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FAQs about DVD player set up & use

Answers to your questions about DVD & home theater...


Click on the question to read our answer.

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Are the video outputs of a DVD player digital or analog signal?

The video outputs of most DVD players are analog signals.  For copyright protection reasons, a DVD player does not output a digital video signal.  The DVD-Video MPEG-2 encoded digital video information is converted to analog formats: (1) component video (with jacks labeled Y, Pr, Pb), (2) S-video, and (3) composite video.  Component video output is the best quality, followed by S-video, then composite video.

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Are the audio outputs of a DVD player digital or analog signal?

Both.  All DVD players have analog audio outputs.  Better DVD players also feature digital audio outputs, either as Toslink optical digital output or coaxial digital output.

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Do I need a digital television (DTV) to watch DVDs?

   No, you can use your conventional analog TV to watch DVD, as long as it has one of the following inputs jacks (listed in order preference for best video quality): component video, S-video, or composite video.  Most DVD player do not output directly to a RF coaxial jack (i.e., like cable TV).  If you need this type of connection, use a RF modulator (available at your local Radio Shack dealer for about $30).
   If you have a digital TV or high definition TV (or have plans to buy one), and it support a progressive scan input (480i), we recommend that you consider a progressive scan DVD player.  Read our DVD Player Buying Guide for more information, or see our list of recommended progressive scan DVD players.

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How do I connect my new DVD player to my TV?

   For a conventional analog TV, use one of the following inputs jacks (listed in order preference for best video quality): component video, S-video, or composite video.  Most DVD player do not output directly to a RF coaxial jack (i.e., like cable TV).  If you need this type of connection, use a RF modulator (available at your local Radio Shack dealer for about $30 or this model from Crutchfield for about $35).
   For a digital TV or high definition TV, the component video connection is strongly recommended.  If your digital TV or high definition TV is capable of progressive scan input (480p), use the progressive scan component video output of the DVD player (sometimes it is the same component video output jacks, but you have to throw a physical switch in the back of the DVD player, or change the setting for component video output to progressive scan using the DVD player's on-screen menu).  When using progressive scan component video, make sure you plug these inputs to a progressive scan component inputs on the TV.  Again, there may be one set of component video input, and you may have to change the setting to accept progressive scan signal using the TV's on-screen menu.
   In all cases, please follow the instructions that come with your DVD player and TV.

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Can I connect my DVD player through my VCR?

   Connecting the video output of your DVD player to the video input of your VCR and then the video output of your VCR to the video input of your TV is strongly not recommended.  The DVD player video output signal is usually encoded with a Macrovision copyright-protection signal.  Your VCR recognizes the Macrovision signal and degrades the video signal that is output to your TV in order to discourage consumers from making illegal copies and pirating the movie from DVD-Video.  This degradation usually results in a picture that alternates between light and dark, rendering the video unacceptable for viewing.  Regardless of the Macrovision issue, you should connect the video output of the DVD player directly to the TV whenever possible for the best results.  Read the answer to the question immediately above to see which video connection is best for your system.
   If you have a TV-VCR combination unit, this same problem may apply since the video input can be recorded by the VCR function.  If the TV-VCR combination unit does not have any video inputs that goes directly to the TV (bypassing the VCR function), your only options are: (1) connect to a TV-only unit, or (2) use a RF modulator as described in the answer to the question immediately above.

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How do I connect my new DVD player to my home theater receiver?

If your home theater receiver is has Dolby Digital or DTS decoding, use one of the digital audio connections, Toslink optical digital output or coaxial digital output, for best results.  If you have a "Digital Ready" or "5.1" receiver with 5.1-channel analog inputs, then make sure you buy a DVD player with a built-in Dolby Digital decoder and use the 5.1-channel analog audio output to connect to your receiver.  If you have a Dolby Surround Pro-Logic receiver, use the analog stereo audio output to connect to your receiver.

