The Helios HVD2085 is a 1080p up-scaling DVD player with some interesting and unusual features. High-Definition TV owners should be impressed.

Everyone seems to be talking about up-scaling DVD players, thanks to the increasing proliferation of high-definition (HD) displays and the absence as yet of next-generation (true from the source) HD DVD players down under.

Many Asian manufacturers now offer DVD players capable of converting standard-definition DVD into a 720p or 1080i feed. Depending on the quality of your display (and its own internal scaling ICs), an up-scaling DVD player can certainly deliver an improvement – especially via HDMI/DVI, which cuts out any unnecessary conversion between analogue and digital. Although this up-scaling process can’t add detail that’s not there, the results tend to be more, well, ‘filmic’. Up-scaling DVD players can be seen as a ‘stop-gap’ until the widespread arrival of proper high-definition HD DVD and Blu-ray formats.

The Chinese consumer-electronics industry hasn’t let such developments pass by unnoticed. Consider the Helios HVD2085 from NeoDigits. NeoDigits is a Hong Kong-based company, soon set to distribute locally.

Apart from the video up-conversion it performs, one of the choicest things about this player is its ‘UOP-off’ feature, called ‘smart-play’, which circumvents annoying trailers and gets straight to the main movie (great for rented DVDs and Disney collections!). Should you want to, these special features are accessible via the menu.

The Helios is a decently built deck, apart from the flimsy disc tray which feels like it could snap off unless great care is taken when loading up. It takes a minimalist approach to design, with a bare minimum of front panel controls being on display.

Connectivity is good. There are component and HDMI outputs, plus VGA (great for owners of projectors without digital inputs), composite and S-video. There’s no RGB Scart – a peculiarly European phenomenon – but this is no great loss. Why, after all, would you waste the potential of an up-scaling DVD player by using a standard-definition connection?

The Helios includes a 5.1 phono audio array, but it’s for Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks only – the player isn’t compatible with either DVD-A or Super Audio CD. Its onboard decoder may appeal to those still using ‘upgradable’ Pro-Logic amps with 5.1 inputs, but we suspect the vast majority of SmartHouse readers will own more recent kit with integrated digital decoding.

Helpfully, the Helios is multiregion, as far as DVD playback is concerned. This machine even manages to steal a high-def’ lead over Blu-ray and HD DVD by supporting an obscure yet impressive Chinese format called HVD, which stores 720p MPEG-2 on dual-layer DVD-ROMs. HVD software is sold on Neodigits’ Website and a disc or two will certainly become your DVD references at least until HD DVD and Blu-ray arrive. We checked out The Traveling Birds on a native 768p LCD and were floored by the stunning detail the player rendered from the disc.

Setting up the Helios is easy. Simple menus configure screen type, the internal 5.1 decoder and language options. We were impressed with a series of (back-lit) remote control buttons that select output formats and resolutions. As a result, it’s easy to make quick comparisons between the various modes to find the one that looks the best. In addition to 576i/p and 480i/p and 720p/1080i (50/60Hz) options are presets for VGA, SVGA, XGA and SXGA. A widescreen-XGA (1366 x 768) option for our LCD test screen would have been nice and we suspect many other owners of today’s widespread 768p LCDs would similarly appreciate being able to ‘pixel-match’ the player to the display. Although a 1080p option is available, few displays are as yet capable of accepting such signals. Still, it’s nice to have it up the sleeve.

The Helios has some curious foibles. For example, it displays subtitles by default. You can turn off subtitles from the language set-up menus, but sometimes this isn’t enough. When spinning Star Wars Episode III the subtitles refused to budge – neither the DVD’s own language options, menu option nor the handset’s subtitle button had any effect. Playback also ‘froze’ an hour or so into this movie. The only remedy was to reset the machine. Home-brewed DVDs aren’t handled too well, either. Playback ‘glitches’ and intermittent loss of lip-sync were noticed with several of our home-brewed (read compressed to single layer) DVDs. A pity, because pictures were generally fine with most dual layer films – especially via HDMI and even via the basic-quality supplied cable.

We also fed the Helios into a Hitachi PJ-TX100 LCD projector and configured it to operate in its 720p mode (the Hitachi is a 1280 x 720 design). The resulting picture was good, with a lack of obvious scaling or de-interlacing artefacts. Opting for 576p also gave results that were more than acceptable. Switching to the component (or, for that matter, S-video) output demonstrated a slight but noticeable drop in resolution compared to the HDMI feed, complex visual textures losing some of their impact.

Sound? From the digital output, performance is fine. Better-than-expected, in fact. The analogue outputs gave a worse account of themselves; although steering is good, there’s a ‘muddiness’ and lack of fine detail – especially during busy scenes.

The Helios HVD2085 is an unusual player that’s worth seeking out if your display is HD ready, your collection multiregion and you’re annoyed by trailers. It has a couple of glitches, especially with self-recorded DVDs, and there’s also a lack of support for MPEG-4. Still, it will push standard def’ video all the way up to 1080p and provides ‘at-a-glance’ presets to help determine how much video polish to apply.

NeoDigits today launched a free worldwide shipping promotion on the HVD2085.

Helios HVD2085 | $268 | | www.neodigits.com

For:  Excellent video quality for high-def’ screens – drives standard-fare DVD all the way to 1080p and is (Chinese HD DVD) HVD compatible. Skips trailers and is region code free.

Against:  Can’t add detail that isn’t there (not a true HD DVD player). Stalls on some home-baked DVDs and insists on subtitling some dual-layer commercial disks.

Verdict:  All ’round, an excellent offering for the price. High-def’ display owners holding out for next-gen DVD should be happy with the results in the meantime.