Product Review

Denon DVD-5900 Universal DVD Player - Supplement to the Benchmark Review

February, 2004

Kris Deering


Click on photo above to see larger version.


● DCDi by Faroudja FLI-2310 Decoding Engine
● New ESS Vibrato "Chroma Bug Free" MPEG/DVD-Audio Decoder
● Sony CXD-2753 Second Generation DSD Decoder
● Dual 12 bit D/A Video Converters
● Burr-Brown 24-bit, 192-kHz PCM/DSD 1790 Audio DACs
● Digital Bass Management for DVD-A and SACD
● Digital Time Alignment for DVD-A and SACD
● Outputs: DVI-D-HDCP, Coaxial Digital, Toslink Optical Digital, Firewire Digital, Denon Link Digital, 5.1 Analog Audio
● Size: 5.5" H x 17.1" W x 17" D
● Weight: 27.7 Pounds
● MSRP: $2,000 USA

Denon Electronics


DVD players have come a long way since their inception. It amazes me how consumer electronics companies can always find new ways to spin off existing products. I don't know how many times I have bought a player thinking, “That's it, I finally have the one that will last me!” only to find out that they have developed some new feature that is a must-have next year.

First it was DTS, then it was progressive scan, then it was motion adaptive progressive scan with no chroma bug, then it was DVD-Audio (DVD-A) and so on and so on. Now we have progressive scan and scaling, plus digital video outputs and SACD support.

Knowing what I do now, I still see room for further innovations that could creep along, keeping the market afloat for us hardcore enthusiasts.

Denon's newest player, the DVD-5900, puts most of the features available today into a pretty hefty package and manages to subdue my constant itch for an upgrade. This player packs just about every punch DVD has to offer and performs most of them quite admirably. Characterizing itself as the “Flagship” of Denon's universal player line, the 5900 has the features and build you would expect to be just that . . . a flagship product. We performed the DVD Benchmark tests on the 5900 a while back, and the present report will provide some additional findings.

The Design

The 5900 is cosmetically a standout player, and you should expect this in a $2,000 component. The chassis is a bit of a fusion between the DVD-2900/2800 series and the DVD-9000. At about 27 pounds in weight, it has definite heft, but it isn't quite the tank the DVD-9000 was (close to 50 pounds!!) The front panel is the same machined aluminum face with the oversized buttons. The DVD tray itself is more characteristic of the DVD-9000 with a very slow opening but very robust feel.

What you won't find on this new unit though is the same old dials found on previous models. Instead, we get a multi-function button and dial combo. By cycling this button, the user is given controls for SACD setup, Pure Direct Modes, and DVI output settings (i.e., 480p, 720p, or 1080i).

For SACD, one can choose what output you want the player to default to. Selections are multi-channel, stereo, and CD layer. For anyone who has experience with universal players, this is a great feature that is sorely missed on many of the models out there now. Most of the players I have had experience with require the user to go into the player's setup menu to select which track he wants to go to. This is a pain for those “audiophile” purists who don't want any video in their setup but still want the ability to select which output is used for comparison. All things considered, my preference would be to have an audio button on the remote that could toggle between the options, but this is the next best thing.

Also included for SACD is the choice of a high pass filter set at either 50 or 100 kHz. This is to filter off the high frequency noise that is one of the characteristics of SACD which may cause problems with some amplifiers.

For Pure Direct modes, Denon has simplified the setup, so one can select from Video Off, Digital Off, or both, as well as Normal (disengaged). I ran into a fault though with the Pure Direct Modes. According to their manual, the “All Off” setting should also disable the front display, similar to their previous models. Unfortunately this isn't the case, and the only way to actually turn off the display is via the remote's “dimmer” selection. This feature is geared more for the purists out there who don't want any tainting of the audio signal from circuits that are not being used, but switching between on and off didn't reveal any audible difference to me.

The DVI setup is also very straightforward. The user selects from three digital output resolutions: 480p, 720p, and 1080i, or can set the DVI to off. Be aware though, when the DVI port is activated, the analog component video outputs are disabled. You can also set the black level to video or computer standards. This was a feature that was missed on the popular Bravo D1 and Samsung offerings.

