Pros: Price, performance, features, format compatibility, aspect control, DVD-R, DVD+R/W
Cons: Picture quality in progressive scan mode a little worse than previous generation, HO2 error
Once I found out that the Panasonic DVD-S35 has advanced zoom features, I decided to replace my previous player with it. I have a widescreen TV, which doesnt have many zoom options and, while watching conventional programming, I have to either watch horizontally stretched picture or have black bars on both sides of the screen.
The S35 is a DVD player with progressive scan, which is available in two colors: black (S35K) and silver (S35S). It is quite inexpensive at less than $100. I got my S35K for $95 less $10 rebate (but now, the $20 rebate is available).
The player has slim profile and looks nice. Its front panel features a zoom dial in the right corner.
It is very easy to get complete control over the zoom and aspect ratio with this player. I did the following: chose 16:9 (widescreen) in the Setup (since I have a 16:9 TV), selected Auto aspect mode from the onscreen menu/icons while playing the first DVD (the player seems to remember it). Now, all widescreen fill the screen and the non-widescreen movies appear properly, leaving black bars on left and right.
The Zoom button on the remote allows me to select several preset zoom levels to get rid of bars above and below the image (widescreen movie) or on the sides (non-widescreen) or even magnify the image further. The up and down buttons on the remote also allow me to fine-tune the zoom to fill the screen exactly the way I want.
The same functionality is available from the players front panel by the means of the Zoom button and the round dial, which in previous generations of Panasonic DVD players served to control speed.
This dial serves mostly cosmetic purpose, in the same way the Sony DVD players, because in both cases it could have been replaced by a couple of buttons there is no correlation between the angle at which the dial is rotated and the speed of the zoom change (Panasonic) or playback speed change (Sony).
Also, the Panasonic dial no longer serves to control the playback speed. I dont really care, because who sits next to his/her DVD player just to be able to change speed conveniently? The same functionality has always been available from the remote by the means of buttons.
The low price is not only the consequence of the technological advances made by Panasonic, but also a result of the use the Panasonics own progressive scan chip set. Previous Panasonic models used highly acclaimed Sage/Faroudja solution.
The picture quality of the new models (S35 included) is somewhat worse that that of the previous models (RP62, RP82, etc.), but this is only visible if you sit close to the TV and pay close attention. And this only applies to the progressive scan mode (and if you have an HDTV or EDTV).
In standard (interlaced) mode, in which, I am sure, the majority of owners will operate the player due to the lack of progressive-scan capable TVs, the player excels.
You can use progressive scan feature only if your TV is a High-Definition (HDTV) or EDTV. Only in that case will you be able to use progressive scan, if you connect the player to your TV using component video out.
The progressive scan mode must first be enabled in the setup menu and then engaged using the players onscreen menu/icons (change 480i to 480p). If your TV does not support 480p (progressive scan), you will see two distorted pictures instead of the one.
Progressive scan produces more stable picture with less flicker. In any case, this player also provides excellent picture quality in standard (interlaced) mode the mode majority of buyers will use it in for the lack of appropriate TV.
In this mode, the picture is crisp and noise-free with vivid colors and well-defined object edges. The detail level is high, even in dark areas.
The player has an optical digital audio out, analog stereo audio out (with separate subwoofer out), S-Video out, component video out and a composite video out. There is no coaxial digital audio out, since Panasonic seems committed to optical digital audio connectivity.
Ease of Use
The S35 is also easier to use than the previous Panasonic DVD players, because it shows the description of the onscreen menu icons similar to Windows tool tips. Previously, even after using Panasonic DVD players for several years, I had difficulty remembering which icon does what. Now, the description of its function appears underneath.
Not only you can use slow and fast (up to 200x speed) scan, but there are 2 slow and 2 fast speeds which allow you hear the soundtrack of the disc legibly. They are not accessible immediately, but by accessing the disc progress indicator and then using left and right remote buttons. These speeds are 0.8x, 0.9x, 1.2x and 1.4x. The difference in speed is not significant, but it is a nice feature nonetheless.
Along with its ability to play DVD-Video and Audio CD, the S35 can also play MP3 and WMA compressed audio files as well as display JPEG images (somewhat slow) on your TV, play burned CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-RAM (including DVD-RAM recorded on Panasonic DVD Video Recorders).
It also plays DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW and DVD RW discs. Make sure you use quality media the player may start freezing if using low quality CD-R discs.
I successfully played Imation DVD-R discs as well as KHypermedia DVD+R (CMC) in addition to Sony, Maxell, Memorex and TDK CD-R as well as Acer CD-RW.
The VCD and XVCD playback are also available, and you can choose to see the bit rate on the screen while the VCD/XVCD is running, which allows you to determine if the XVCD is constant or variable bit rate.
There is even an SVCD playback. The speed changes and mode changes (e.g. FF-Play, Rew-Play, etc.) are slower than those in DVD-Video playback mode though.
The MP3 playback is one of this models best features. I normally rip my CDs to MP3 at 225 kbps, which lets me fit more than 10 albums on one 700Mb CD-R. Even more albums fit on a CD-R using 128 or 160 kbps, although the sound suffers (at least I can hear the difference).
The MP3 playback interface is easy to use and shows file names and directory tree structure. WMA can also be played.
The player has component video out, S-Video out and component video out (can be switched between interlaced/progressive modes). Audio outs are represented by an analog stereo audio out as well as a digital optical audio out. As with previous generation of DVD players, there is no coaxial digital audio out Panasonic prefers optical.
The optical out supports PCM, Dolby Digital and DTS formats.
The supplied remote control is better that the remotes supplied with the previous generation of Panasonic DVD players the Eject button is no longer close to the FF button. I have hit Eject several times on the previous remote the situation, which will not happen here.
The button layout is good with larger Play, Pause, Stop, Skip, FF and Rew buttons. The buttons have better tactile response than those of the previous remotes. The playback control buttons are also bigger, which is a plus.
The player also features playback at multiple high and low speeds, variable zoom, angle select, soundtrack select and subtitle select, parental control, bookmarks, etc.
I have had my player for over two and a half years so far (as of 2/16/04) and it held up well. Except for the dreaded H02 error that appeared a week ago. I temporarily revived the player by opening it and spinning the DVD by hand, after which it started to work again. But who knows for how long.
The S35 is a very good and inexpensive DVD player with progressive scan and lots of useful features.
Other Panasonic DVD Players
Below you can find the current lineup of Panasonic DVD players: