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It's time for this contributor to graduate to the realms of technology reviews. I'll admit my nervousness, my apprehension, my mind numbing fear in the face of such a daunting task, but I'll sally forth. For my first foray into the field I've taken a long hard look at the relatively new NeoDigits Helios HVD2085, a High Definition upscaling DVD player available at a decent price. So what exactly is upscaling? Well, I had to look it up myself. Apparently in this, the age of the emergence of the official HD formatted digital versatile disc, standard DVDs and their players are doing their best to compete. As you probably already know, standard DVDs can look great, but never officially reach the high standards of the high definition format. An upscaling player such as this one actually increases the definition of a standard disc to HD quality, or at least near-HD. This is a pretty large claim for a company to stake, and my job here was to find out if it was true.

HELIOS HVD2085

Contents


I opened the surprisingly small box to find, one DVD player, one DVD player remote, an instruction booklet, the power plug and rather swanky HDMI Cable. The remote did not include any batteries (for shame).

Aesthetics


The player is very thin and for lack of a better word, sort of adorable. Its rounded corners kind of reminded me of a less childish-looking iMac product. The body of the player is black and the face is silver which unfortunately for me, doesn't match the general blackness I'd inadvertently developed in my set up. The display is backlit in light blue, and is a little small for my liking as I'm the type of person who likes to look down at the time progressed on any given title, especially when I'm watching something I'm not enjoying. It's nice to know how much more endurance a film will take, and with this display I can't simply read the time elapsed from my couch. The remote isn't the sleekest on the market, but isn't ugly either. I'd place it in the 'non-descript' category. The glow-in-the-dark buttons are a welcome addition.

Ergonomics


The player buttons are for the most part responsive, but the power and drawer-open buttons aren't as effective as I'd like. I'd also like it if the drawer-open button turned the machine on—something that the Oppo Digital player also failed to do in our recent review. The drawer opens at a reasonable speed; however, there is a lack of responsiveness. Again this is a problem shared with the Oppo Digital player—the drawer does not open the instant the open button is pressed, which whilst no major issue does frustrate. The drawer is very thin, but made from a pliable and heavy plastic making it much sturdier than that of my last two players, both of which I was consistently convinced I would break. The disc fits nicely into its slot, keeping it from shifting while entering or ejecting from the machine.

HELIOS HVD2085
The remote, which like I said, isn't the most aesthetically pleasing thing in the world, has soft and mostly responsive buttons, though I'm not used to the placement quite yet. The menu button especially, seems to elude me every time I reach for it. The buttons are also all of very similar shapes and sizes, making the usual dark room fumbling a little frustrating. These are all things I'm sure I'll get use to in time, though arranging so many of the remotes most important functions at the bottom of the gadget seemed a bit counterproductive. The power button must be depressed really hard and held to turn the unit on, which isn't exactly a blast. This may be a glitch with the particular remote I used.

Don't worry though—none of these ergonomic issues are really very important in the big picture. And speaking of picture...

Picture Quality


Here's the real test, right? Does this thing really upscale? Yes it does.

This player can output DVDs through the following resolutions: 480p, 540p, 576p, 720p, 1080i, and the ever-powerful 1080p. This means it can output an interlaced and progressive image up to 1920 wide and 1080 pixels high. My set cannot get 1080p progressive, so I downgraded a bit to the more realistic (which is a word I use to make myself feel better about my television limitations) 720p, and all but ignored the 1080i output, because interlaced isn't as good as progressive for most titles—though there are some Hong Kong DVDs that utilize the  process. My set (for you to compare to your own) is 1,366 x 788 pixels. Your set may be different than mine, and perhaps utilize an even greater resolution, which makes the choices given here all the more important. Those of you with standard TVs may still get something out of this player’s other settings, such as 480p or even standard NTSC or PAL playback.

The picture looks fabulous, and for the most direct comparisons I tossed Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith into my old player (480p capable) just before disconnecting it. Those of you who own the disc know how amazing it looks, due mostly to the fact that it's an entirely digital image, and that George Lucas put about a hundred million bucks into it. I was pretty sure that this was about as good as a DVD image could look.

HELIOS HVD2085
Then I attached the Helios HVD2085 and stuffed in the same disc, and much to my cynic-laden shock, the movie looked even better. Detail levels are noticeably increased, as is general brightness. I actually had to turn the brightness on my TV down a hair, which due to my old player's limitations, was set very high. I was sure this whole upscaling business was an empty marketing ploy, but it seems that I was wrong. I've no idea how this upscaling works, but apparently it does. Lesser titles made their way into the player next, and though less pronounced, they too looked better, with the exception of a few titles that were actually hindered by the process, as it brought out some of their inadequacies more predominantly. It seems some DVDs were meant to be viewed at a lower resolution, which easy enough to set on the player's main menu.

