With very few exceptions, the NS325 is the spitting image of its predecessor, the NS315, in both looks and features. The unit is available in silver and black; the model name indicates the color with a /S or a /B. The player's styling is minimalist, with only two highlights: to the left is the disc tray, and on the right is a small cluster of controls, including a fast-forward/rewind dial. The medium-size remote is comfortable, has a decent button layout, and controls Sony televisions. The onscreen setup menu proved easy to access and navigate.
The NS325's DVD connectivity options are standard, although its only digital-audio hookup is coaxial, not optical. Sony bolstered the otherwise basic feature package with five video and four audio preset modes, a six-disc-resume memory, and black-level adjustability.
One of the player's strong suits turned out to be media compatibility. The NS325 effortlessly booted every DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, VCD, MP3 disc, and standard-audio CD-R we threw at it, including some that tripped up other decks. Better still, most loaded in just a couple of seconds; even our less than optimal, home-burned test discs skipped their usual interminable spin-up time. Our MP3 selections provided easy folder navigation and luxurious, 32-character track names, but no random or shuffle playback is available. If you want to listen to WMA music files or view JPEG photos, look elsewhere; the NS325 can't handle either.
When it comes to general video quality, the NS325 exhibited the high level we've come to expect from most DVD decks. But we were extremely impressed by this Sony's excellent anamorphic downconversion. In this process, a player converts the image from an anamorphic, or Enhanced For Widescreen, DVD to fit a standard 4:3 TV. Most DVDs are anamorphic, but people usually watch them on non-wide-screen sets, so this performance issue, though often overlooked, is important. Lots of players do a poor job.
The thatched and angled roofs of the Star Trek: Insurrection opening wreak havoc with the majority of our test models, but the NS325 displayed smooth surfaces and well-defined lines with significantly fewer stair-step artifacts and unnatural undulations. But note that neither wide-screen TVs nor 4:3 sets with vertical compression, a.k.a. anamorphic squeeze, benefit from the NS325's conversion prowess.
If you don't need progressive-scan video or support for JPEG-photo discs, the NS325 is an overall good choice, and we particularly recommend it to 4:3 TV owners who want a budget player that delivers optimal anamorphic-DVD image quality.