but still not as thin as other thin profile players on the market right now. Sony, Pioneer, JVC, and Toshiba have thinner players out there as well.
What's Progressive Scan?
Well, I'm not going to an overall discussion of progressive scan but the basic premise is that a VHS VCR displays 240x480 (Horizontal x Vertical) lines of video, SVHS displays 400x480 lines, LaserDiscs were 420x480 lines, and your standard DVDs are capable of 500x480 lines. Your standard TV displays 240-300 lines depending on the size and quality of the TV. Non-progressive scan DVD players displayed half of the lines (i.e. every other line of video) in each frame. On a small TV (usually less than 20 inches) it would hardly make a difference in picutre quality. On large screen TVs, HDTVs, and digital TVs you would notice mismatches on the video output... the picture would not look smooth, jagginess of picture, articles on video playback were common and noticable. Well progressive scan displays all 480 lines in each frame to give you a clearer and smoother picture. Note that only digital TVs and HDTVs can display the full resolution of the DVD. Also, progressive scan output is only transmitted on the component video outputs. On the other hand, the picture I got from trying the S35 on a 36 inch Sony WEGA TV (not HDTV compatible) was better looking and clearer than that on my regular 20 inch Sony TV from 1993. Note that all resolutions above are given in the NTSC format (i.e. the format that the USA and Japan uses.
Performance... Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!
Well, this is where the player scores the most points. This is one of the better players I used in the under $200 price range over the years. Playback was crisp and clean with little to no artifacts. I tried both S-Video output and Component Video output. Playback of both T2 Ultimate Edition and Star Wars Episode 2 (even though Episode 2 was such a weak movie... the picture quality and digtial video native format makes it a great video referencing movie!) were unbelievable and much better than playback on my XBox and PlayStation 2. The only thing that looked better was running the High Definition version of T2 Ultimate Edition through Microsoft's Media Player 9 (because that's your only choice). You have your standard DVD playback features such as multiple levels of fast forwarding and reversing, still advance, zoom, multiangle, brightness and color saturation adjustments, audio surround sound simulation, etc.
Sound quality? I used the optical digital audio out port and connected in to my Cambridge Soundworks DeskTop Theater 5.1 DTT3500 Digital system (Note that the DTT3500 speaker system has a built in decoder). The sound was spectacular. Surround sound came through clear and crisp. I had no complaints.
MP3 and WMA files recorded to DVD-R and CD-R discs have played back well. Filenames up to 32 characters long will be displayed. The on-screen display is a little clunky however with a branching tree format similar to those used in hard-drive MP3 and CD MP3 players. JPEGs are also displayed in this manner as well. The S35 has decent to above average JPEG playback. Pictures are clear and crisp with good overall playback/slideshow options. I can't really complain on these points.
The menus are decent and provide a thorough amount of options that can be changed and defined. I'll admit that on-screen menus while the movie is playing are a bit vague and confusing at first ,but they get the job done. Did I mention that the on-screen menus during movie playback were quite ugly... well, I just did now. The setup menus are more pleasing to the eye. I must say that I still preferred the cleaner look of the on-screen menus on the older Toshiba SD-3750 progressive scan DVD player in my parent's house. Regardless, once you get used to the rather plain menus and understand how to change options during movie playback, the S35 shows its diversity and flexibility.
So far, so good. I had no problems with your standard DVDs and CDs. VCDs and SVCDs from the Manhatten Chinatown played for the most part with no hitches on the S35. DVD-R and DVD+R discs have also been accepted into the S35 with good playback. I've had trouble with DVD-RW and DVD+RW playback as in it hasn't worked for me but Panasonic makes no claim that the S35 can play DVD +/- RW back (Note I've only tried a total of 4 DVD +/- RW discs in the player). CD-Rs play back without a hitch even VCDs and SVCDs recorded onto a CD-R. More difficult were CD-RWs which worked maybe 50% of the time. I had to record onto the CD-RW like a regular CD-R in order to get the disc to run on the S35 player.
Anything else in the box
Just a power cable and a basic video/stereo audio cable. You need to buy the optical digital cable and the component video cable on your own. There are no sampler DVDs in the box so buy or rent one with this unit. You do get batteries for the remote however.
The S35 is worth every penny... if you need a slightly cheaper player, you can look at the S31 series players. They usually go for $10 cheaper. Don't buy a cheap brand since you take more risks with the quality of the player besides this is a quality player for under $100... what more can you ask? It should serve you for years to come.