On the back panel, one will find a nice set of options for hookup. The hottest feature would have to be the premiere addition to the Denon lineup of a DVI (Digital Video Interface) which allows a pure digital video signal to be output from the player, bypassing the entire analog stage. The output is HDCP compliant so make sure your monitor or projector is if you are planning on buying this player for that feature. The 5900 will automatically shut off the DVI output if the display it is connected to isn't HDCP compliant.

Click on photo above to see larger version.

For the analog video side, there are two sets of each kind of output: S-Video, composite video, and component video. For component video, you can select from RCA connections or gold plated BNC connections which are definitely preferred due to their locking style connection.

For digital audio, there are the standard coaxial RCA and Toslink digital outputs, but you also get two 1394 outputs and the third generation Denon Link for compliant Denon receivers (at this time the Denon AVR-5800 and 5803 are the only compliant receivers with Denon Link). These new digital outputs allow you to use a compatible receiver or processing for all the DSP and analog conversion of both film soundtracks and high resolution DVD-Audio (in the case of the Denon Link) and both DVD-Audio and SACD via the 1394 connection.

A word of caution though, the 1394 outputs of this player feature two separate output formats. One is a proprietary Denon clocking system that is only compatible with future Denon products yet to be announced. The other is an open standard and conforms to A&M protocol. As of the time of this review, the 1394 (iLink) output is not compatible with the receivers offering this feature today. Denon has told me that a firmware update should be available early this year that will remedy this problem.

The Denon Link is also proprietary as mentioned before, but in order to get the full benefit for AVR-5803 owners, one must send their 5803 in to have it updated to the most recent Denon Link revision. Only then can you listen to copy-protected DVD-Audio. This link, like the 1394 output, will also pass CD playback, Dolby Digital soundtracks, and DTS soundtracks. Denon has stated that the ability to pass SACD via its Denon Link is going to be available very shortly.

For analog audio, there are eight RCA output connections. These can be used for all audio applications, including SACD, DVD Audio, DTS, and Dolby Digital. There are also two separate stereo outputs for the front left and right channels. This is very convenient for those who have a multi zone setup in their household.

You will find an RS-232 input for linking the player to a control system in the house and a system link that can be incorporated with other Denon products.

My only complaint as far as connections goes is the space allocated between each of the analog audio outputs. The DVD-9000 allowed plenty of room between connectors, and the connections felt a bit beefier. This allowed for a lockdown type connector to easily be applied without having to worry about getting your fingers in there to get them off again.

The Achilles heel of this player though is probably its navigation. I have had lots of experience with Denon's players, and their high end offerings have set a level of excellence when it comes to speed of navigation and functionality. However, the 5900 suffers from exceedingly slow navigation. This can be extremely frustrating when using menus. Most of the time selections can take as much as five seconds to process, when previous players like the DVD-2900 are almost instantaneous. Thankfully the layer change is seamless though, a feature the 2900 became popular for.

The other downside is the remote control. This is pretty much the same remote found with the DVD-2900 and Marantz 8400. It is not backlit, although most of the buttons are laid out well. I really wish they would have included buttons that control the DVI settings and SACD playback modes though.

Video Processing and Performance

For internal processing, the core of this unit is ESS technologies new Vibrato II chip. This is a decent solution but could have been a step better. While the 5900 did pass our core tests associated with the MPEG decoder, this chip is considered pretty low end as far as MPEG decoders are concerned. Hopefully future Denon high end players will feature better decoders such as the new offerings from Sigma Designs. There are some good things associated with the ESS chip though, including a total lack of chroma issues or subtitle synching to the progressive flags.

For deinterlacing and scaling duties, Denon chose Faroudja's newest chip, the FLI-2310. This is the first time Denon has equipped one of their high end players with a Faroudja chip. Denon still prefers the Silicon Image chip with its superior film deinterlacing and full chroma sampling, but since Silicon Image doesn't offering scaling, a feature that is in high demand now, they opted for the Faroudja.

Faroudja is known for its excellent deinterlacing, especially for video content. This chip was originally intended for fixed panel displays and digital projectors, but was easily incorporated into this player. Unlike the recent Samsung player, the Faroudja solution is in place for both the analog component out as well as DVI. But the scaling feature is only available via the DVI output. Resolutions of 480p, 720p, and 1080i are supported for displays with HDCP compliant DVI connections. 480p is supported for analog connections.

