Friday, August 12, 2022

Turn your DVD Player onn. - A Review of the $25 Wal-mart Wonder

DVD and DVD players were once considered necessities for gracious living.  The technology has been around for over 25 years now and remains the lowest common denominator of delivering film and television in a permanent (non-streaming) form to the masses.  Although the venerable disc format has been eclipsed by Blu-ray and more recently 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, some of us still find value in our DVD libraries, especially for those discs which have content unique to them or can only be put on a Blu-ray as an upscale.  And sometimes you need just a DVD player.  Wal-mart has a house brand called onn. which manufactures an inexpensive DVD player.  Last year I found I needed a DVD player to play discs on my CRT, having rediscovered the benefits of watching certain discs on a CRT, and saw that the onn. DVD Player was only $25 and decided to take a chance on it.  In this blog entry, I will relate how I discovered some rather pleasant surprises with this player with you.

Why bother with DVDs when you can simply rip the contents of any disc?  DVDs have menus, FBI warning screens, forced trailers, distributor logos, loading times and other annoyances that waste time until your video begins.  One reason is so you can display them on standard definition CRTs naturally without needing converters.  Ripping DVDs, while retaining their pertinent qualities, takes up hard drive space.  Streaming to a CRT is something that I need to investigate further.  I have previously expounded on the benefits of using a CRT to watch DVDs and I will not repeat that here.  In short, material originally shot on standard definition videotape is best experienced on a CRT, material originally on film is best experienced via LCD.

onn. DVD Player - Front (courtesy of

I own many DVDs from Regions 1 and 2 and I know that many DVD players have hidden codes that allow you to bypass region restrictions and select a region code that matches the disc's.  When I was looking for a player, I wondered whether I could find any cheap and locally which might have a region code hack.  I found some information which identified that the Wal-mart-band DVD player had a code hack and so I decided to take a gamble on that player.  There was no guarantee it would work, the firmware may have been updated or the code only worked on an old model.  For $25 it was not much of a risk and even if it did not work with Region 2 discs I still have many Region 1 discs that it could play.  For reference purposes the model number is 100008761 and it is still being sold online.

onn. DVD Player - Back (courtesy of

Let's get the basic specs out of the player of the way quickly, this player is a compact unit, measuring about 8" x 7" x 1" and weighs about a pound.  It has a tray loading DVD drive, four front buttons (text to speech, eject, play, power) and a 4-character 7-segment LED display for status.  The 46-key IR remote runs on 2xAAA batteries (included) and all functions are accessible from it.  An HDMI cable is included.  The back video/audio connections are HDMI, YPbPr Component Video, Composite Video, analog L/R audio and coaxial out.  CD Digital Audio playback is supported and compatibility is claimed with CD-R, CD-RW, DVD±R and DVD±RW.  The power cord is connected inside the unit by a two pin connector but ends in a USB plug.  There is a universal power adapter included which runs from 100-240v/50-60Hz and comes with US prongs.  The rating on the adapter is 5v/1.2A, so most charging bricks can be used as a substitute.  The front face is plastic and the top has a shiny metal finish which, once the plastic has been removed, can attract fingerprints.  The unit can be easily opened by removing two screws at the back.

Hidden Setup Menu - Region Select

The most obvious downside to this player is the DVD tray.  The tray is very shallow and the plastic is very thin.  Careless handling of the unit could break the tray, but when inserting a disc in the tray, you must make sure it is fully inserted.  If the disc gets caught on the outer groove, your disc or tray loading mechanism may become damaged as the tray retracts into the player.  My suggestion is to wiggle the disc gently by the spindle hole.  If the disc moves freely, then you are good to insert.  Most DVD-only players you can buy new have these thin trays, so this is not exclusive to Wal-mart's player.  Not many current DVD players come with component video outputs, so that is a plus.  The only features it is missing that other DVD players sometimes provide are a USB input and an S-Video port.

Setup Menu - TV System Select

Now for the positives.  The first positive is that the DVD region code hack I found for players like these worked perfectly with this player.  In order to get to the menu to select the region code, turn on the player and eject the DVD tray.  With the DVD tray ejected, press 5168 on your remote.  Ignore any "Invalid Key" messages while entering the code.  If you entered the code successfully, you will see this menu.  From there go up, press enter and you will be able to select your region code.  Exit out of this setup menu and then you can play discs from the appropriate region. You should note that the main hidden setup window always shows "Region 1" regardless of the current region setting.  The actual Region setting will show the correct region the player is set to in purple text.  Using the Test 0 selection seems to allow the player to play back discs from any region, but if you run into difficulties with a particular disc you may need to set it to the region it expects.  I have set the region at least 10 times since I bought the player, so there is no "five region changes limit" as there are on PC DVD and Blu-ray drives.

I have taken video frame capture samples of three of my DVDs, Dark Shadows: The Complete Collection, Genesis of the Daleks and Godzilla 2000.  Most of the discs in the Dark Shadows Collection have no region encoding and they are NTSC, Godzilla 2000 is also NTSC and Region 1 while Genesis of the Daleks is Region 2 and PAL.  I have laid each subject out with a composite capture, followed by a component capture and finally a digital video capture.  I also have taken screen captures of all the setup menu options, you can find them in this blog entry's album.  

