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DVD--The Next Generation

[check] DVD players seem to have found their niche in the home entertainment market, and the discs are beginning to sell briskly and coexist in video rental outlets with VHS casettes. The price gap between tapes and discs--roughly 25% on new releases--does not seem to be a deterrent for those who seek sharper pictures and better sound, and the studios are rushing hundreds of titles out to give consumers wider options. Meanwhile, the players have dropped in price to the point where they are readily affordable for the most basic models, and the premium ones are commanding higher prices as they continue to add elements that viewers find appealing.

Along these lines, the DV-S717 from Onkyo USA Corp., Ramsey, N.J., offers a wide variety of video and audio features that set it off from early models. The remote control unit--swimming against the tide of making such devices more complicated than the instrument panel of a jetliner--is laid out neatly and economically, with the buttons in a logical and easily accessible configuration. The fast forward mode allows one to run the movie at two, eight, or 30 times normal speed, depending on whether the aim is to search carefully for a scene or get to a later one rapidly. At the other extreme, it is possible to advance the picture one frame at a time in slow motion by using the jog shuttle. Alternatively, the disc memory can return to the exact spot the movie was stopped at, even days later; store one time location on up to three discs; find a specific scene if the exact time within the movie is known; or, by punching in a repeat setting before and after a specific segment, it is possible to rerun that part of the film as often as desired.

On the audio side, faint peripheral sounds can be enhanced so they may be heard even when the overall volume is lowered. The player can operate as a CD player as well, with the ability to set it to play music selections in whatever order is desired, randomly, or in the sequence that already exists on the disc.

A special black enhancer adjusts that portion of the spectrum, making the other colors "pop" for maximum effect. At the same time, using the dimmer button to tone down the LCD display reduces the distraction of the frame counter and/or clock flashing numbers while the movie is being watched. Finally, for those concerned with what their kids may be viewing when there is no one home to supervise them, a parental-lock control can eliminate sex and/or violence, or even bar the playing of specific discs altogether. This feature is dependent upon the disc being encoded for the lockout function.

The sole issue we had with the DV-S717 is that, at a suggested retail price of $899.95, it is just digital ready, not fully Dolby digital with a built-in converter. Therefore, it requires a separate receiver with a Dolby or DTS decoder for five-speaker home theater sound, adding to the total cost. Nevertheless, the various advancements Onkyo has introduced make this an excellent player for those seeking maximum picture quality. Careful shopping at home electronics stores will, of course, enable savvy consumers to take a healthy chunk out of the final price.

Sesame Is the Place

If there's anything better than watching your kids delight to the educational antics of Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, The Count, and Bert and Ernie on television, it's having your children meet the characters of "Sesame Street" in person. The Sesame Place theme park in Langhorne, Pa., makes it all possible.

Almost ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary (as the award-winning PBS program gears up for its 30th birthday), Sesame Place packs 15 water attractions, more than 50 stimulating play activities, a new roller coaster, and live musical revues and entertainment shows into its 14-acre layout. And no matter what, don't miss the all-new Pet Pal show (using animals rescued from shelters) or the Rock Around the Block parade, with big-time floats and many of your offspring's favorite "Sesame Street" friends taking part.

A popular spot to meet all those characters up close and personal is the "Sesame Neighborhood," a full-size, outdoor re-creation of the television show set. For preschoolers, especially, the neighborhood is magic because they don't perceive that someone is dressed up as their favorite "Sesame...

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