The units have been shipped with the FLI2310's noise reduction feature turned on and all the way up. This causes artifacts due to the chip enhancing MPEG artifacts on most DVDs. The artifacts are quite noticeable on some test patterns but rarely show up on movie software. The fix for this is quite easy though and I informed Denon of the issue. Hopefully we will see a solution soon.

The Faroudja chip is also clipping five pixels from the right side of the image. This is an inherent issue with the chip and cannot be remedied. While we shoot for no pixel cropping, this isn't really hindering the image too much.

As for D/A processing, Denon is using two separate Analog Devices ADV-7310 video DACs. There is one for progressive processing and a totally separate one for interlaced processing. Again this is reminiscent of the Krell DVD Standard. This DAC features noise shaping video for a very crisp and detailed image.

Aside from all that, the video output on this player is nothing short of phenomenal. For quite sometime now we at Secrets have regarded the Panasonic RP-82 and Denon DVD-1600 to be about as good as it gets in terms of video quality. The 5900 surpasses that standard. Remember that both of the previously mentioned players have excellent internal components including Faroudja deinterlacing and Panasonic's excellent MPEG decoder. But the 5900 surpasses these with a better analog stage that produces a crisper image with excellent depth and clarity. This is similar to what we found with Krell's excellent analog stage. Denon has pretty much combined the best of both worlds with this unit and rivals anything I have seen to date.

Of course the DVI output is the preferred delivery system as it bypasses any analog conversion. This cuts down on artifacts around edges of objects. While the 5900 has an excellent analog stage, you will still see some very minor artifacts on some test patterns that you won't see using DVI. But the DVI output on this player does have some issues too. Most of the user setup features are not enabled for DVI, including aspect ratio control. This is odd given the Faroudja chip offers these features, and many consumers look for aspect ratio controls.

The DVI output is also triggered by the HDCP compliance of a display, meaning that if you have the DVI connection hooked up and switch inputs on some displays, that signal goes away. You then have to turn the DVI connection back on via the front panel of the player to use it again. This is a bit of an inconvenience. Most players I have seen with DVI don't need this and allow you to use the DVI connection with non-copy protected DVDs as well, such as AVIA; the 5900 does not.

One of the many nice features of the 5900 is its user memory settings. You can customize the image settings for up to five different memories. Options include the normal brightness, contrast, sharpness and color settings, but also include various noise reduction settings, chroma delay, cross color suppressor settings, and gamma controls! The player also offers horizontal and vertical positioning adjustments for those whose displays lack this feature. These features combined offer an unprecedented amount of flexibility in setup.

Another feature lacking on some of Denon's previous offerings is the ability to stop a movie and turn off the player, then return later and pick up where you left off. Fortunately, the 5900 offers this. By pressing stop, the player stays at the spot you stopped at, regardless of whether you turn the player off or not. You can completely stop the disc and erase the marker by pressing Stop twice.

Like most players, the 5900 does have some minor inconveniences but overall offers a gorgeous image regardless of what video output you use. For a bit more information on the video performance of this unit, see our original DVD Benchmark report.

Audio Processing and Performance

Now as most of you know by now, Universal Players are still a bit rare. And even more rare is a player that offers the best of both worlds with stunning picture quality and an excellent audio stage. There have been a few offerings that have come close, but usually slip in one department or another.

Some of the key things we have been missing up until now are flexible bass management for both SACD and DVD-A, time alignment for SACD, and a digital high resolution interface.

The 5900 has all of these capabilities. It not only features full digital bass management for all sources, it gives you the option of several different crossover points from 40 Hz - 120 Hz in 20 Hz steps. The crossover point affects all channels though and applies to any speaker set to “Small”. This is also one of the only players that offer full time alignment for both DVD-A and SACD sources. The only caveat is that SACD is decoded after first converting it to PCM (most Universal Players do this). However, I didn't notice any hit in terms of conversion during all my listening sessions. And quite frankly, the importance of time alignment with multi-channel sources is far too important to be ignored.

The time alignment settings are quite simple, allowing you to choose from feet or meters for your adjustments, and each individual speaker is individually configurable, including the subwoofer. One of the complaints I have always had with players that offer time alignment is that they tend to address speakers in pairs, so, for example, the surrounds could only be adjusted as a pair rather than one at a time. While that is OK for some people, I have been in too many home theaters to know that this is just not always the case, and most people want separate settings for each individual speaker.