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What if I don't have a home theater receiver and surround sound speakers?

If you have a stereo system, you can hook up to analog audio stereo output of the DVD player to your stereo receiver.  If not, then connect the same to your TV.

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What are those black bars on the top and bottom of the TV screen?

   When viewing a DVD movie with an aspect ratio wider than that of your TV, the DVD player will generate the black bars at the top and bottom of your TV screen to preserve the correct aspect ratio of the movie and keep the picture in the correct proportions.  This is not a malfunction of your DVD player or TV set.  For example, this happens when you watch material in 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 aspect ratios on a conventional 4:3 TV screen, or if you watch material in 2.35:1 aspect ratio on a widescreen 16:9 TV screen.  Material in 1.85:1 aspect ratio will still have small bars, but most of the time you can't notice it or can't even see it because the TV's overscan.
   If you have a conventional 4:3 aspect ratio TV, some DVD players have a 4:3 TV zoom feature that will enlarge the letterbox format picture to get rid of the black bars at the top and bottom of your TV screen.  Just like "full screen" DVD version of widescreen movies, you lose about 33% of the picture area due to cropping of the sides, but at least you will no longer have those black bars that can be annoying to some viewers.  This works well for DVD-Videos with 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the 2.35 aspect ratio still would have some black bars.  The Panasonic DVD-RV32 DVD player is one of these DVD players.

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How can I get rid of those black bars on the top and bottom of the TV screen?

   If you're watching a DVD movie that is presented in widescreen (an aspect ratio wider than the conventional 4:3 aspect ratio), you usually can not get rid of those black bars.
   If you have a conventional 4:3 aspect ratio TV, some DVD players have a 4:3 TV zoom feature that will enlarge the letterbox format picture to get rid of the black bars at the top and bottom of your TV screen.  Just like "full screen" DVD version of widescreen movies, you lose about 33% of the picture area due to cropping of the sides, but at least you will no longer have those black bars that can be annoying to some viewers.  This works well for DVD-Videos with 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the 2.35 aspect ratio still would have some black bars.  The Panasonic DVD-RV32 DVD player is one of these DVD players.
   Some DVD movies are also available in 4:3 aspect ratio, otherwise known as full frame.  Sometimes it is on the other side of the DVD in the case of a two-sided DVD.  In this case, simply put the side with the label "full frame" face up into the DVD player.  Other times, the full frame version is on the same side, but you would select the aspect ratio at the beginning of the movie or as a menu selection.  Sometimes, the full frame version of a movie is available as a separate package.  In any case, when the movie is shown in full screen format, realize that the sides of the theatrical picture are cropped, so you may be missing out on some of the widescreen presentation that the director originally intended.

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Why does the picture look "squished" and people look so thin?

If you have a conventional 4:3 aspect ratio TV screen, try setting the TV aspect ratio to "4:3" using your DVD player's on-screen menu.  If you have a 16:9 widescreen TV, follow the instructions of your TV, and set the TV aspect ratio to "16:9" using your DVD player's on-screen menu.

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How do I connect my DVD player to a VCR?

   The video and audio outputs of a DVD player are separate and use separate connections.  If you are trying to record copyright-protected movies on DVD-Video from your DVD player to a VCR, read this first.  To hook up a VCR to the DVD player in attempt to record non-copy protected movies from a DVD player, do this:
   For video, use the S-Video connection if you have a Super-VHS (S-VHS) or 8mm VCR.  If you have a regular VHS VCR, use the composite video connection.
   For audio, use the analog stereo output of your DVD player.  If you use a digital audio connection (Toslink or coaxial) to your Dolby Digital/DTS receiver, you may still have to connect your VCR to the DVD player using the analog stereo output (instead of using the analog stereo output from your receiver) in order to get the sound recorded.

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How do I access the extra and bonus features of DVD-Video software (movie) titles?

