Denon DVD-2900 Universal DVD Player - Supplement to the Benchmark Review January, 2004 Kris Deering
Denon has always been synonymous with offering the very latest and best high end features out there. They have always been on the forefront of design and incorporation, and were one of the first to offer high end progressive DVD players, pure digital high resolution audio connections, and the newest cutting edge surround sound formats. Now they have ventured into the universal player market with the DVD-2900. What is interesting though is their rather late start in this market.
Several manufacturers have been offering universal players for some time now, including Pioneer, Yamaha, and Marantz. The problem though has been the lack of features with some of these players, especially in their audio setup.
Pioneer is probably the standout, as they have a digital interconnect
solution for their receivers that allows use of a Pioneer DVD player
outputting digital SACD and DVD-A signals. Denon has this as well on their flagship
player, the DVD-9000, but it does not offer SACD playback.
Other areas that have been lacking with universal players are bass management and time alignment, which are absolutely essential for proper playback of high resolution audio and multi-channel tracks. While the Denon DVD-2900 moves towards a solution, it isn't perfect yet. I'll go more into this later in the review.
The 2900 looks to be based on a relatively similar chassis to the 2800. It is larger than most DVD players, and the fit and finish are quite nice. On the front you'll find the normal interface buttons such as Open/Close, Play, Pause, Stop, Skip, and so forth. But you'll also find a knob for the SACD function. This allows the user to select what type of track they want from SACD: multi-channel or two-channel stereo. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, as many players I have used require you to go into the player's setup menu to select the appropriate playback mode.
The back panel has a bevy of connections, including component, S-Video, and composite. There are two digital outputs, one RCA and one Toslink. For audio analog outputs there are six RCA connections. These are used for DVD audio, SACD, or the built-in Dolby digital or DTS decoders.
Click on photo above to see larger version.
The remote is the same as Marantz's new universal player. It is a medium sized remote with decent tactile feel. Unfortunately it doesn't light up, but it does have some keys that glow in the dark. Navigating the remote isn't difficult, but there are a lot of keys that all feel the same and would be hard to access in a dark room.
Denon has definitely produced an outstanding video section for this player, following in the footsteps of the very successful DVD-1600. However, the 2900 incorporates the MPEG decoder used by Pioneer for so long that was made by Mitsubishi. As our benchmark tests have shown, this decoder suffers from the chroma bug quite badly. Denon was well aware of this and approached Mitsubishi about it, demanding that the chip be fixed before implementation. Sure enough, the problem was addressed and the bug was eliminated, for the most part. Unfortunately the techs at Mitsubishi could not eliminate the problem for discs with alternating progressive flags. This is the same problem we saw with the Krell DVD Standard DVD Player. It causes some slight flickering in solid colors similar to Faroudja based players that have the CCS filter on. It also causes banding in video based material.
Otherwise, the 2900 is quite a solid player, offering excellent color exhibition and a very film-like image. The 2900 is a descendant of the 2800 and uses the Silicon Image 504 deinterlacer which does a phenomenal job with film based material on DVD. It doesn't quite match the Faroudja though with video material, so you may see some jaggies on occasion. For more about the video performance of this player, you can refer to our benchmark report published previously.
Now on to the audio section. The 2900 features full digital bass management for DVD-A and SACD. You can find this on several other universal players, but this is the first I have had personally that allows it with a realistic crossover setting on ALL channels. Bass management is crucial for proper listening as there are few people out there who actually have full range speakers.
There is also time alignment for DVD-A, but unfortunately not for SACD. The new 5900 addresses this but requires the DSD signal to be converted to PCM in order to implement it (conversion of SACD signals to PCM before decoding is very common in universal players so far).
The audio setup is exactly the same as the previous DVD-3800 and 9000. The menu system is very easy to use and steps you through for the most part. For DVD-A and SACD, the 2900 has the selection for multi-channel or two-channel setup depending on your configuration. For those with both, you can set up the multi-channel selection and use that for two-channel playback. I never had any issues going about it that way.
What causes the controversy though is the subwoofer setup in relation to the other channels. Denon addressed the industry concern of soundtracks being ramped up by 10 dB in studio recorders. Because of this, the subwoofer output level is 10 dB lower than the other channels. I compensated for this by leaving the sub level at 0 and setting all the other channels to -10. From there, I set the appropriate levels using a test disc and sound meter. I don't use the test tones built-into the Denon but rather the ones provided by Chesky on their DVD-A sampler. This assures me that the chain is good all the way through. I was able to get my channels all set appropriately this way, but I have heard that some consumers are still unable to get theirs correctly set. Again, this has been addressed in the new 5900 and hopefully further improvements in Denon future offerings.
Performance with DVD-A and SACD was outstanding. I have been using the Denon 9000 as my reference for DVD-A for quite some time now. The 2900 doesn't quite match its level of performance, but comes extremely close. Imaging and tonal balance provide a very convincing soundstage. I thought the detail in the higher end was a bit better with the 9000 though. This becomes evident in cymbals and vocals.
The low end is just as robust as any player I've used and still amazes me now. I had the 2900 at the same time as the new Marantz 8400 so I did a lot of comparison listening between the two. The low end is just more pronounced and detailed on the Denon by my ear. This may be due to the limited bass management capability of the Marantz though. It didn't even come near the consistency of the Denon in this area. The 2900 midrange was also very good, but the Marantz edged it out in overall soundstage depth and detail. However, it was a very close call on this. If picking between the two I would recommend the Denon due to the better bass management and overall setup features. However, if you have a true full range speaker system and perfect speaker placement, the Marantz may be a better way to go.
CD playback was good from the Denon, but I found that sending the PCM signal through the digital output and letting my Anthem processor do the work resulted in a much better listening experience. Those with higher end receivers and processors should always try it both ways and let your own ear decide.
The Denon DVD 2900 is the best universal player I've tested yet. There are some very nice offerings out there, but due to constraints in setup, this is the one I would recommend the most. The fit and finish are excellent, and the performance is wonderful. Denon is definitely on the right track here, and I am very excited to see what features their next players add.
- Kris Deering -
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