I'm finding it harder and harder to review DVD players lately. Technology is constantly updated, and features once reserved for only higher-end players are now being found at almost entry-level prices. That's not to say that high-end players don't have their merits, but rather that the gap is definitely getting smaller. As DVD presses forward, companies are really going to have to pull out all the stops to justify the high prices on their equipment, because some of the low priced units are very good.
Denon's line of players spans a wide price range. I took the opportunity to review their top of the line player, the DVD-9000, to complement their new flagship receiver, the AVR-5803. Like the 5803, this player has features out the kazoo and is really aimed at the serious home theater buff. One of its most distinguishing features is a proprietary digital link that lets you feed the 5803 a digital bitstream from DVD-A discs played in the 9000. From fit and finish to performance, there isn't much it's lacking in any department.
If looks could kill
Immediately when you take the player out of the box you're going to notice that it is heavy. I mean really heavy. It easily outweighs almost every DVD player that I've ever used. While weight isn't necessarily an indication of quality, it does show that the chassis and circuitry are quite solid and probably offer almost zero resonance. I think I have only seen one other player near this heft and that is the Panasonic H-1000.
The player's trim is very elegant with a very solid feel and appearance. All the buttons and knobs feel sturdy and seem like they would last longer than this format ever will. The layout is anything but minimal, with both the panel and the front display having ample information. There are the normal command buttons as well as a few new dials for pure direct modes and source modes that we'll get to later.
On the back of the unit are some goodies as well. This player covers about all the bases. There are two composite video outputs, two S-Video outputs, and a component video output capable of both progressive and interlaced video. There are eight analog audio output pairs, two pairs for the mains and one pair for each other channel. These are used for DVD-A playback or if you choose to use the 9000's DACs for some of the listening. There is an RS-232 input for those who wish to control the player using a remote system such as Creston or AMX. Of course there is also a digital optical output as well as a digital coaxial output, but for the first time in my experience there are digital inputs as well, both optical and coaxial. This feature enables you to use the DACs in the player for other components if you feel it may perform better than your processor or receiver. Even if you are running a pretty high-end receiver or a decent pre/pro, I would suggest that you definitely try out the player's DACs.
It's all in the processor
As good as the looks and build of the player are, it's really the guts that matter. Denon has decided to once again utilize a Silicon Image deinterlacer for their progressive outputs, which is the SiI504 and MC504. For information about the Silicon Image deinterlacers and other variants please see our DVD Benchmark.
Unfortunately, the Silicon Image chip wasn't the only thing that came with the first player they sent to me. The chroma bug was also present. Luckily, Denon has since remedied this. Just a while after the first unit, Denon sent me a new one employing an updated MPEG decoder that did not have the chroma bug. Then they wrote a software fix for the MPEG decoder version in the 9000s already out there, which eliminates the bug. Therefore, anyone who has a 9000 with the bug can get the fix by contacting Denon. This is the route I would recommend, since the original player had absolutely no Y/C delay at all, while the new MPEG decoder introduced a full pixel (74ns) Y/C delay, which causes problems of its own. However, even this latter issue could be taken care of in a future software fix. For $3,500, this player appears to be one that Denon plans on maintaining.
There are some other nice features on the video side of the player. The SiI504 can perform basic aspect ratio control on a progressive image, so those of you with televisions that lock into full mode with a 480p signal can still have the correct geometry with 4:3 and non-anamorphic encoded DVDs. It does this by adding gray bars to the sides of the image. This means a non-anamorphic DVD will have gray bars on the left and right, and black bars on the top and bottom. Unfortunately, this is your only option for playback, as there are no black side bars available.
The player also has a feature where you can force the player to either be a flag-based (Mode 2) or a cadence-based (Mode 1) player. This is an excellent tool to compare the two modes of processing with difficult material. Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) have been flag-based for some time and do poorly with DVDs that are flagged incorrectly. If you read our DVD reviews, you'll find that most of the studios at this time are having a lot of problems when it comes to flagging their discs correctly. I would recommend using Mode 1 which correlates to the cadence-based detection. Again, you can find more on this in our Benchmark. The Silicon Image chip did an excellent job with video-based material, and I hardly ever noticed combing. It is a vast improvement over the Genesis-based players I've used from other companies, and it is a very close competitor to the Faroudja deinterlacer.
Click HERE to Go To Part 2 - The Test Results