Pioneer's DV-59AVi is an exceptional universal player, co-winner (with Denon's
DVD-3910) of Secret's 2004 DVD player of the year award. In addition, it has
already undergone the battery of video tests by Kris Deering in the DVD
Benchmark, so why a more detailed review now? Well, it is still Pioneer's
flagship player, and one of the best available at any price. Also, the audio
performance will be covered in this review. Lastly, I
had received the DV-59AVi with Pioneer's flagship receiver, the
VSX-59TXi, and it
makes for an excellent digital transport.
While not having the monstrous heft of the mid to upper level Denon players, the Pioneer still feels very solidly built. It weighs in at 12 pounds 2 ounces, in an average size frame. The faceplate is clean, and of course, a perfect match with the other black Pioneer Elite products.
The front panel has a minimal number of buttons and controls. The power switch is Standby/Off with no hard switch. The button size and placement are excellent, with an oversized Play button which is easy to find in the dark. Stop, Open/Close, and Track Fwd/Rev round out the navigation controls. In addition, there is a Progressive/Interlaced selector and a Pure Audio control which disables all output except analog audio. Both buttons have a corresponding LED indicator to let you know when they are active. There is an additional indicator which lets you know the i.LINK connection is active. iLink lets you send digital DVD-A signals to receivers that have iLink inputs and appropriate decoding capabilities.
The display is amber like the Pioneer receivers. Non-character indicators are quite small and minimal. They include: 5.1 Source, Progressive, DD, DTS, SRS, and GUI (menu on-screen). The character display handles the rest of the duties . . . well almost everything else. There is no indication for SACD or DVD-A playback (other than the generic 5.1 indicator), which is an unfortunate omission. When you use the i.LINK connection with a Pioneer receiver, this isn't an issue, since the information is passed to the receiver display, and displayed on the character screen there.
The rear panel has two composite video, two S-Video, one set of component video, one iLink, and one HDMI output for the video, along with a stereo analog pair and a set of 5.1 analog audio outputs. There is also one coaxial digital audio output and one iLink output. The AC cord is two prong (non-grounded), detachable. The iLink can carry full SACD and DVD-A signals, while HDMI can carry only stereo digital audio.
Compatibility and Formats
An increasingly popular question people ask is compatibility with burned DVDs. The manual lists the 59AVi as being compatible with DVD-R and –RW but makes no mention of DVD+R. I verified –R compatibility with Memorex 8X single layer DVD-R media. It appears as though DVD+R will also play, as I was able to use TDK 4X single layer DVD+R and Memorex 8X single layer DVD+R media successfully.
I have been listening to MP3s quite a
bit for background music, and I have DVDs filled with MP3s that I use mostly in
my car. While the 59AVi supports MP3 playback on CD-R, that is about it. No
WMA, and no DVDs with MP3 or any other compressed format. Also missing is
compatibility with Photo CD. It does support DVD-Audio, SACD, and Super VCD in
addition to the standard Redbook CD and DVD-Video.
The remote is above average, being easy to use but missing a couple of functions. All buttons are glow in the dark, clearly marked and nicely spaced. My favorite feature is the jog dial with center mounted joystick, making it easy to navigate both the menus and discs.
There is also a little section for very
basic TV functions near the bottom. The Play Mode button takes you to an
on-screen display for controlling things like looping, program list, random, repeat,
etc. So what is missing? Well, the biggest omission is discreet power
on and off buttons, and this makes programming and using macros on a learning remote
problematic. There are no buttons for selecting SACD set-up, Progressive Scan,
Pure Audio, or the HDMI output type and formats. Overall, though, it is a good
The set-up menus are beautifully executed on the 59AVi. All options are logically laid out in six groups. There are nice graphics and an easy quick Set-up Navigator for newbies.
The video picture adjustments are quite complete, including: two Noise Reduction types, Sharpness High and Low, Hue, Gamma, Chroma Level, Chroma Delay (to correct any Y/C delay on player or display), Black Level, and White Level. In addition, there is HDMI color adjustment for Color Intensity (use for DVI studio levels), and presets optimized for CRT, plasma, or professional monitor. Under this initial settings area, there are more options for selecting TV type (4:3 Letterbox, 4:3 Pan&Scan, 16:9 Wide or 16:9 Compressed), and Analog Video Output (S-Video or component). This was my first experience with a Pioneer DVD player and I found everything in the menus that I needed, quickly and easily.
The audio side has a couple of interesting features. There is a Hi-bit option to expand 16 bit sources to 20 bits and something called Legato Pro. Under the notes in the manual it says Legato Pro engages over-sampling processing.
Instead of just on and off, you can select one of four sound bias effects: 1)
forward and live sound, 2) bright and lively, 3) soft and rich, 4) solid and
well balanced. The effects are applied only to the front right and left channels. There
are settings for Speaker Size and Channel Level for all channels. While
levels are adjustable in 0.5 dB increments, the range is only
instead of the standard
10 dB. With the Small speaker setting, a fixed
crossover is applied to the channels, including SACD. However the delay adjustment is not
applied to SACD (this is common, as it is necessary to convert SACD to PCM before
delay can be added).
The player has already undergone rigorous video testing by Kris Deering, and
here are the DV-59AVi Benchmark Results. What you want to take away from the
tests is that the player does not feature Faroudja processing. While this
means it will not have any macro blocking evident on some of the players with
Faroudja, it also means it isn't quite as good with video-based material.
While I used it without issue with the component video output, the real reason to get this
player above many others is the core performance with HDMI which can be output
at 480i. This essentially makes it an ideal match for outboard processing.
I won't spend nearly as much time in this area as I normally do, simply
because I used the i.LINK digital connection almost exclusively. In my
corresponding review for the Pioneer Elite VSX-59TXi receiver, I had nothing
but lavish praise for the sound, which was being fed by the i.LINK from this
player. Really, using the i.LINK with the receiver was so far head and
shoulders above what I had heard before in my room, I had no desire for
anything less. However, in the interest of completeness I will touch on the
sound through the analog section as well. Thankfully, this is nowhere near an
Achilles heel for the player, with sound quality bordering on outstanding. I
can't say in absolute terms how it stacks up in regards to the other players I
have listened to, as my entire sound chain has changed. However, when compared
to the absolutely stellar sound of the 59TXi receiver, it held up very well. The upper
midrange was just a little thicker, and the upper end a bit less open, but
those are more differences than complaints. There was no digital glare or
harshness, and the sound was excellent overall. Its biggest weaknesses were its
fixed crossover point and no delay for SACD, so you are far better off using
the i.LINK digital connection if at all possible.
The Pioneer DV-59AVi may not be number one in every category, but it is the
top choice for high-end setups using it as a digital transport. If you are
looking for an excellent source to feed your video processor, the 480i
digital output over HDMI is this player's trump card. The inclusion of the
digital i.LINK connection capable of carrying all your audio information
(including SACD and DVD-A) just sweetens the deal. If you have a display
that doesn't play well with some of the Faroudja players (and see
macro-blocking) or have outboard video processing, this should be your
shortlist when shopping for your next