Press the button labeled "DVD menu" on the remote control of the DVD player, then select the "Special Features", "Extra Materials", or "Bonus Features" area of the DVD main menu.

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How come some of my DVD-Videos play back as 2-channel audio, even though the packaging says there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack?

Many DVD-Videos that come with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack automatically play back with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack as the default soundtrack selected.  But not all discs default to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.  Some will default to Dolby Digital 2.0 (2-channel stereo).  If some of your DVDs playback as Dolby Digital 2.0 or 2-channel, and the package says that a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is included, then you'll have to select the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack manually using the DVD-Video disc's menu.  Push the "DVD Menu" button on your remote control to access the DVD title's menu.  Select "Audio", "Audio Options", "Setup", or "Language Options".  Then select the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack option.  Your DVD player should now playback in 5.1-channel mode, and your home theater receiver should recognize the bitstream (digital signal) coming from your DVD player as 5.1-channel.  Note, for these DVDs that default to the 2-channel soundtrack, you'll have to manually select Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack every time.

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How can I playback the DTS soundtrack?

If you have a DTS encoded DVD-Video disc, a DVD player with DTS digital output connected via a digital audio connection (coaxial or optical) to a home theater receiver with DTS decoding, you can playback the DTS soundtrack option.  First, make sure you have enabled the digital audio output.  Most DVD players are shipped new with this option disabled.  Consult your DVD player's instruction manual on how to do this.  You'll only have to do this step once.  Second, choose the DTS soundtrack from the DVD-Video disc's menu.  Push the "DVD Menu" button on your remote control to access the DVD title's menu.  Select "Audio", "Audio Options", "Setup", or "Language Options".  Then select the DTS soundtrack option.  (Sometimes you'll have to confirm your selection of the DTS soundtrack option.)  You'll have to do this second step every time for every DVD-Video disc that has a DTS soundtrack.

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What is the PCM audio track option and how does it compare to audio CDs, Dolby Digital, and DTS?

   PCM stands for Pulse Code Modulation, a way of sampling the analog audio signal and converting it to a digital signal.  This is the same encoding technique used for audio CDs.  Audio CDs have 16-bit samples at 44.1 kHz (44,100 times per second).  The PCM audio track on a DVD-Video (usually found on concert/music DVDs) can have 16-bit, 20-bit, or 24-bit samples at either 48 kHz (48,000 times per second) or 96 kHz (96,000 times per second).  Longer bit samples (24-bit vs. 16-bit) allow for wider dynamic range (i.e., the difference between the softest sounds and the loudest sounds) and hence the finer nuances of sounds can be recorded.  Higher sampling rates (96 kHz vs. 44.1 kHz) allow more accurate and realistic reproduction of higher frequencies.  Since a PCM audio track on a DVD-Video consists of at least 16-bit samples at 48 kHz, and up to 24-bit samples at 96 kHz, it is at least as good as audio CD quality.  Like audio CDs, DVD-Video PCM audio tracks are stereo.  Read more about PCM in our DVD-Audio tutorial.
   How does the PCM audio track compare to the Dolby Digital soundtrack?  Dolby Digital is a multi-channel format that supports up to 5.1 channels (i.e., 5 main full-frequency channels plus a low frequency effects ".1" channel).  However, a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track uses a lower data rate than a 2-channel PCM stereo signal.  This is possible because Dolby Digital uses a perceptual lossly encoding scheme.  This means the Dolby Digital encoder discards (hence "lossy") some of the more difficult to hear audio signals (hence "perceptual", based on studies of human hearing phenomena).  Audio purists will probably find the PCM audio track to offer better sound quality, though only in 2-channel stereo.  Casual listeners with home theater systems will probably enjoy the multi-channel experience that Dolby Digital 5.1 offers, though the audio quality may not be as good as PCM.  The same comment can be made for DTS 5.1 soundtracks, since it is also another multi-channel perceptual lossy encoding algorithm.

