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Philips LDP-600WS aka Philips PLD-600WS

Back in 1992 after it was launched on the continent and in Japan (PLD-600WS), Philips has made the LDP-600WS PAL/NTSC combi available in the UK. Or rather it has licensed an independent distributor, Active Laser Distribution, to market the machine on its behalf. Whatever reason Philips may have for this course of action (such as its mass marketing operation not being suited to a niche product like laserdisc), no-one will believe it is for any other reason than Philips is easing itself out of laserdisc in anticipation for full motion video on CD-I later this year. 

But if initial impressions of the 600WS are anything to go by, if Philips is going to back out of laserdisc, it is doing it in style. Unlike the company's European-made products, the 600WS is a heavy and well-built beast that is bound to reassure any purchaser who has just forked out £700. The packaging is neat and the accessories complete (scart, phonos). There is no mains plug on the captive power lead but we'll forgive them that as the 600WS is designed for worldwide use and hence no one plug would suffice. So, as well as being able to accommodate both types of laserdisc, the player can be comfortably carted around the globe by the more nomadic LD fan and, with a certain amount of luck, it will play into any available TV. To do this the machine offers both direct PAL and NTSC compo­site (as encoded on the disc) as well as PAL and NTSC recoded into analogue RGB. The only limitation to a user in an NTSC county might be the (apparent) rarity of RGB-capable TVs. Unlike in Europe, direct access to the RGB circuits is rarely offered on American TVs, for example, so the replay of PAL software could involve some extra effort there. This might not be the reason Philips does not sell the LDP-600WS in the US. A similar machine is marketed, the CDV-600. It's NTSC only but with digital video memory, a feature more in demand on a top-end model in NTSC territories. The LDP 600WS also plays standard CDs, of course. Rarely, these days, it respects index codes. Making the player truly unique is the inclusion of Philips Favourite Track Selection (FTS) program­ming that allows chapter/track sequences to be stored ad infinitum. 

Front & Back Panel 

The appeal of the design will be very much down to personal preference. The odd 'drooping mouth' display on the front panel is a nod to the curved styling of several recent Japanese machines, but otherwise the design conforms to Philips' European look. The illuminated display (which can be switched off) is unusual in being an LCD type. It's easy to appreciate why LCD displays are not more commonly used; the one on the 600 is illegible close-up when viewed from the 'wrong' angle and certainly cannot be read from across a room. The machine is finished in a textured grey. There are no hidden controls on the front of the player. That means no headphone output, then, which in the normal course of events would seem an acceptable omission; surely better to have this on the amplifier? But, taking into account the intended mobility of the player and its owner, there might well be an argument for having a headphone socket on this particular machine. There could well be temporary housing situations involved where one is without a fully installed A/V set-up. 

The rear panel has two sets of video/audio phono outputs (nice), the scart (incorporating the RGB), a digital optical output and Philips system remote in/out sockets. The worldwide suitability of the player is revealed by the four-position voltage selector, which can be adjusted simply by turning it with a screwdriver.

Apparently the player has been appear­ing with two distinct types of drawer. The one on the review machine lacked the solidity of the rest of the machine but performs no function other than to transport the disc to the play position. So as long as it does this job conscientiously, nothing more substantial is needed. The drawer is disengaged during play and makes no difference to the reproduction qualities of the machine. However, for some reason, many CD player owners seem to put great store by the smoothness of the loading mechanism and, conceiv­ably, potential Philips combi player pur­chasers attracted by the Bitstream audio processing might come from this sector of the market.

 Remote Functions 

The remote (also in crinkly grey) is big in area but slim. There is a rotary scan knob (which Philips still insists on calling "search") with 43 accompanying buttons. The top half of the remote is concealed by a hinged flap which, once removed (it can be eased off, though one suspects Philips didn't intend this), shows the unit to be well laid out. Having seen that wonderful jumbo remote Philips has concocted for its CD-I players (supposedly for kids to use), no conventional remote will ever seem adequate any more but, encouragingly, this conventional-looking combi remote displays a deal of common sense in its layout. It's a fair bet that, after a period of familiarisation, quite a lot of the controls could be accessed in the dark. There are minor criticisms: the scan knob would have benefited from a knurled perimeter for a start; for one-hand use the Power and Open/Close buttons might have been better moved to the bottom of the unit and those already there moved above, but, two-handed, there is no problem with accessing the buttons as they are. 

