There's recently been quite a hoo-hah about upscaling DVD players, not least because they allow you to get more from your existing DVD collection while you wait with baited and belated breath for the onslaught of high-definition software for Blu-ray and HD DVD machines.
Of course, these upscalers are not really high-definition players - they merely render standard-definition DVD images in a greater resolution so that edges are smoother and details more pronounced - but, boy, they bring new life to a ropey, old disc of Dunston Checks In.
However, the NeuNeo HVD2085, from Chinese-based internet-only company Neodigits, is capable of more than simple video upscaling. It's one of the only players in the world that can play dedicated 720p-encoded DVD movies (so-called HVD format), albeit ones that are only available through, you guessed it, Neodigits. But, that aside, this deck has other unique functions too.
Connectivity is one of them; as well as the mandatory HDMI output required for HD signals, the supplied component outputs are capable of outputting high-def signals alongside PAL and NTSC progressive scan. There's also a VGA port if you'd rather attach it to your flatscreen that way, which can deliver VGA (640 x 480), SVGA (800 x 600), XGA (1024 x 768) and SXGA (1280 x 1024) resolutions.
Conventional, standard-definition video can be outputted via composite and S-video jacks, while audio is catered for by stereo analogue, optical and coaxial digital and 5.1 speaker outputs.
It's a veritable smorgasbord of interesting socketry, to be sure. The only obvious absentee is a Scart output, but considering this is an internet import (which, incidentally, comes with a US power lead) it's a forgivable omission.
Predictably, given the affordable price, build quality isn't tank-like. The DVD tray is flimsy, to say the least. When fully extended, it almost wilts under the weight of a normal platter. And I'm not overly enamoured by the remote control; it looks cheap and is about as unintuitive as they come (for example, the enter button is ranged top-left to the direction buttons). I think I can spot where corners have been cut to keep the price down.
Functionality is a totally different story, though. From the box the HVD2085 is region unlocked. I did, on occasion, have problems playing a recorded DVD-R (of my sister's wedding video, if you must know) - sometimes it refused to acknowledge its existence - but this was intermittent and rare. There were no such worries with any standard DVDs, and it is here that the NeuNeo shines.
Unlike any of its peers, this player is theoretically capable of upscaling to 1080p (via component only) and, even though full HD displays and projectors have yet to be launched in the UK, it's a unique talent that both future-proofs and elevates the deck to more than a mere sideshow. Of course, it's also capable of 480p, 576p, 720p and 1080i, so any flatpanel (or DLP) screen will be able to reap benefits. Still: pictures in 1080p for £140? Wow.
To be honest, I can only guess that images are at their best in this mode as the Pioneer plasma I was testing it with can't handle such resolution. Currently, like the rest of the nation, HCC is still waiting for access to a 1080p display.
However, I can report that the HVD2085's 720p pictures through HDMI or component (there's little difference between the two, if any) are considerably better than its regular DVD playback. Background details become more pronounced, so much so that you actually notice things that aren't displayed on conventional, equivalently-priced rivals, and edges are smoothed to the extent that they belie any defects in the original video encoding process. Beneath the hood is a 16bit 149Mhz video DAC.
The same couldn't be said about VGA upscaling, though. Using the XGA and SXGA modes there is clear banding on gradiated greys. Also, a green tinge appears around edges, especially when large blocks of red are displayed. Finally, it squashes the picture image, failing to reach either side of a 16:9 display, while a weird band of pink noise appears under the letterboxed pictures. In short, this option is to be disregarded.
Audio performance through the dedicated 5.1 speaker outs is functional at best (the deck has onboard Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, and a 192 kHz 24bit audio DAC) but route a digital feed to a quality amp and things improve. The NeuNeo can also exploit the enhancements of HDCD, if you happen to have the one copy of Bonnie Tyler's last album that came out on the format.
It's not often that an unknown brand causes such interest in the Home Cinema Choice office, but this player had the team swarming around it like bees on a honey pot.
It's built like a supermarket special, but performs so admirably with its video upscaling that it demands to be taken seriously. There's something altogether satisfying about it - like chucking a V2 engine inside a Reliant Robin and zooming past the next door neighbour's Porsche at the lights. Rik Henderson