TAG McLaren DVD32R
DVD Transport

The first DVD player to emerge from F1 supremo TAG McLaren gets the T3 testing treatment

Go into any supermarket nowadays, and between the bananas and the spaghetti will be a DVD player for under £200. So why would anyone in their right mind shell out four grand for a DVD player - especially one that you can't even hook up directly to a TV?

One look at the TAG McLaren DVD32R will convince you that £3,995 is very reasonable for a DVD spinner. Oh, and the fact that you need an extra £2,750 or so for the matching decoder and even more for the power amplifiers and speakers - who cares? If you have the cash, this is the supreme DVD player.

TAG McLaren Audio rose out of the ashes of a good but stuffy hi-fi brand called Audiolab, whose products had all the style of a crispbread and were decked out in a pleasing shade of drab. Enter the TAG group, best known for making Formula One cars and slick, shiny wrist-watches and the result is products like the DVD32R.

It's a top-loading DVD player, with the disc sitting inside a floating transport mechanism beneath a shiny stabiliser puck. This is covered by a solid curved alloy lid that slides aside with the sort of calm assurance found in bits of hi-tech military gear. Add to that the brushed alloy finish and the sheer weight of the player and the DVD32R suddenly looks like the sort of fiendish device Dr Evil might use to destroy the free world.

Despite the look, feel and price tag, this is not designed as a complete DVD player. It lacks all the processing that converts the digital audio datastream into two or more channels that a TV or an amplifier could deal with. The TAG boffins feel this is the only way to get the best possible digital audio sound. There are quite a few top-price CD transport and converter hi-fi combinations on the market; this is just a logical extension of that idea.

You could, in theory, partner the DVD32R with just about any AV amplifier with a digital input, but the TAGtronic bus connection that links the DVD player to other TAG products really ties it in with TAG McLaren kit and in particular, the AV32R home cinema processor and 100x5R multi-channel power amplifier.

Although it doesn't use a separate laser for CD and DVD replay like some, the 32R is designed with music very much in mind - in comparison, most DVD players do a very poor job at replaying CD. It's no slouch in the cinema department, though; it has a built-in video pattern generator to help optimise the picture to the player and it's one of the few DVD players to have received the top THX Ultra approval from Lucasfilm. It's just a shame Star Wars isn't on DVD yet...

This DVD transport starts off good and keeps going. The images it produces are about the best you'll see on a TV screen or through a projector, unless you work in a TV studio. Whatever you play, there is a richness and depth to the picture that makes it look like a reel or 35mm film instead of a polycarbonate disc. And the more you watch, the more detail you begin to pick out - it's a subtle, but extremely rewarding process.

The sound is similarly sensational, although it's slightly harder to tell on many films because they are recorded with such an over-the-top balance. In fact, a good CD is the crucial test. Here, the DVD32R makes every other DVD player - and a good many CD players - sound like they have been sat on and the speakers stuffed with old socks. It simply drips class, whatever CD or DVD you stick in it.

There's only one limitation. It cannot support DVD-Audio or SACD. But we're informed there'll be a DVD-Audio upgrade by the end of the year, even if that involves open-case surgery.

DVD and the DVD32R combine together so well that a £15,000 home cinema system suddenly seems completely logical. To try it is to buy it (well, second-mortgage-your-house it): you have been warned...

FEATURES

Top loading DVD player that's built like a missile silo, floating transport mechanism increases isolation, TAGtronic bus to link to other TAG products, THX-Ultra approved, upgradable firmware, built-in picture optimisation, designed for top-class AV systems only. No built-in digital to analogue audio decoders