Elite DV-05 DVD player (SGHT Review) Page 3

In its downconversion of anamorphic DVDs to a standard letterbox for playback on a conventional 4:3 set, the DV-05 is about average in performance. It neither softens the image so much that it completely eliminates downconversion artifacts nor sharpens it enough to make them glaringly apparent. Its performance in this respect is good but not particularly amazing. (For more on this, see the "Comparisons" sidebar.)

The DV-05's S-video performance (also briefly discussed in the sidebar) is first-rate on a good television. However, its quality depends more on the television with which it is used—specifically, the set's color decoder—than on the player itself.

In a home-theater setting, the sound of the DV-05 from its coaxial digital output (I didn't use the optical output) is comparable to any DVD player I have used. There are subtle differences in the sound from the digital output of various DVD players, but I have never heard dramatic ones with soundtrack source material. These differences can be important to some listeners (more on this in the "Comparisons" sidebar), but in my opinion, they are not significant enough to swing anyone's purchase decision from one player to another. In brief, I found the sound of the DV-05 from its coaxial digital output to be well-balanced—bright enough to get all the detail, but not so bright as to sound edgy. It won't do anything to tame an inherently bright recording, but then, it shouldn't.

Using its analog outputs in my music system, the DV-05 acquitted itself surprisingly well. In fact, of the comparably priced players with which I compared it, the DV-05 came closest to approaching the tight, transparent sound of a very expensive, 2-channel outboard D/A converter: the Mark Levinson No.36s. The Levinson—which costs five times the DV-05's price—won the matchup with its superior inner resolution, but the DV-05 was not humbled. Like much of its competition, the Pioneer has a tendency to be a little brighter and simultaneously less detailed than the best CD-only playback devices.

These characteristics are far less evident on the few 24/96 DADs presently available to me, which sound excellent on the DV-05. However, if you're looking for a DVD player primarily for video use in your home theater (as most of our readers are), the 24/96 audio capability is an interesting but peripheral issue. This "format" is a stopgap on the way to true multichannel, high-resolution audio on DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD.

Sibling rivalry
So how does the Pioneer Elite DV-05 really compare with its tough big brother, the DV-09? I used two identical sets of AudioQuest component-video cables and connected both DVD players through an Extron SW 2AR HVxi professional video switcher (which has a bandwidth of 350MHz). I popped duplicate copies of several DVD titles into each player and watched the results on my current big-screen projection system. Both players were configured with the Dark black-level setting and their noise-reduction and sharpness controls turned full off.

I started with Seven Years in Tibet, but in over an hour of direct switching, I saw no consistent, repeatable differences worth discussing. The DV-05 has the same crisp detail, low noise, and deeply saturated, clean, rich color as the DV-09. Sonically, there were also few differences (the DV-09 was perhaps a shade crisper and brighter), and none of them were significant.

On Conspiracy Theory, the results were the same. The DV-05 looked and sounded terrific. But in such comparisons, the differences can be so subtle that it often takes time before you begin to notice them. As I adjusted to the exercise and zeroed in on the differences between the two players, the DV-05 actually started to look a hair sharper than the DV-09. The same result was apparent on The Wedding Singer. These very small differences might be attributable to small sample-to-sample differences in the players; a matchup of a different DV-05 and DV-09 might well show a slight shift in the other direction.

However, while The Wedding Singer on the DV-05 was a bit crisper, it exhibited a trace of grain that the DV-09 did not. This is consistent with greater sharpness—even the minuscule increase I saw here. To investigate further, I increased the DV-05's noise reduction by a single step, and sure enough, the visible grain from the two players was now identical. But with the noise reduction switched in, the DV-05 now looked a shade softer than the DV-09.

Setting both players' noise and sharpness controls to zero, the breadth of a gnat's eyelash continued to separate their performance. On Soldier and City of Angels, the DV-05 remained just a hair sharper, but to dwell on this risks overstating a difference that was nearly insignificant, even on a state-of-the-art display. The same goes for the sound. Choosing which player I "preferred" ultimately turned into an exercise in frustration.

The DV-09 costs twice as much as the DV-05. Yes, the more expensive player offers some valuable additional features, such as effective sharpness and noise-reduction controls that might produce a more pleasing picture on some marginal DVDs. The DV-05 also has similar controls, but they're far less useful. And the DV-09's tank-like construction is reassuring in its feel of solid value for money. But in terms of pure performance, the unassuming DV-05 is a real sleeper.

Is the DV-05 the player to buy, then? As you'll see in the "Comparisons" sidebar, it has some strong competition in its price range, but it more than holds its own. I'll go even further: The Pioneer Elite DV-05 will more than hold its own against any DVD player I have yet seen, at any price.

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