It's surprising how many DVDs and CDs you can buy for £850 - which is about what you would save opting for this sleek Yamaha machine over Arcam's hot, if expensive, DV79.
Its top line spec sheet is not a million miles away either and, in terms of format trumps, the DVDS657 actually wins by supporting SACD and being capable of spinning DivX recorded discs from downloads - legal or otherwise.
The back panel begins to show where the savings have been made. There is no HDMI or even DVI output, the analogue connections are basic nickel plated and, as for firmware upgrades, what you see with the DVDS657 is what you get.
Inside, Yamaha has chopped out many of the super-rich, full-fat third party components in favour of standard or Yamaha-own parts. That said, it handles a superb range of disc formats including MP3 and WMA CDs, offers pretty on-screen menus and complete speaker set up for the DVD-A/SACD multi-channel analogue output. You get CD up-sampling to supposedly improve CD playback (what happened to crap-in, crap out?), and 108MHz/12-bit DACs to do the same for video.
Oooh it's good, very good. Using the progressive component output the picture is crisp, bright and razor sharp - even blown up to 50in on our Samsung DLP test TV. At first glance, the picture has a superb dynamic range from deep blacks to bright whites without loosing any detail at either end of the spectrum. Colour balance is rich but a little warmer than absolutely ideal.
It's performance via digital video output is non-existent due to the lack of HDMI. This time next year there won't be a DVD player on the market over £100 without at least one HDMI port, but for now the DVDS657 is limited to progressive analogue video.
Both SACD and DVD-A performance are equally smooth and detailed. Play The Doors movie soundtrack and you get a great sense of the drug crazed cultural chaos of the late 60s. Play it on a more expensive player like the Arcam DV79 and you end up and dancing around the garden till dawn wearing nothing but a headband of daisies. Quality always shines through.
True, the Yamaha has no port to upgrade the firmware for future improvement, but manufacturers have been notoriously reticent about upgrades for existing players anyway. Moreover, even if DVD player prices stay the same (unlikely as they are still falling) you could cast off this mid-market machine and buy its replacement model every year until 2010 and still have more money in the bank than blowing £1,000 on a top-notch player.
The Yamaha's superb movie and music performance mark it as something of an all round bargain against its price peers.