CyberHome CH-DVD 401 DivX/XVid player

Mel very kindly got me a DVD/DivX player for my birthday. I'm very, very impressed. Here's my full review.

The CyberHome CH-DVD 401 is a combined DVD, DivX and XVid player, and costs £40 from Amazon UK including delivery (November 2005). Basically it's a DVD player which also plays movies that you can download off the Internet and burn to CD. DivX and XVid are formats for video that allow video to fit into small files in the same way that an MP3 is for small audio files. Typically a half-hour TV programme results in a 150-megabyte DivX file; a full length film can easily fit onto a 700-megabyte CD. Most files are shared online between amateurs over broadband; the legality of this varies between countries (in the UK, you can record TV programmes for a week or two after they're broadcast, but you can't legally share commercial releases such as movies).

The unit itself is tiny; just 25cm/10ins across- way too small to take the weight of a TV, but it perches quite happily on the top of a telly. The remote is also very small, but the buttons are well laid out with high contrast colours for the common playback functions, making it easy to use in low light. Outputs include standard SCART and left/right audio, plus SVideo, Composite Video, surround sound and coaxial audio connectors. There is no RF modulator, you will need a SCART socket at minimum, SCART cable is not included. All interaction takes place on the TV screen; there is no display on the unit itself (a larger, more expensive model the CH-DVD 462 has a display and will stack under a TV/HiFi etc).

For DVDs it just acts as a normal DVD player, and a very good one- you can select setup options such as automatically zooming in to widescreen movies so that they fill the screen, fit to height, fit to width, pan and scan etc.

For DivX and XVid discs, it presents you with a list of files on the disc. Normally you will have downloaded the files off the Internet, or recorded them using a PC-TV card, on a seperate computer then burned these files onto CD or DVD data discs. You then use the cursor keys to navigate files and folders, then press Enter to select a file to play. Alternatively just tap the Play button, which by default plays the first file on the disc and continues with other files in alphabetical order. Unfortunately the directory listing only shows the first 20 or so characters of the file name.

DivX/XVid playback is beyond superb - much better than any DivX or XVid software codec can achieve even on my rather meaty desktop PC. The zoom ability allows playback to fit to the screen with a variety of preferences. My preference, on my 4:3 regular TV, was to play in full widescreen by default with black bars top and bottom, then one tap of the Zoom button goes to full screen, getting rid of the black bars whilst sacrificing some of the sides of the picture. I tried some DivX files I'd recorded myself with really odd aspect ratios such as 9:6 and the zoom options handled all of these perfectly - fit to width, fit to height etc. There is also a setting to tell the player whether you have a 4:3 or widescreen TV.

You can navigate DivX/XVid files with the normal FF/Rew buttons, skip to the Next/Previous file using the chapter buttons, and even press the Goto button to enter an exact offset in hours, minutes and seconds. For instance, "goto 00:35:00" for thirty-five minutes in to the current file, or even "goto file number 12, 00:13:30" for thirteen and a half minutes into the 12th alphabetical file. The Display button can bring up an overlay showing exactly which file number and time position you are in, although it doesn't display the file name.

Since DivX and XVid codecs are constantly being improved, one of the best features of the player is the ability to upgrade it. I'm sure most people have had to download new video codecs on their PC; with CyberHome you can do this with their players, too. You go to CyberHome's support website and download new firmware, burn this on to CD and insert the CD into the player to upgrade. For instance, I had a couple of TV programme episodes recorded using a newer XVid variant that initially wouldn't play back; upgrading the firmware sorted this instantly. CyberHome have a good history of releasing upgraded firmware - there are a number of other DivX/XVid player brands which do not.

The player also plays back Photo CDs, JPG files and MP3s. The player can also be made multi-region for DVDs by using a special remote control sequence. More info on the CyberHome Help Forums.

At 40 quid delivered, you really can't argue with this kind of value. For the price of a cheap-end DVD player, you get a good quality DVD player plus excellent upgradable DivX/XVid playback.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2005-11-07

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