An informative blue display can be set to dim after 5 seconds of play, but you can't turn it off completely. The setup menus are straightforward, and a Quick Setup option is included for those who want to avoid the more advanced process.
The remote is the same generic-looking, many-buttoned affair included with last year's DVD-RP62. It gets the job done, and you can differentiate the main keys by feel, but there's no illumination, and we would have liked better placement of the zoom control and a couple of other useful keys. Aside from progressive-scan playback, which requires a digital television to work, the DVD-S35S's main claim to fame is its ability to play CDs filled with JPEG files, as well as MP3 and WMA files.
You can navigate a disc of both digital stills and music using a familiar Windows-like file tree. MP3 functionality is impressive. A big menu displays filenames up to 32 characters long, and the deck can randomly play an entire disc of MP3 tracks. The search function will comb a disc for whatever filename you enter. The unit's ability to play JPEG stills is among the best we've seen. It defaults to a slide show that you can adjust to display each picture for 1 to 30 seconds. Shots take only 2 to 3 seconds each to load, and MP3 and JPEG discs themselves take 10 to 30 seconds to load.
The DVD-S35S doesn't have aspect-ratio control; players that do (such as the JVC XV-S502SL) will better serve wide-screen sets that can't resize progressive-scan material, especially nonanamorphic and full-screen 4:3 video. The DVD-S35S's zoom function includes three levels of magnification for 16:9 TVs and five for 4:3 sets. It's designed to help viewers eliminate letterbox bars, but the trade-off is that zooming cuts the left and right edges off the picture and reduces image quality.
A couple of other bonuses are on hand, such as very useful subtitle brightness and position adjustments. Three picture presets are provided, along with a 6-second Quick Replay and a feature that remembers your custom resume points for up to five discs.
On the back panel you'll find the now standard selection of jacks, including composite, S-Video, and component-video outputs; a stereo analog-audio output; and an optical digital jack. To switch the component-video output between interlaced and progressive-scan mode, you must stop the disc and delve into the menu system. In our tests, the DVD-S35S proved compatible with a wider range of test discs than any other player we've seen to date. We were pretty surprised when it played one of the more problematic DVD-RWs we have. It also plowed through every other disc in our library, including DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, DVD+RWs, DVD-RAMs, and various discs filled with JPEG and MP3 files.
We moved on to the trusty Video Essentials test disc to evaluate the unit's progressive-scan playback, and we came away generally impressed. Resolution measured out to the full extent of the DVD format, and 3:2 pull-down worked well to eliminate interlaced artifacts. The one problem came when we looked at the waving American flag to test video de-interlacing ability. The DVD-S35S didn't perform this feat quite as well as the older DVD-RP62, and we saw slight stair-stepping patterns along the flag's edges.
The DVD of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial provided more evidence of the DVD-S35S's video capability. The scene in which Eliot and the kids confront E.T. in the closet looked good, and there was lots of three-dimensional detail on the alien's skin as it stretches toward the light. The stuffed animals' fur had plenty of realistic depth. A view out over the town was rendered cleanly, with no movement in the rooftops.
Like most players we've seen, the DVD-S35S didn't do the best job converting anamorphic or Enhanced For Widescreen DVDs for display on normal televisions. A pan over some haystacks revealed subtle movement artifacts and a crawling effect. But this won't be a problem if you're watching on a wide-screen TV or a 4:3 TV with vertical compression (a.k.a. 16:9 mode on some sets and 16:9 Enhanced mode on Sony sets), and the trouble is much less visible on smaller TVs.