The 600WS is a permanently powered machine once connected to the mains though the player answers a previous criticism (of the CDV-475 in offering a deal of user control over this. The 475 was in the habit of powering itself down if left unattended for 3 minutes i.e. you'd put the player into pause to go and answer the phone and find that it had shut down by the time you'd returned. With this new machine you can retain this feature (with a longer period of inactivity allowed for) or disable it using the Pre-Set procedure. Other defaults can be set too such as Auto Start (for timer related operation), Auto FTS, Auto Random, Memo Start and the status of the screen readouts and back­grounds. 

The CAV controls are the Step and Speed buttons. Step is for still frame (and the keys have to be pressed each time for frame advance/reverse; they don't automa­tically advance at a fixed rate if held down) and Speed for slow/fast motion etc. The diamond pattern layout of the keys seems very sensible. There are 9 CAV rates ranging from 3 seconds per frame to 3 time’s normal speed.

The numerical keypad does not em­ploy the + 10 method of entering chapter/ track numbers beyond 9. Therefore if you hit the 5 key, for example, the player will go direct to that chapter/track. Double figure entries work in a similar manner. Providing the second digit is entered within a second or so the player will recognise it as part of a double-digit entry and then search. There is a momentary pause after the second digit is keyed in which does initially give the impression of sluggishness, but this is not really the case. The player will allow channel switch­ing on CDs and well as LDs. 

Favourite Track Selection 

One feature that was not used during the review was the FTS - with good reason. The FTS feature is very desirable; one enters a programme of chapters/tracks on a disc and the player memorises the sequence. Whenever the disc is replayed the machine will recall the programme, saving the need to re-program each time. Philips claims that about 100 discs with 20 chapter/track programmes can be retained in memory. A titling function is also offered with FTS. So, who wants to go and programme a bunch of one's own CDs under FTS and then see the machine disappear over the horizon when the review is concluded and have to revert to cumbersome manual programming? FTS is not a function one would want to do without having lived with it a while. Some doubts do remain about FTS, however. 100 discs would seem impressive at first, but many quite modest disc collections (which, in the case of a combi, are the combined total of one's LDs and CDs) could easily stretch its capacity. Why doesn't Philips (or a third party) offer memory upgrades to allow increased capacity; also an input/output function whereby one could transfer stored programmes to a computer/floppy disk for copying across to a subsequent (or even second) combi, rather than have to enter the data all over again? 

The 600 relies on the remote for accessing its full complement of operating functions. The basic transport modes are duplicated on the machine. Unlike Japane­se machines these days there is nothing on the front panel controls that cannot be operated by the remote. Convenience modes offered on the 600WS include Random Play, Edit (for recording disc contents across to tapes to make most efficient use of space), AMS (Auto Music Scan - plays first 15 seconds of each track/chapter). The standard repeat and programming features are available, though it could not be easily determined from the manual just what the capacity of the programming was. 

Access Times 

Scan time for a 60 minute CLV disc works out to almost exactly 60 seconds, a

time that offers a reasonable compromise between visibility and speed. Searching a chapter on a 60 minute CLV laserdisc end-to-end takes around 9 seconds, a CAV disc closer to 7 seconds. These search times are affected by the momentary delay while the player waits to be sure the key entry is complete (see earlier about double-digit entries) by about a second or so. But the player is reasonably agile without being super fast. Same goes for the side change which takes about 30 seconds to accomplish. It's nice to see the player drawer configured for all disc sizes. The 475 omitted any provision for the 5cm CD.

However, according to Sonopress, the new machine will not deal with the 30cm polycarbonate disc without an adaptor, though we never got round to actually trying this during the review. Now that Sonopress's laserdisc pressing activities have come to a halt, this incompatibility is not likely to be a significant problem unless another manufacturer takes up the polycarbonate cause. 

Picture Quality 

Memories of the rather unsatisfactory CDV-475 are bound to affect one's expectations of any successor. (There have been other models since the 475 but not released in the UK.) The 475 exhibited one picture characteristic that stood out; its accuracy of colour reproduction. This is a characteristic that Philips has retained with the current model and the 600WS achieves a very clean-hued look.

However, the reason that the other two brands avoid the full gamut of hues is not an inability to achieve but rather a wise compromise. As much as manufacturers might otherwise choose to admit, laserdisc is still weak in reproducing colour with the vigour and accuracy it should, particularly with the advent of digital sound encoding. Therefore, while players such as the Sony and the Pioneer produce colourful images, the overall balance is blander. This Philips player pays the price for accuracy by being troubled by noise on less than perfect discs. Strong colours tend to be too much for it and black dropout dashes can arise. There also seems to be less stability in the colour, though this aspect was slightly confused by a very slight flickeriness that was evident even when the player was displaying its electronically generated blue screen too. As far as detail is concerned the player rolls off in the higher frequencies. This tended to be a more a practical inconveniences with NTSC discs that definitely lost impact, particularly during darker scenes. 

