Are Upconverting DVD Players Worth It?

I recently got a 32" LCD HDTV (720p), mostly for football. Anyway, I’m still using my PS2 as a DVD player (nearly seven years after I got it on launch day) and have yet to buy a standalone DVD player. Although DVDs look pretty good coming out of the PS2 now that I’m using component video, I was thinking of getting a DVD player and maybe using one of the HDMI inputs. (Of course, then I have the problem that I don’t have an optical in on my minisystem and would be stuck with getting audio from the speakers in the TV until I went and bought a new sound system.)

Most of the reviews for an upconverting DVD player on Amazon are quite bad, except for the ones that cost a couple hundred dollars, which is more than I would like to spend. I also have no interest in HD-DVD/Blu-Ray right now and am waiting until either the format war sorts itself out or someone comes out with a cheap player that can play both. Anyone got any advice?

If you had a decent progressive scan DVD player currently I would say to not bother upgrading to an “Upcovert” player. Especially on a 720p 32" set. You probably wouldn’t notice a difference.
However, since you are using a 7-year old DVD player built into your PS2 I’d say you may want to upgrade to something nicer. For $100 you can get a Sony progressive scan upconverting DVD player with HDMI and optical output that’s going to have a lot of features your PS2 won’t have.

My TV already upconverts, maybe yours already does too.

If you’re able to play DVDs, I’d lay off until you’re ready to buy a HD-DVD even if it is a couple years away.

HDMI isn’t going to make a lick of difference over component video. Component video handles anything that a regular DVD player is going to throw at it (and probably anything a HD DVD).

The only thing a new DVD player is going to get you that your PS2 doesn’t have is progressive scan. I don’t think the upgrade in going to progressive is really worth it, even for $50. It’s just tossing money away.

We recently bought a 42" 1080p TV, and tried playing DVDs through a PS2 (via standard RCA) and a regular progressive scan DVD player (through component, of course). The PS2 looked like crap, and was having trouble with some of the anamorphic widescreen conversion. The prog scan was much better than that, but still didn’t blow me away on picture. It looked good, but not really to the point I wanted the TV to take advantage of it.

So I went and bought a relatively cheap LG upconvert player ($80 on sale at a big box that week), and hooked it up via HDMI.

The difference blew us away. The image was sharp and bright, truer blacks, no weird aliasing or boxing like even the prog scan was giving. Now we sometimes choose movies simply to marvel in how they look. It really is beautiful. We do have to run sound through the TV instead of the surround, but that’s much more a function of having an older receiver that can’t adjust its sync to the inevitable buffer delay of a big LCD TV than anything else. Thankfully, our TV has surprisingly decent speakers, including a half-way convincing virtual bass.

Granted, I’m looking on a larger screen capable of higher resolution, and your experience on a smaller 720p screen may not be quite so dramatic. But I think that if you can part with $80-90 or so, it couldn’t hurt.

Something I forgot to add, and I missed the edit window:
Yes, TVs have some ability to upconvert on their own, and yes, prog scan is the most important function of upconverting. But component video is crippled at higher resolutions out of fears over high image quality disc copying. Virtually all major-brand HDMI outputting products have HDCP compliance, which is admittedly evil as sin, but means that the video output is not crippled into your TV at no more than 480p.

For what it’s worth, I’ve decided I want to go “home theater in a box.” Considering the cost of an upconverting DVD player by itself and the fact that my minisystem was never really meant to work with today’s technology (it’s got plenty of analog audio in and plenty of power, but no digital connections except an optical out), on top of being just a 2.1 (and the .1 can be iffy at times) seems to make it worth-while. I’ve seen good reviews about the Philips HTS3555, which I can get for about $200 elsewhere. Only problem is that it’s coax-in for the digital audio while my TV is toslink-out, meaning I either have to buy a converter box and an extra cable (at probably $30 total), at which point it’s almost worth it to spend a bit more for one that has toslink-in. The iPod dock is a nice touch, but I could live without it. (I’d have to take my iPod out of its case every time I wanted to use the dock.) Any suggestions for keeping it under $300 and still getting a good system?

Why do you need an audio connection between the TV and the home theatre system? The DVD player is already built into the system.
What is your primary video source? Cable box, satellite box, antenna? Why not run the audio from the cable/satellite box directly to the HT system? No need to go through the TV.

Simple. The HD comes from my OTA antenna, the rest of the TV comes SD from the dish’s DVR. The receiver box is at the other end of the house (long story, having to do with various location problems) and I can’t move everything around to get A/V out of the box; besides, it’d all be analog. No receivers that I see have F-type coax in. If I want audio going to the home theater speakers from the HD antenna, it has to be digital out from the TV back into the receiver. I’d have to do the same for analog out from the other sources. The picture quality on my TV is great but the speakers leave something to be desired, hence my desire to get audio output into the home theater.