Philips Q50 (Mania.com)
Date: Thursday, April 04, 2002
What They Say
Review by Gene Moy
Released first in Asia from a Singapore design team around the middle of 2001, followed by a European and US release in around August 2001, the Philips Q50 is the first Philips DVD player to be equipped with the Sage/Faroudja FLI2200 deinterlacing chipset. Europeans, take note: the PAL version sold in Europe does not have the Faroudja deinterlacer and cannot output progressive scan in PAL. For North Americans, the unit will play PAL discs but not do scan conversion to NTSC.
The Q50 is the most advanced player that Philips currently offers. Equipped with a 54MHz DAC and progressive outputs the unit can generate superior quality images at 480p resolution. Testimonies from both experts and laymen rate the quality of the output from this player as superior to those many times more expensive. However, the Q50 originally shipped with a number of flaws which a firmware upgrade, released by the Singapore design team in November 2001, attempts to address. This obscure firmware upgrade is a 2MB download, consisting of two files which must be burned to CD-R. Once correctly burned to disc and inserted into the Q50, the unit will automatically install and upgrade the firmware to version 4.1.5.B-0. Supposedly, Philips USA customer and tech support for reportedly knows nothing about this upgrade, which is currently downloadable from Philips Korea's website, the exact address for which is available in any number of audio-video fan discussion forums. More recent units sold in the US, presumably after November 2001, should already be upgraded.
The unit comes macrovision-enabled and is region encoded for the country it is sold in. I could care less about outputting to tape or copying discs, but the region code is a problem for those of us who have cultural roots in more than one country. Fortunately, using a known workaround it is possible to circumvent this problem without voiding the warranty (allowing us access to the glory that is post-Handover Hong Kong cinema as well as Japanese discs). Listing at $499, the street price for this unit ranges from $399-$499.
The Q50 is a sharp-looking, silver-toned player with a brushed aluminum faceplate, embossed Philips logo, and clean Gill Sans fonts decorating the front. Despite being advertised as a "slim-sized" player, the unit is not the slimmest player I have ever seen -- that title goes to a number of tiny, flat compact DVD players designed for the East Asian market where living space is at a premium. The unit is in fact somewhat wider than a VCR deck but deceptively light for its size, almost hollow. It almost feels like the unit is made up of just a DVD-ROM drive surrounded by a lot of space. Clearly, this unit could be a lot smaller. The back of the unit has the standard RCA I/Os for composite, component, progressive scan component out, and s-video, including six separate outputs for audio and both digital and coax outputs for digital audio.
The designers have made a number of seemingly arbitrary interface decisions for this machine. For instance, they reversed the usual "light on = machine on" convention. Instead, when the machine is off, the light in the power switch is on and vice versa, which is a little odd. The front features a power switch and transport controls which I have yet to use, except for the eject button, because there is no eject function on the provided remote. There is also a small, square backlit LCD display to the far right, added almost as an afterthought, which displays player status with icons and numbers. Like the display on virtually all other players, I have yet to reference this display. The designers should have followed through with eliminating these controls and this display altogether in favor of better usability-driven interaction design for the whole unit.
The on-screen display is fairly well done, with an arrangement of items represented by occasionally hard to decipher icons, but generally easily located and navigated in an attractive menu system. The system has a vocabulary of some twenty icons which the user has to become familiar with. While attractive and very web-like, one wonders if functions could have been better communicated with just text labels, which are available in the submenus. The text labels are very clear and these submenus are very well done.
Most of the major functions which anime and Asian film buffs will reference, namely, the subtitle and audio buttons, are located on the attractive, slim silver-colored factory remote. Attractive as it is, I find it almost unusable because fast forward/next and reverse/prev functions are superimposed on each other. In order to kick the 4x FF, you have to hold down the Next button for a second. Ditto for the Reverse function. You hold them down again to do 32x searches forward and backward. Quickly tiring of this arrangement after not holding down the button long enough or too long, you can also use the left and right arrow keys to trigger 4x and 32x speed searches, but these are unfortunately just above the Prev and Next buttons. Accidents are frequent, which is intolerable. Users would do well to replace this with a better designed universal remote.
