Review: Philips DVP 5960

Technology begets technology

There’s a saying that “technology begets technology”.

I know this because I made it up a minute ago.

I used to have a 21“ 4:3 TV that I bought ex-rental from Rumbelows for £50. Then, six months later, I bought a DVD player from Woolworths for the princely sum of £150 (oh the extravagance). Being a purist, I insisted on watching movies on it in letterbox format rather than 4:3.

It looked rubbish. So I had to go out and buy myself a 28” widescreen set from Matsui (aka Dixons own brand). As I said, technology begets technology.

This lasted me all of nine years before keeling over and dying in January. So I bought myself a replacement – an HD-capable Sony Bravia 26“ LCD tele. This has a really nice picture when dealing with digital sources connected using an HDMI cable (eg my Apple TV, particularly now I’ve set it to 1080i 50Hz rather than 720); it has a reasonably fuzzy/crap picture with analogue sources (ie anything that uses a SCART cable such as a standard DVD player or a Sky box).

My DVD player keeled over and died on Friday: Davina McCall and the T1000 are to blame. I managed to fix it once, through the manly use of screwdrivers and ”shaking it a bit“, but that little Alba DVD player wasn’t coming back from the dead for a second time. Bang goes £17.99 worth of electronics from Sainsbury’s straight into the pink ”small household electrical appliances“ recycling bin at Makro on the Greenwich Peninsula.

We therefore had a few choices

  1. Go without a DVD player.
  2. Buy an equally cheap DVD player from Sainsbury’s or Argos.
  3. Buy a colossally expensive Blu-ray player
  4. Buy a colossally expensive HD-DVD player
  5. Buy a £50 DVD player with HD-upres capabilities

Which would you have picked?

  1. What are you? Amish?
  2. A reasonable conclusion that would condemn you to another year of slightly fuzzy DVD playback
  3. Interesting call, rich early adopter. They’ll be £100 cheaper in a year and the disks are still nearly £30 each. I can wait
  4. Ha ha ha! I’ve got a Betamax I can sell you if you want
  5. Correct. Technology begets technology and if you have an HD set, you need a DVD player that can upgrade the DVD picture to HD quality.

So we headed off to Argos and bought ourselves a Philips DVP 5960 and HDMI cable for £7 (see what I meant about Curry’s overpricing?). Here’s our experience so far

The Philips DVP 5960 is big. It’s about twice the size of our player and now sits under the Sky box. But it’s very slim and looks pretty, so I’m not fussed by that slightly aesthetic issue.

Set-up’s easy – at least with HDMI. Stick your HDMI cable into the tele, the other end into the player and you’re sorted. There’s not much to do after that, apart from make it multi-region with an Internet hack. If you’re going with component or SCART for some poorly thought out reason, there’s a lot more fiddling to be done.

There are two things that are good about the DVP 5960: the picture quality and the fact it also plays DivX disks. The player can upscale to a proper high-def level of 1080i or 1080p (that’s a bit trickier to set up and you need a TV set that can do progressive scans). Provided you started with a decent quality DVD, you’ll end up with a daftly crisp picture.

The DivX thing is nice, too. I’m sure my last player could do it, but I never got round to it. Anyway, I have a huge amount of TV stuff on DVD-ROMs, but stored as DivXs to keep the file size down (although I’ve recently moved to archiving everything in Apple TV format on a hard drive: £70 for 500GB from Curry’s – you do the sums, plus with the latest Apple TV 2.0 software, I can stream everything over the network rather than sync it, meaning I can have as much TV on it as I have storage space). I could convert everything to Apple TV format, but if I can get them to play directly on the DVD player, that would be lovely.

One of the bad things about the DVD 5960, apart from its highly unresponsive remote control, is its manual. Its bollocks. It’s been translated from some language other than English and not by someone who speaks our mother tongue. There are typos all over the place (“the cripest picture”), as well as weird phrasing (“The On-screen language for the system menu will remain as you set it, regardless of various disc languages”).

More importantly, the manual just lies in places: “Your DVD Player will play:… DivX disc on CD-R[W]/DVD+R[W] DivX 3.11, 4.x, 5.x and 6.x… DivX Ultra on CD-R[W]/DVD±R[W]”. Much swearing from Rob, because that’s not what it said on the outside of the box. But I tried my DVD-R disk filled with regular DivXs and whaddayaknow, it worked just fine.

Browsing files is a bit tricky since filenames seem to be truncated. Which of the four episodes of The Lost Room would I like to watch? “The Lost Room”, “The Lost Room”, “The Lost Room” or maybe “The Lost Room”? Erm…

Picture quality with my DivXs doesn’t appear to be that great and certainly wouldn’t make you think you’ve accidentally bought a Blu-ray version of the movie. But it’s watchable enough, even when you use the Zoom function to get rid of letterboxing. Sound’s a little low though.

The last little nugget worth mentioning about the DVP 5960 is it has a USB 1.1 port on the front so that you can connect a camera or flash drive and browse its contents on the tele. I haven’t tried that yet, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

On the whole, for £50, it’s pretty impressive. The onscreen menus are over-complicated, it’s a bit slow to do anything and the remote control sucks. But it’s quite technically advanced and the the picture improvement on an HD set is a big improvement over a regular player.

Click on the pic below to look at in greater detail on Amazon.

Philips DVP5960