Panasonic LX-H170 Laserdisc player
The picture and sound quality available from laserdisc far surpasses that from the best prerecorded videotapes, making it the standard by which home theater performance is judged. And now you don't have to jump in with both halves of your wallet to explore laserdiscs: Recent combination CD/laserdisc players make enjoyment of the medium quite economical. A prime case in point is Panasonic's LX-H170, the company's "starter" combination player and one of the least expensive of all such products.
What you mainly give up for the low price are some of the zippy features available on deluxe models, such as a digital frame store (for freeze-framing on CLV discs) and automatic side change, but with the LX-H170 you still get some advanced circuitry. For example, there's a digital time-base corrector that reduces the medium's already low picture distortion and jitter. On the audio side, the player's 1-bit digital-to-analog (D/A) converters are of parent Matsushita's well-regarded MASH variety.
The front panel, however, is very basic: buttons for the fundamental disc-transport functions (stop, pause, play, chapter/track-skip, drawer open/ close), a numerical track-selection keypad for cueing (the type that requires pressing a +10 key for all track numbers greater than 9), a display window, and a quarter-inch headphone jack with its volume-control knob.
Most prominent is the shuttle dial, a multispeed fast-forward/reverse control; on the remote this feature is controlled by a pair of buttons.
The remote is the only means of operating the rest of the player's features, which, although limited in number compared with what you'd find on a top-of-the-line model, are sufficiently versatile for most users. When playing a CAV disc, for example, the remote enables activation of forward and reverse single-frame stepping. A numerical keypad enables cueing by laserdisc frame number (CAV discs) or by time from the beginning of the side (CLV discs). It does double duty as a track/chapter selector for the LX-H170's twenty-step programmed-play-back function. The player can automatically program CD tracks or laserdisc chapters for recording on tapes of specified lengths. Special playback modes include random sequence and intro scan, which plays the first 10 seconds of every track or chapter. There are quite a few repeat modes, only some of which will be useful.
Hookup is more straightforward than usual for a laserdisc player, since the only connectors on the LX-H170's back panel are two sets of A/V outputs, both comprising composite video and line-level audio. There are no digital-audio, S-video, or RF outputs.
Despite its relatively bare-bones feature set, the LX-H170 delivered anything but minimal performance on the test bench. Measured video performance was up there with the best we have tested, with outstanding figures for resolution and very low chroma errors. It doesn't show up in the measurements, but the comparative lack of bounciness on our lab's waveform monitor and vectorscope displays indicated that the digital time-base corrector was doing its job well (such jitteriness can show up as picture noise). As for sound, the LX-H170's digital-audio performance was good, if not outstanding. The main "problem" area, if you can call it that, was the higher than typical measured noise. Analog (AFM) audio performance, which we measured for the first time with the REF-EA1 test disc, was okay but, unsurprisingly, not nearly as good as that provided by the digital circuitry.
Direct-switched video comparisons with a couple of other recently tested players costing approximately two and more than five times as much as the LX-H170 showed essentially no differences on typical program material and just barely visible differences on various test patterns. And with the test patterns, half the time it was the LX-H170 that looked "better" (sometimes it's hard to tell). Typical audio program material played at normal volumes also sounded identical once the players' output levels were matched. We could detect the LX-H170's slightly higher noise by really turning up the volume and sticking an ear right next to a speaker while playing a dither-noise test track - hardly typical operation. The only operational annoyance I found, and it will be of significance only to Roger Rabbit-type frame-by-frame viewers, is that repeatedly pressing still/step buttons is a poor substitute for the variable-speed playback and jog/shuttle features available on more expensive units.
Given its high level of audio and video performance, its useful, if modest, array of features, and its price, the Panasonic LX-H170 must be considered one of the best home theater bargains going. Jump in with both feet!