People often say that there is no benefit to buying a progressive scan player without a progressive scan television or monitor, but in this case it is not true. The Q50 will output quite nicely to a normal TV. After installing the aforementioned firmware upgrade, using its 54MHz DAC to handle 10 or 11-bit wordlengths of video, the Q50 generates images of palpable clarity and detail in either interlaced (x2 oversampling) or non-interlaced modes(4x oversampling). Because the black level of the unit is lower, the saturation of color is noticeably richer as well, but this happens anytime you lower the black level. Chroma, luma, black level shift and other visual quality controls can be modified through the OSD.
The audio is handled by an 24-bit DAC which produces oversampled audio of remarkable clarity in DTS through coax/digital, Dolby Digital, or SRS Surround which simulates a 3-D effect using two speakers, as well as just plain two-speaker stereo.
The twin-laser pickups are industry-standard Aluminum Gallium Arsenide semiconductor red lasers (we won't be seeing lower-wattage blue and diamond lasers for a while). The twin-laser pickup enables the Q50 to read nearly any kind of disc format to date, VCDs, SVCDs, DVDs and multisession discs like CD-Rs and MP3 discs, as well as being able to take fairly spotty input from badly encoded discs. I have had no problem throwing all kinds of discs supported by this machine and being able to get output from it, discs that have locked up other machines even.
Let's face it, most if not all anime series to date are designed to be seen on nothing fancier than your standard 4:3 interlaced TV with maybe some good stereo equipment and don't require progressive or digital anything to enjoy. You will not get your money's worth if you buy a prog scan player just for anime. For this price, your money could be better invested in a DTS 5.1 digital stereo receiver with 80 watts per channel coupled with a half-way decent DVD player and a few boxsets. The only reasons to use a machine like this are for its film mode, for which only a handful of anime titles as well as properly encoded movies fit the bill, and for its ability to take even not-so-great material and make it look okay. But, in watching the output in both interlaced and noninterlaced modes using a variety of media and discs of various quality, both image and sound are very well defined. The Q50 has since become my preferred way of viewing discs, much preferable than my Apple and PC software players with RGBHV component outputs to an XGA monitor. While software deinterlacing is good, it is not quite up to snuff, chroma upsampling bug can be severe, and on top of that combing is frequent.
Having said that, I've lived with this player for over a month now, and I find that there are still several major problems, validated and documented by others on any number of major audio-video fan discussion forums, which make me question the value of this player.
Obviously, the unit should not have shipped without the obscure firmware update. Once the firmware update is installed, most of the documented issues -- mostly having to do with a severe chroma upsampling bug, problems between syncing subtitles with image and audio, vertical image shift -- seem to have been rectified, but others remain.
The first is a small, intermittent, unpredictable interruption in disc playback, similar to a layer change pause, which also seems to manifest itself when fast forward scanning, although in this case, stops are more frequent. Rewinding and replaying over that point does not repeat the pause. It is not entirely predictable or repeatable as I said, but it does happen from time to time and differs from person to person and disc to disc. No one is sure what is causing this, but as many people have said, for $500 you'd expect something better, like, no pauses at all.
The second seems to be a documented issue about the image being shifted to the left and top by as many as 12 pixels. This is not a big issue if you don't know any better, but can be annoying when you realize you're not seeing the entire picture.
The most jarring problem for me is the playback of VCDs, which no Hong Kong movie buff can do without. This is a huge issue considering that VCDs are the most popular video format in East Asia. Possibly due to the lack of aspect ratio control on the Q50, the unit does a forced size upscale on VCD images, resulting in pronounced image distortion and distinct, blocky MPEG-1 artifacts. This is unacceptable, considering that the design team for the unit came from Singapore.
Hopefully, the next firmware upgrade will address and eliminate these remaining issues. And soon.
For those who are looking for a similar but cheaper Faroudja-equipped player, consider the Skyworth or a machine from another small Asian manufacturer. These machines may also come code-free and macrovision disabled as a bonus and may have better VCD handling capabilities. One outstanding model which did well in the Hi Fi Theater online review was the bargain-priced Panasonic RP56, a progscan player listed at $299 which also features (but does not advertise) a Faroudja chipset. Of course, for those who can wait, there's always something better just around the corner.
Age Rating: All
Region: All Region DVD
Released By: Other
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Hardware Reviews