This budget DVD player from JVC is a rather nice looking model, conforming to the design directive of the day- slimmness.

Connections are okay. You get component video outputs for PAL progressive scan (very nice), plus an RGB/S-video capable Scart. There is no dedicated S-video output. Audio connections see the provision of an electrical digital audio output, but not an optical one.

Playback features are strictly run of the mill. You get a 4x zoom,highspeed picture search options, slow motion and frame advance, plus repeat and program play.

Unusually, there is a selection of playback speeds that retain audio and subtitle playback - they only go at 1.5x, 1.2x, 0.8x and 0.6x normal speed, so you're not exactly flying anywhere, but the audio cues may be useful in tracking down a particular scene.

You can enjoy MP3 and JPEG files, but there is no provision for DiVX movie files. This is a surprise given the popularity of the format and the fact that it's appearing regularly on budget models. You can also select a JPEG image to act as a screensaver for that personal touch.

JVC's own Video Fine Processor is available for tweaking picture attributes. You can adjust gamma, brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, sharpness and Y delay, so if you don't like the picture out of the box you should be able to change things.

There are two preset settings, as well as the ability to store a couple of your preferred arrangements, so if you like different picture qualities on movies and TV material you can flip back and forth between them.

A 192kHz/24-bit audio DAC and 10-bit/54MHz video DAC do all the serious work inside the deck, and they do it quickly - the Express Play function gets the disc spinning in double-quick time.

There is also a nifty little one-touch replay button that jumps back 10 seconds at the touch of a button.

Ease of use is enhanced by a commendably simple instruction leaflet,and the remote has been thoughtfully designed. It sits comfortably in the hand and all the most important buttons are easily reached by your thumb.

Performance

Coming from the budget end of JVC's range, you would expect the N322S to have a few rough edges, but it doesn't look the case when you fire the deck up.

Test scenes were handled with conviction. Brightly lit material is presented with gusto - there is excellent detail resolution and pleasing colour rendition, but none of the near three-dimensional qualities you get with the very best picture providers. We especially liked the performance on animated material, where the colours burst from the screen.

Changing the mood, by running some darker scenes past the deck, revealed some limitations.

Shadowy scenes, or those with mist or fog, do tend to be a handful for the 322. It does not quite manage to wring every last drop of picture detail from the material, but it has a good stab at it and it's probably only because we've looked at hundreds of decks that we notice anything wrong with the picture at all!

The zoom is disappointing. JVC used to offer zooms with wildly extravagant magnifications of more than 1000x, but this deck only goes up to 4x and introduces a lot of picture degradation into the bargain.

Home cinema audio is nicely presented to your amp and it's worth noting that audio CD performance is a bit better than you would expect. Nobody is going to mistake this for an audiophile model, but it does a good job.

This is a decent deck. It's a bit off the pace-setters for picture quality, and DiVX playback would have been good, but it does a solid job at a tempting price. J ason Glenn