Picture Quality Sample 1 (NTSC) - Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows Episode 295

What if you have a disc encoded with PAL settings (720x576, 25i) and only have an NTSC TV (720x480, 29.97i) or vice versa?  Fortunately for you this player can convert PAL video to NTSC video and NTSC video to PAL video.  Color is natively encoded on a DVD in the YCbCr 4:2:0 format using the mpeg2 codec, it is up to a DVD player to translate that color information into a PAL or an NTSC color signal.  Converting spatial resolution, reducing 576 lines to 480 lines or expanding 480 lines to 576 lines, and converting temporal resolution, by increasing 50 interlaced fields into 59.94 interlaced fields or reducing 59.94 interlaced fields into 50 interlaced fields, requires a great deal of processing power to do well, especially in real time.  The conversion by the onn. player will be adequate for most people, but eagle-eyed viewers will note some jerkiness during camera pans and scrolling credits.  

I have a CRT/DVD Combo device called the Insignia IS-TVDVD20A which also has a region free code (press 1389 with the tray open) and will convert PAL video to NTSC.  As the player is connected to an NTSC CRT, it does not have a setting to display PAL output natively.  Its NTSC to PAL conversion gives a poorer quality result than the onn. Player.  Scrolling credits will show visible artifacts as well as jerkiness and the VIDFire effect of 1960s Doctor Who DVDs is lost.  The onn. Player preserves these video elements even after conversion.  

Picture Quality Sample 2 (PAL) - Fourth Doctor, Genesis of the Daleks Episode 2

But what if you do not want to convert your video but instead watch it in its native format?  Well, fortunately for you this player supports both NTSC and PAL video generation.  If you set your player to PAL and insert a PAL disc, the player will output native PAL video.  The player will send a 50Hz signal via its outputs, and the color signal on the composite output will have PAL color encoding with a 4.43MHz color subcarrier.  Similarly if the player is set to NTSC and you are using an NTSC disc, your player will output a 59.94Hz signal, and an NTSC color encoded signal via composite video with a 3.58MHz color subcarrier.  NTSC and PAL will output a 59.94Hz and a 50Hz interlaced or progressive signals, respectively, from the component and HDMI outputs, but these outputs do not encode color in a format in which your TV cannot understand (assuming it has those inputs).  Component video gives a better quality picture than composite video, but if all your NTSC CRT has is composite inputs, then you will only be able to watch PAL video in black and white.  PAL CRTs tend to be multi-region and can understand the NTSC color signal.  

Picture Quality Sample 3 (Film) - Godzilla 2000

Watching PAL video on a NTSC CRT is a difficult task.  As mentioned above, NTSC CRTs do not generally understand the PAL color signal, so they will show the video in B&W.  Moreover, more modern NTSC CRTs will not accept 50Hz and will show a very fast rolling picture.  Older CRTs have accessible vertical hold controls controls which may compensate for the slower refresh, but more modern CRTs do not have anything accessible to the user. Finally, you will need to find a way to squeeze the image to that portion of the CRT viewable, PAL's higher vertical resolution will look stretched out and cropped on an NTSC CRT without adjustment.  

Godzilla 2000 Blu-ray Captures (US Cut Top, Japanese Cut Bottom)

The HDMI output can be active at the same time as the composite or the component output, but composite and component cannot be active at the same time or color purity issues will result.  HDMI will output content at its native 480i/576i or upscale video content to 480p/576p, 720p. 1080i or 1080p.  With 4:3 aspect ratio content, the player may stretch it inappropriately in 720 or 1080 modes, so using one of the 480/576 mode and letting your monitor perform the upscaling is the better choice for that content.  Your TV might have settings to adjust the aspect ratio, but they may not work with an HDMI signal.  Those HDMI options also affect the component video output, so be sure to turn the HDMI setting back to 480i/576i if you have used HDMI at another resolution and wish to use component with a standard definition CRT again.  

Setup Menu - HDMI Output

The video menu also has settings for CVBS, YUV and YPbPr.  Selecting CVBS (Composite Video Baseband Signal) sets the device to use its composite video output.  YUV and YPbPr affect the component outputs, and in the US the standard is YPbPr.  I think YUV is what Europe used, but Europe preferred SCART and its pure RGB signal until HDMI turned all analog video ports into legacy ports.  The HDMI Output and Video options have no effect with composite video, so you can use that output to fix your settings if component or HDMI video becomes garbled or unresponsive due to one of these settings.

Setup Menu - Video options
If you need a DVD Player and need multi-region capability, then the onn. DVD Player from Wal-mart is a steal.  It is a universal DVD player, takes up little space on the shelf, has good picture and sound quality and good enough PAL/NTSC conversion capabilities to satisfy most people.  While it lacks a bit in certain features, it is still readily available and has a confirmed DVD region code hack.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting points... I don't think I've watched one of the several hundred DVDs I packed away in several years. I still wonder about the VHS apocalypse of 2012 when our last player died and I decided it was time to move on.

    Of course... I also don't have time to even stream a quarter of the stuff I've added to my lists on the various services! I need more bandwidth.