Umax has a new label out there. We've become used to the budget Yamada name, and now we have the Chili DVD-MX205 USB.
This is a distinctively styled deck, with a split fascia, one half in silver, the other in black plastic but the LED readout has a greenish tinge that isn't particularly attractive.
The main selling points of the 205 are the presence of component video outputs for progressive scan, DiVX compatibility and the unusual USB input on the front panel (tucked behind the silver half of the fascia, which turns out to be a flap), which brings files stored on such things as Memory Sticks into play. Umax claims any storage devices that work with Windows can be hooked up, but they're careful to make it clear they haven't tested the deck with every type out there.
Connectivity is very good, with an RGB Scart, S-video and composite video outputs joining the component video sockets.There are both optical and electrical digital audio outputs, as well as six-channel outputs (for the built-in Dolby Digital decoder), but don't expect DVD-Audio and SACD playback.
Playback features include a zoom (one that strangely also reduces the image in size), slow motion, high-speed picture search and programmed playback. Video adjustments can be made for brightness, contrast, hue and saturation, while a dynamic range compressor is available for audio.
This all sounds rather good, but there are some negatives as well. Despite the USB input there is no provision for other media files such as WMA and MP3, and DiVX compatibility doesn't include a video-on-demand code.
The manual is understandable, despite some translation foibles, but it falls into the trap that seems to be catching many DVD players these days - in the set-up section, despite the Scart socket clearly being displayed, it is totally ignored.
It mentions that there is a composite video, S-video or component video output, but we all know that an RGB Scart is the most common connection.
The horribly designed and laid out remote control also does its best to ignore you and requires very firm presses of the small grey buttons. Finally, the onscreen menu system looks like it was designed in 1988.
You expect some rough edges on a budget deck, but the critical area is obviously performance - here the 205 doesn't do too badly at all.
The picture is very watchable, although there's more picture interference than we're used to. This doesn't take the form of blocky artifacts, but rather a slight sheen over the picture. Certain brightly lit scenes still look very good, but on dimly lit material the Chili has a little trouble resolving all the detail.
There is also an issue with slightly scratched discs. A veteran test disc of Jurassic Park caused all sorts of problems, with glitches, hitches and split-second freezes, as well as cuts in audio and nasty onscreen blocking.
As for the USB input, it recognised a floppy disk drive but failed to read a disk, so there are obviously some media that are not compatible.
But there was one very pleasant surprise.The deck is multiregion, so Region 1 imports are very much on the menu.
Audio performance is rather flat, with CDs lacking their usual panache, although it is certainly good enough for basic installations, and those making do without surround sound system won't care a jot.
Overall this is an okay budget deck, but a modest step-up in price can yield far superior results.A possible option then for those on a tight fiscal rein. David Smith