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Why is there a slight pause during playback of dual-layered DVD-Video discs?

The slight pause during playback is probably caused by the DVD player when it switches layers when playing back dual-layered DVDs.  The laser is re-focusing on the other layer on the DVD disc and there is usually a normal pause in picture and sound on many DVD players.  This pause can vary from fractions of a second to one or two seconds, depending on the player.  Some well-authored DVD movies have their layer switches placed at the beginning of a chapter (when the screen is black between scenes), so the layer switch goes un-noticed.

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How do I get the most of my DVD player?

You can get the most of your new DVD player, particularly if it's hooked up to a home theater system, by calibrating your home theater system (both picture quality and surround sound) with a calibration DVD.  We recommend the following calibration DVDs:

  • Digital Video Essentials: This is the new version of Video Essentials.  It will be available on September 2, 2003.  You can order this home theater calibration and test disc from Amazon.com for $18.74, far cheaper than its predecessor.

  • Video Essentials: produced in 1996 by Joe Kane Productions.  This DVD is now out of print, but should be replaced in the near future by Digital Video Essentials (Digital-VHS version, to be released July 15, 2003).  For more information on this forthcoming version, click here.  You can order the new Digital Video Essentials from Amazon.com.

  • AVIA Guide to Home Theater: produced in 1999 by Ovation Software.  AVIA is more user friendly and up to date than Video Essentials.  This is the calibration DVD to buy if you are a serious home theater enthusiast, videophile, or audiophile.  Ovation Software is currently working on a AVIA Pro version.

  • Sound & Vision Home Theater Tune-Up: produced in 2001 by the editors of Sound & Vision magazine.  This is the newest and most affordable of the three calibration DVDs, but does not have as many calibration screens as Video Essentials or AVIA.  This is the calibration DVD for more casual home theater enthusiasts.

answer last updated 7.25.2003   

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Does a DVD player require any kind of routine maintenance?

   Not really.  Unless specified by the manufacturer for your brand and model of DVD player (check your user's manual), DVD players usually require no routine maintenance whatsoever.  Just make sure the DVD disc that you put into your DVD player is reasonably clean and free from fingerprints, grease, dirt and dust particles, etc.  If you have to clean the DVD disc, use a clean, dry T-shirt or a soft, lint-free cloth and wipe gently outward (in a radial direction) from the center hub.  Do not wipe in a circular motion!  Take care to not scratch either surface of the DVD disc.  Your DVD player should not require a lens cleaner, but if it has problems reading a clean DVD disc, you may want to give one of the commercial brand-name DVD lens cleaning products a try.  We currently do not endorse any such products, as we have not had to use such products to date.  Knock on wood.
   To get the best picture and sound quality possible from your DVD player, especially if you have a home theater surround sound system, read the answer to the previous FAQ on calibrating your home theater system.

What if I lose the remote control that came with my DVD player?

   If you lost or damaged the remote control that came with your DVD player and want to get a replacement, there are two options.  The first option is to replace the original remote control.  They are usually available directly from the manufacturer, but the replacement cost is usually expensive.  The second option is to buy a universal remote control that can operate multiple audio/video components including DVD players.  These universal remote controls usually already have the infrared remote control codes pre-programmed for most leading brands of DVD players (e.g., Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Pioneer, JVC, etc.).  You simply follow the instructions to tell the remote control the brand of your DVD player, and it will be able to send the right signals.  If you go with a universal remote control, look for one that has the up/down/right/left cursor control keys.  This will allow you to navigate the DVD menus efficiently.  Universal remote controls are usually more cheaper than buying the original replacement remote control.  Some examples of universal remote controls are:

   Programmable remote controls are also available, but if you go with a programmable type, make sure that it already has the codes of your brand of DVD player already pre-programmed.  Otherwise it would be difficult (if not impossible) for you to program it to your DVD player's brand of control codes, since you need the original remote control to teach it or program it.

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