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NeoDigits Helios H4000 Review

Highs

  • 1080p upscaling through component video; HDMI cable included; smart memory; region-free

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 5

Lows

  • No SACD or DVD Audio Playback; slow startup sometimes; spotty remote reception
At $169, the H4000 will give you a lot of bang for your buck...

Summary

The NeoDigits Helios H4000 DVD player is part of a new breed of DVD players that offer upscaling of traditional DVDs to 1080p resolutions as well as offering Region Code Free compatibilities so you can play any DVD movie, regardless of where you live. The H4000 also supports more formats than most DVD players, including DivX, Xvid, MP3, and WMA audio and video codecs. While all of these features sound great on paper, does the H4000 live up to expectations?

Features and Design

Each time we review a new DVD player, the features list keeps adding up to titanic proportions, and the H4000 continues this tradition. It’s almost expected that a DVD player upscale regular DVD movies to high-definition resolutions, and while the H4000 does in fact do so, it also has advanced features to let you change the frequency and resolution (depending on the output connection you use). For example, if you decide to hook up the VGA/RGB output to a monitor, you get to choose from 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, and 1280 x 1024 resolutions. Most DVD players will only support 1080p upconversion using the HDMI connection, but the H4000 will let you do so using the component output.

As for video and audio compatibility, the H4000 supports DVD/SVCD/VCD/CD/HDCD/MP3/WMA in addition to MPEG 4(DivX, Xvid, MPEG 1/2/4) video and audio formats. Xvid is a compression that we are starting to see supported by a lot of small, foreign DVD player manufacturers. If you are a computer enthusiast, you should find the support for Xvid and DivX very appealing, especially in a player that costs a mere $169 U.S. dollars.

So, you may ask, “How is NeoDigits able to produce a DVD player this affordable and still include HDMI output?” Let’s just say that the cutbacks were made on the materials used on the H4000. At first glance, it looks like a sleek player with its piano-black finish and silver buttons, but upon closer inspection you will find that the case is made almost entirely out of plastic, including the silver buttons, which feel cheap to the touch.

The H4000 has all of the connections you would expect, including composite, S-Video, Component, and HDMI, in addition to digital optical and analog 5.1 channel output. Oddly enough, there is a separate amplifier power button on the back of the player.

Controls for powering the H4000, as well play/pause and forward/rewind, are located on the top of the player instead of the front. Now, some of you might realize that having the controls on the top is a bad choice, especially if you are putting the H4000 into a tight cabinet. NeoDigits did a couple of things wrong with this layout. First of all, there are no menu controls to be found on the player, so you are essentially forced to use the remote control anyways. Secondly, if you decide to stack anything on the H4000 (and you should not be stacking components on it) like DVD movies, etc., the controls become useless as well. The included infrared remote control has a relatively intuitive layout with glow-in-the-dark buttons (instead of being backlit). In comparison to the player, the remote is pretty lackluster in the looks department.

NeoDigits packs the H4000 with composite audio/video cables in addition to an HDMI cable (probably worth ¼ of the overall player price), batteries for the remote, and the instruction manual.

NeoDigits H4000
NeoDigits H4000
Images Courtesy of NeoDigits

Testing and Use

For our review, we used an Onkyo TX-SR701 receiver, Hitachi 42HDT51 42” plasma (with HDMI input), Sony Bravia KLV-S32A10 32” LCD, and Axiom Audio Epic 50 5.1 speaker system. For our comparison, we used Oppo Digital OPD971H (with a DVI to HDMI adapter cable) and Oppo Digital DV-981HD981 HD DVD (using HDMI) players. DivX and Xvid files were played off of TDK recordable CD and DVD media. Movies used for testing included Dead Wood: Season 2, The Aviator, and Bad Santa.

Setting up the H4000 is an easy process, but because of its features, you might want to spend some time fine-tuning the picture settings to best take advantage of your TV (this includes various screen resolutions and audio settings). The H4000 comes shipped with the parental controls turned on (at least ours did, in the retail packaging), so make sure that you keep your manual, because the code to unlock the parental controls is inside.

The boot-up time for the H4000 is considerably slower at times than other DVD players out there; in fact, we counted a 35-second boot-up time with a regular DVD in it at one point. The controls located on the top of the player also show considerable lag when used. It almost behaves like a PC; if it’s unplugged and then plugged back in, the startup time is longer than if the player was turned off using the remote. While we cannot confirm what was going on, the player may have been going into a “sleep” state at times.

The H4000 seems to respond more quickly to the remote control than the built-in buttons, which is rather odd. The remote works well, but is very directional, so you will need a very clear line-of-sight. Also, the Smart Play feature is really cool; it will remember where you stopped playback on a DVD movie and allow you to resume where you left off. It even works after the player is turned off, or if you swap DVDs.

The H4000 had an average performance on most tests. Color detail and saturation is good, but eliminating jaggies proved to be too much of a feat on some lines, especially on diagonals. In our upscaling tests, the H4000 performed well, but picture quality was not as good as the Oppo Digital players we mentioned. It’s worth noting that both the Oppo Digital 971 and 881 players in our testing use the DCDi chip by Faroudja and cost $30 to $60 more than the H4000. The Oppo Digital DV-970HD DVD player (which we did not have on hand for comparison) is closer to the same price range as the H4000 and does not use the Faroudja chip, so it would probably be a better comparison. We also did not have a 1080p set on hand to test the upscaling performance of the H4000 at that resolution.

Playing movies recorded in DivX or Xvid posed no problem on the H4000, simply browse to the folder using the on-screen explorer and then play the movie you want. Image quality is really dependant on the movie, and not necessarily the player. Some movies or shows recorded in high-definition and then burned onto CD looked worse on the H4000 than they did on the PC, it really depended on the compression of the show/movie being burned.

On the audio side, the H4000 performed well, and we did not experience any sound noise or issues in our tests. The H4000 lacks both SACD and DVD-Audio playback, which is supported by the Oppo Digital DV-970HD DVD player at a lower price point. So, it’s a trade-off; if you have to have 1080p support, then the H4000 is the player for you at this price. But if SACD and DVD-Audio playback is important, go with the Oppo Digital DV-970HD; neither player supports both.

Conclusion

While we have to give props to NeoDigits for creating an attractive DVD player with 1080p upscaling abilities at a reasonable price, a few corners appear to have been cut to reach this attractive price point. The H4000 will appeal to those looking for a region-free player or a good value. At $169, the H4000 will give you a lot of bang for your buck in the form of 1080p upscaling, an included HDMI cable, and DivX/Xvid compatibilities, but if you are missing a TV capable of 1080p resolutions, take a look at the Oppo Digital DV-970HD or Samsung 931 DVD players instead.

Pros:

• 1080p video upscaling
• Region-free
• HDMI cable included
• Support for DivX and Xvid files

Cons:

• No SACD or DVD Audio Playback
• Slow start-up time
• Average video performance
• Spotty remote reception
• Cheap-feeling construction

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