This is not true HD playback, and I'm sure when compared side by side with the real thing, differences will be noticeable, but those of us not ready to shell out for the next gen player and discs should be happy with this temporary amendment. At least until prices drop and bugs are fixed, which I'm guessing will take three or four years.

The problem with this whole upscaling thing is that non-anamorphic titles are automatically stretched in the process. At first I was convinced I was doing something wrong, or that there was some kind of compatibility issue with my set (the upscaling actually jams the wide/zoom controls of the set to full mode), but after questioning the company, I was assured that this is a problem with most upscaling players on the market. I'm not in the position to verify this statement, as I can't exactly afford to just go out and purchase another upscaling player for comparison, so I'm taking NeoDigits' word for it. That said, whilst an issue there are very few non-anamorphic titles coming out these days. The field is mostly limited to TV series, which wouldn't benefit from the HD upgrade anyway.

This anamorphic issue is again, easily solved from the player's main menu. I simply have to set the player resolution to 480p before watching non-anamorphic titles. In this case, I'd just purchased Justice League: Season One, which much to fan chagrin, was not presented in wide screen. This downgrading caused some edge enhancement, especially in the animated series with all its harsh black lines, but it should be noted that this was nothing less than my old 480p player had achieved. I was told that there should be a firmware upgrade coming as soon as the problem is solved. I'd prefer that screen scaling was automatic in the future.

HELIOS HVD2085

Audio


I, uh, don't own any DVD Audio titles and for the most part, my current sound system isn’t exactly state of the art, so I apologize for any lack of detail here. Besides, this is a video upgrade—sound isn't the selling point. I honestly noticed little or no difference in this upgrade from my older, lesser player. I used a digital optical cable for my test, and I noticed no sound delays or inconsistencies. If anything, I'd say that I had to turn down my volume levels a bit, which leads me to belief that the Helios player has a slightly better bit rate than my old player.

Features


This is a true blue, out of the box, no tinkering required, region free player. In case that wasn't enough good news for you, it also has a PAL to NTSC/NTSC to PAL converter. That means that with this player, you can play almost any DVD in the world. I've personally been multi-region fixed for years now, and being a fan of foreign and 'cult' titles I find the option invaluable. If you've been thinking about getting a multi-region player, this might be a your chance. At an SRP of $199, the Helios HVD2085 is an affordable and powerful choice. The player has takes no delay in recognizing a region, unlike some models that have to think, or lord help us, require a code to be stamped in with every regional disc entered.

Anyone watching a PAL signal on an NTSC television may have experienced a little thing I like to call the PAL wiggles. This problem, which is more professionally referred to as aliasing, effects straight lines mostly, especially those of on screen text and, for wider ratio films, the widescreen matting. It's been the bane of my multi-regional existence for far too long, and was something that made me think twice before purchasing PAL titles. I figured this would always be a problem. I was wrong. Thanks to 720p upgrading, PAL titles are wiggle free. I have to sacrifice a little bit of detail (the signal is different, after all), which leads to some slight blurring on less endowed titles (like my Phantasm set). This blurring is favourable, however, to dancing jaggy lines running across my screen.

HELIOS HVD2085
Also included is an option to skip right to the movie on any given DVD meaning no more FBI warnings, trailers for unrelated movies, or menu systems that give away the ending of the film. This can be simply set in the main set up menu, quickly and easily.

Something NeoDigits might want to think about adding next time around is a screen saver option. As it stands now, the main menu is full on, bright white, which is the kind of thing that can burn out certain sets if left on. Most players I've come across chose a dark blue or even black background for their menu systems, and the choice makes perfect sense. Even sets that resist burn in will drain their lamps of precious and expensive power in a short time when the screen is filled with white.


Conclusion


This is a quality player, for a reasonable price. The upscaling is the main selling point, but real DVD fanatics will be most excited by the out-of-the-box region free capabilities. I had a few complaints, but most of them were aesthetic and ergonomic, and the kind of thing one can ignore, also the kind of thing that can come down to personal opinion.

Hopefully the problems with my remote's power button were incidental, maybe it was jostled in the moving process. On the off chance that all models have this problem, I'd suggest that NeoDigits gets it taken care of right away. I also hope future models have a screen saver and don't use white as their main menu background. My other quibbles with the aspect ratio seem to be issues out of the company’s hands, though I still hope it's a problem that's solved someday down the line.

The bottom line is that you get a lot for your money in this player, and I recommend it highly to those with moderate budgets hoping to get a jump on the HD and multi-regional bandwagons.


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