Elite DV-05 DVD player (SGHT Review) Comparisons

Sidebar 2: Comparisons

We aren't always able to directly compare competing products, which requires having the units on hand and the time to do it. However, along with the Pioneer Elite DV-05, I also had the Toshiba SD-9000 (see review elsewhere in this issue) and the Sony DVP-S7700 (reviewed in June 1999). These are three great machines. The one you choose should be based on your own individual weighting of their strengths and weaknesses. Here's a summary of what I found.

Image Quality: (DVDs played with full native resolution, including anamorphic DVDs properly unsqueezed on a 16:9 display) The Pioneer was every bit as good as the others most of the time, and it looked more three-dimensional on the very best anamorphic DVDs in their full 16:9 resolution. However, this advantage was less obvious in the Normal (7.5 IRE) black-level setup. The Toshiba actually looked sharper than the Pioneer on some DVDs, with impeccable color. In fact, the slight yellow shift we've seen in previous generations of Toshiba players was nowhere in sight on the SD-9000.

As for the Sony, there's certainly nothing wrong with its picture. It's pretty terrific too, but the lack of below-black PLUGE and no option for a Dark (0 IRE) setup must be counted as small marks against it as a high-end flagship DVD player. In terms of image quality, my favorite player is the Pioneer, largely because it produces a slightly more involving, reach-out-and-touch-it picture. But it's a very close call.

Picture: (anamorphic DVDs downconverted to letterbox for display on a 4:3 set) Artifacts might arise from the signal manipulation required to downconvert anamorphic DVDs to conventional letterbox for viewing on a 4:3 television. These artifacts range from moir/ patterns on certain textures, such as plaid costumes, to a flickering or wavering on horizontal lines, such as Venetian blinds. This flickering or wavering is most pronounced if the camera pans vertically during the shot. (Flicker is also a common NTSC interlacing artifact, so be careful when assigning the blame to downconversion.)

If these artifacts annoy you, the Sony wins this round—such glitches are virtually invisible in the DVP-S7700's picture. But the tradeoff is a clearly softened image. If you're a "Damn the artifacts, full sharpness ahead" kind of person like me, you'll vote for the Toshiba, which is clearly and vividly more detailed than the other players in this mode.

The Pioneer is a respectable compromise between the two, although it won't entirely satisfy either the "Sharpness or Die" or "Down with Artifacts" camp. Incidentally, the picture differences between the players in this mode are far greater than in the native-resolution mode discussed above. These differences are also clearly visible on the Toshiba 40-inch widescreen set using S-video connections, though less so than on the big projection system.

Sound: (coaxial digital output) With the best balance of sweetness, detail, and sense of top-end "air," the Pioneer wins again. But the differences are razor-thin: All three players get just about all there is to be gotten from the best soundtracks. The Toshiba sounds the brightest of the three, which is not necessarily a plus to an audiophile.

Sound: (analog outputs) The Pioneer takes the blue ribbon in this category because it most closely approaches the Mark Levinson No.36s, my reference standard in an outboard D/A converter. It's short of that standard in overall resolution and balance, but it doesn't do badly at all, sounding tightly detailed without turning edgy.

The Sony is no slouch in this department, with a slightly softer top and more forward midrange than the No.36s. The Toshiba has the "hottest" treble, which isn't always pleasant on bright recordings and might not mesh well with bright systems. (My observations regarding the sound from the digital and analog outputs of this player diverges from JGH's. This might be due to the differences in our playback systems or the fact that I had these three players on hand for direct comparison, which he did not.)

The Toshiba is the only player of these three with a built-in, 5.1-channel Dolby Digital decoder, which might break the tie for some buyers. The relative sounds of the players on 24/96 recordings closely track their standings on standard CDs.

Cosmetics and Build Quality: Cosmetics are very much in the eye of the beholder, but to my eye, the Sony is the sexiest of the three players with its silky-smooth, slide-down front panel. The Toshiba, with its brushed-aluminum face, is the most high-tech in appearance, and it's also the heftiest, though much of that mass is in its heavy base-plate. The Pioneer has that shiny Elite front panel, which produces a "wet" look that will seem sleek to some and plasticy to others.

All three players appear to be well-made, though the Pioneer is the least reassuring because of its light, insubstantial feel. Peering inside produces little additional data. Judging by eye can't tell the whole story, but it's as far as we can go short of disassembly and part-by-part analysis. The Sony, with its extensive shielding, copper-plated chassis, and more substantial overall look, comes out on top, though the Toshiba is not far behind. All three appear to use similar-quality circuit boards. In addition, they have main transformers of roughly the same size and make extensive use of surface-mount components.

Remotes: I got used to all of them after a few days, though I like the Sony best largely because its most-used buttons are larger and thus easier to find and engage. However, the Pioneer and Toshiba have the best jog-shuttle dials. The Toshiba's remote is illuminated, the Sony's has iridescent buttons, and the Pioneer's will leave your fingers dancing in the dark. None of these remotes is as easy to use as the one supplied with the first-generation Toshiba DVD players; in my opinion, that was the most ergonomically slick DVD remote ever offered, even if it wasn't illuminated.

Functionality: If chapter skip, slow motion, reverse slow motion, and so on are important to you, the Sony clearly surpasses the other players. It also plays CD-Rs (the others do not), though it's rather slow in accessing different tracks on those home-spun discs.—TJN

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