The front panel is divided by the large, powered access door for the disc carousel. Opening it grants access to about 40 of the 400 little slots (every fifth one is numbered to help you keep track), and pressing the Eject button spins the last played disc to the front and lifts it slightly, relative to the other discs--a slick system. On the left side of the front panel, you will find the unit's display; a power button; the keyboard port, so you can easily title discs; and a handful of buttons for player options and disc management.
On the right, in addition to the usual disc-transport buttons (Play, Stop, Rewind, and so on) and the menu access pad, are a thumb stick and a dial. The stick is used for arrow-key navigation, while the dial serves double duty as a disc selector and chapter shuttle. This dial is sensitive enough to advance 1 disc at a time, yet robust enough to handle a big spin. A nearby button lets you jump 100 discs at a time, saving wear and tear on the knob. When you're dealing with a 400-disc internal magazine, management is the name of the game. Don't expect to program the DVP-CX985V as easily as you did your MP3 library; this unit can't go to the Internet to find titles and other info. Instead, title and genre information must be manually entered either by attaching a standard PS2 computer keyboard (not included) or using a much more tedious "virtual keyboard."
The DVP-CX985V can keep 400 discs in memory, so as soon as you try to program info for disc number 401, anything you have stored for number 1 will be erased. Any memory slot can be customized with text of up to 16 characters, as well as a genre label such as Comedy or R&B. In addition, newer DVDs and CDs might display some artwork onscreen. Our copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had this feature, but most other discs--including recent titles--did not.
The unit's software lets you assign your media to six different folders: one for all DVDs, another for all CDs, and four more that you may customize as subgroups of the first two. It's a good idea, but not terribly well implemented; we had difficulty assigning discs to folders without causing them to start playing, and the delay when navigating the folder system is long enough to make you wonder if you remembered to press Enter. We found the folder system more useful for music than for DVDs; one folder could be party music, another could be romantic, make-sweet-love-down-by-the-fire tunes, and yet another could be relaxing classical and light jazz.
Sony equipped the DVP-CX985V with a complete set of outputs: digital audio in your choice of optical and coaxial, one progressive-scan component-video output, two each of composite and S-Video, and one set of analog 5.1-channel audio jacks for SACD. The PC keyboard jack is mounted on the front of the unit in the bottom-left corner. While the Sony DVP-CX985V is primarily a DVD player, it proved itself capable of handling all manner of discs--except DVD-Audio and DVD-RAM, of course. It played DVD-/+R and DVD-/+RW discs; SACDs; CD, CD-R, and CD-RW discs; and VCDs. It also read MP3s from our collection of data CDs, but it didn't recognize JPEG photos.
There were some hiccups along the way. Some of our home-burned DVDs made the Sony gag, and there were even a few instances where the machine couldn't tell it was looking at a commercial DVD or CD unless we specifically directed it to look again. The delay between discs was also noticeably longer than we are used to, but in all fairness, this is because the player has to do a lot more thinking than a smaller and less functional model would. Overall, though, we were pleased with day-to-day performance.
Video quality is on a par with that of other Sony progressive-scan players we've seen in the past, which is to say not that great. The boats in Star Trek: Insurrection, our favorite 2:3 pull-down test, showed a few moving lines as the camera pan paused for a moment, an indication that the player was prematurely dropping out of 2:3 processing mode. Like other Sonys, the DVP-CX985V did a great job downconverting anamorphic discs, but that's important only if you don't own a wide-screen set.
Sony also makes a high-end 400-disc changer, the DVP-CX777ES, with improved D/A converters for video and audio, as well as a brushed-aluminum finish and an RS-232 control port for interfacing with media controllers such as Escient's Fireball DVDM-100. Unless you need the control port or you really prefer the silver color scheme, the DVP-CX985V is definitely a better value.