Next up is the speaker level adjustments, which again are on a speaker by speaker basis. One of the biggest complaints of Denon owners has been addressed with the 5900, i.e., setting the subwoofer level. Units prior to the 5900 had the subwoofer output attenuated by as much as 15 dB, which made setup of the player a bit tough. This player has a 10 dB attenuation toggle that solves this issue.

For those wishing to bypass all this processing, there is also a source direct mode. This takes all of the crossovers and time alignment out of play. This mode also turns off the digital outputs of the player though, including the Denon Link and iLink.

Another great feature of this player is the Bass Enhancer mode. This feature uses the active crossover point when playing back CDs and sends the low passed information to the subwoofer. This means that you don't have to use the digital output and your processor's functions to listen to a CD with proper bass management. I found this feature invaluable as I loved the sound of the 5900 and preferred it to my already outstanding Anthem processor, if only by a narrow margin.

Some other new features incorporated are HDCD and SRS True Surround processing. HDCD is an encoding method developed by Pacific Microsonics, and now owned by Microsoft, which allows for true 20-bit performance yet is fully compatible with the 16-bit CD standard. SRS allows you to simulate surround sound using two speakers for those without a surround sound setup. Although it sounds pretty good, of course it doesn't match the performance of even a simple surround setup.

I had lots of time with this unit and really put it through its paces with music. I listened to a lot of CDs, DVD-As and SACDs. It is very rare for a player to do all formats so well, but you get no tradeoffs here.

This player reminded me a lot of its big brother, the DVD-9000. The depth and articulation of sound are phenomenal. One could easily look to this as a staple piece in a music only system. In fact the only players that edge it out, performance wise, that I've heard personally, are the Krell DVD Standard with CDs and the Meridian series with DVD-Audio. But these players start out at over three times the cost or more, and the differences weren't enough to weigh in at those costs.

Film soundtracks were also spectacular using the internal DD and DTS decoders. But I rarely used them. the reason being that DVD-A levels are recorded slightly different then film soundtracks. Therefore, I set up my internal channel levels using the Chesky DVD-A sampler that has high resolution test tones specifically for DVD-A. These levels turn out different from levels found on DVD test discs such as Digital Video Essentials or Dolby's test discs. So I use my Anthem processor for film soundtracks.

If you go this same route, make sure you set up your player's internal levels AFTER you do your processor/receiver levels. Most processors and receivers apply their channel levels universally to all inputs, including the multi-channel ones. So if you do the player setup first, then your processor setup, you may have altered your player's settings.

Now I realize that there is a small niche in the audio world that demands the absolute best in terms of performance. They make their decisions about the pieces they buy by looking at the critical stages of the player including the audio DACs, OP Amps, clocks, and other staple pieces of the analog stage. The DVD-5900 has some great internal components, but also shares some weak ones.

The D/A converters are custom built Burr Brown PCM 1790 DACs that handle both PCM and DSD signals in their native format. These are considered by most audiophiles to be one of the best DACs available on the market today. The 5900 also uses separate power supplies for its video and audio sections, unlike its little brother, the DVD-2900. This virtually eliminates the chance of crosstalk between the video and audio circuitry.

While most 5900 owners will be overjoyed with its sonic prowess, some audiophiles know that key upgrades to this player will bring that level even higher, mainly in the analog circuitry and OP Amp areas. I am personally overjoyed with this player's performance stock, but am a bit curious just how much better it could sound. There are a few aftermarket dealers offering modifications to the analog stage of this player for those looking for the ultimate refined audio stage. These mods are quite expensive and can bring the price of the unit up as much as double for modding just two or three channels.

I am arranging to get a unit from two separate companies, Underwood Hi-Fi and Wright Mods, so that I can compare and report on what kind of difference one may hear going this route. But again I stress that this is already a sonic delight regardless of format and modifying a player will also result in a forfeit of warranty.


While not a perfect player, the Denon DVD-5900 is the most all inclusive player I have had the privilege of using to date. It is by far the best Universal Player I have tested and the new reference in this category. The video performance is second to none, and the audio performance is the best I've heard in this price range, rivaling players that cost significantly more. Denon is making huge strides in the price performance category, and I can't wait to see where they go next. The DVD-5900 gets my highest recommendation regardless of what you are looking for in a player.

- Kris Deering -

© Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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