According to the resolution gratings the player resolves detail much better in its NTSC-to-RGB mode but this didn't neces­sarily translate into clearer reproduction of discs. There tended to be some slight ringing on the RGB picture (visible on the fourth and fifth gratings) which might account for this apparent inconsistency.

There is no switching for the RGB mode. This is presumably achieved auto­matically and dependent on the signal the TV senses through the scart wiring.

The 600WS also offers PAL re-coded into RGB, though it wasn't possible to provide photographic evidence of the resolution capabilities as, unlike with NTSC, there is no suppression of cross-colour. The upper frequencies on the

gratings were therefore obscured. The colour intensity is down in RGB

mode - both NTSC and PAL. In NTSC the colour was slightly less intense than the Sony. In PAL the RGB mode conflicts with Sony, Austria's habit of cutting back the colour intensity of its digital audio LD pressings. These discs look very insipid on the Philips player in RGB. It's not the machine's fault, it’s Sony's for producing off-standard discs. The sum of these parts would be that the Philips player could produce good pictures on the right sort of disc but doesn't have the all-round capabilities of the Pioneer or, particularly, the Sony. 

Sound Quality 

Reluctant as one is prepared to indulge in these judgments, the audio on the Philips player does seem to be a breed apart from the competition. The Philips player could well be the one to go for if sound is paramount. To cite one example, the opening minutes of Barman Returns were played on both the Sony and the Philips and it became apparent that the music sounded altogether more resonant and menacing on the Philips machine though, to be fair, the amount of actual detail on each seemed comparable.

By chance, a disc with some near invisible picture dropouts was played which emitted a series of audio blips as well. On other machines these audio blips were totally suppressed. Is this, again, a case of the Philips player achieving it qualities at the expense of real-world disc pressings?

A brief audition of a PAL analogue sound disc with some visible picture dropout also showed the dropout to be audible on the soundtrack, though again, the actual reproduction quality was other­wise good. At a guess, the Philips machine has the same lack of filtering for analogue that was encountered on the first Pioneer PAL combi, the CLD-1050. However, anyone coming to laserdisc afresh is not likely going to encounter that many older analogue pressings so this is a characteristic that can be largely ignored by them. 

Conclusions 

The £699.95 that the Philips player started out at in the UK seemed an enormous premium to pay compared to the then £499.95 of the Pioneer CLD-1750. Since then the Philips player has remained at that level and, while there is still a £l00+ price gap with the Pioneer, the difference between it and the Sony is now negligible. In build quality and operational convenience it is ahead of the Sony and, providing the discs are made properly, probably better in sound. In picture quality terms, though, it could be improved upon in certain respects.

It's very difficult not to be attracted to the player - this is one of those indefinable things - but set against this there is always going to be the nagging doubt as to how committed Philips as a company is to the product itself. While it doesn't affect the company's ability to support the model with spares etc for the proper period, knowing that possibly there will be no more models after this does detract a little from its appeal. 

Comparative Resolution Performance 

The ability of players to resolve the full amount of detail is crucial to achieving good picture quality. In the majority of cases the resolution of the players could be perceived in normal viewing conditions and these gratings just go to endorse those impressions with some rather more objective evidence. For comparison purposes resolution gratings for the Pioneer CLD-1750 were taken. In PAL the 1750 resolves all the gratings up to 4.5Mhz, comparable with 400 lines of horizontal resolution. The final band is completely unresolved but this is close to 6.00MHz and outside the bandwidth capabilities of laserdisc. Some ringing is visible in the grey divisions between the gratings. 

The Sony MDP-650D performs simi­larly on resolving all the gratings but achieves this without any of the ringing. 

Philips' LDP 600WS, rather surpris­ingly, cannot manage the 4.8MHz grating and reproduces the 3.5MHz grating with­out the proper clarity. Ringing is visible also between the grating bands. 

In NTSC the 1750 manages the uppermost grating without any significant ringing effects. But note that the vertical lines are rather wavery as each scanning line is slightly out of synch with its neighbour. Again the Sony MDP-650D achieves similar performance but with the vertical lines properly in register.

The performance of the LDP 600WS is better in NTSC than PAL though the highest grating is beginning to look a bit grey rather than have clean black and white separations. 

RGB V Composite 

In RGB both players resolve all the test gratings properly and this is the only instance where the Philips seems to shine, though, as stated in the text, this was not necessarily translated into superior pictures. Some ringing was visible on the Philips RGB picture which may have influenced this. The Sony RGB gratings are actually better than they looked. Although the camera is not supposed to lie, the colour interference on the Sony pictures was truly invisible on the actual screen.