The design is gorgeous. Available in black or silver, Yamaha has produced a square-cornered, slimline deck with a fetching orange LED display. It is a touch retro and makes a nice change from the usual designs of today.

The feature count is equally imposing. PAL and NTSC progressive scan via component video outputs, NTSC/PAL conversion,MP3,JPEG and WMA playback (including simultaneous JPEG and MP3 playback), a 4x zoom and the usual programmed play options would be enough for many decks.

Yamaha has gone a step further, offering 2x and 4x CD upsampling and DiVX VOD compatibility. This goes some way to compensating for the absence of DVD-Audio and SACD playback and is welcome for anyone who is not interested in the multi-channel formats but still fancies a bit more from their CD collection.

DiVX opens up the world of downloadable movies from the internet and the video-on-demand function means you can legitimately rent titles, rather than relying on dodgy websites.

On the technical side, there is a 192kHz/24-Bit audio DAC and 108MHz/12-Bit video DAC and disc compatibility stretches to DVD-RW VR discs and double-layered DVD R platters.

Connections include the aforementioned component outputs, plus an RGB Scart,S-video and composite back-up, optical and electrical digital audio outs and a stereo output.

Ease of use is good, although there are a few too many badly phrased instructions in the manual that could cause confusion for those who are new to the technology. There is a picture setting menu, allowing you to tinker with brightness, contrast, tint and colour, as well as choosing from three preset combinations.

Onscreen menus are neat and easily navigated and you can call up an onscreen display during playback to provide information on the disc you are watching, including a bit rate monitor.

The DVD-S557 can remember last-play information for five discs and also has a Night Mode, comparable to the dynamic range compression found on amps.

The impression created by a stroll through the spec sheet is reinforced when the deck is fired up. The picture is one of the best we've seen on a deck at this price point.

The RGB Scart feed (which is what most people will be using) delivers a bitingly sharp image that is absolutely crammed with detail. We ran through our favourite test scenes to see if anything caused problems, but Charlie's Angels, The Return of the King and Finding Nemo are all presented in exemplary fashion. Colours are very realistic on standard material, but where they should be a little more saturated (such as on Nemo), the Yamaha serves up a vibrant image.

The sound output is also excellent. Paired up with a new Yamaha DSP-AX757 amp, the results are superb. Home cinema soundtracks are lively and engaging, with subtlety on offer as much as muscle.

The CD upsampling would require longer to fully assess, but does seem to add a little extra to a CD, although DVD-Audio and SACD remain some way ahead.

In fact, just about our only complaint about this deck is the zoom - it offers those strange quarter-, third- and half-sized images as well as the 2x,3x and 4x options. What on earth are they for?

In all, though, this deck is a thoroughbred model. If this is your price point, the DVD-S557 needs to be taken for a test drive soon. David Smith