Denon AVR-5803 A/V receiver & DVD-9000 DVD-Video/DVD-Audio player DVD-9000
Specialty high-end companies such as Ayre, Arcam, Krell, and Meridian build pricey DVD players, but most mainstream companies have faced the fact that DVD has become a "commodified" product whose sales are dependent on price. Even as prices come down, features play a role in sales: consumers demand more for their money even if they don't know precisely what it is they're getting. In such a situation, something has to give, and it's usually build quality. As prices drop, players become lighter and flimsier, with cheaper, higher-tolerance parts.
Despite the squeeze, and thanks to the commodification of chipsets, some progressive-scan DVD players of extremely high quality can be bought for just a few hundred bucks. Only a few years ago, line doublers were add-on boxes costing thousands.
Now, Denon, a "specialty" company within the mainstream market, has produced an audacious top-of-the-line, THX Ultra DVD player that takes a stab at supremacy in both 2-channel and multichannel audio and video by paying a great deal of care and attention to both DVD-Audio and DVD-Video. At $3500, it costs 10 times as much as a decent progressive-scan player from a mainstream company, but less than a third the price of Ayre Acoustic's acknowledged state-of-the-art DVD-V player, the D-1x. At about $11,250, fully configured with progressive-scan video and analog audio outputs (deleting the latter drops the price to $8500), the Ayre features superb 2-channel CD sound but no multichannel DVD-A capabilities.
What It Is
Large and heavy for a DVD player, the DVD-9000 exudes physical quality. It's meticulously built, with a rigid chassis and high-quality parts. At 41 pounds, the DVD-9000 is among the heaviest DVD players on the market, with a massive black aluminum faceplate fronting a rigid, well-damped, copper-lined chassis.
Denon designed the DVD-9000 to serve three functions: play DVD-Video discs, play DVD-Audio discs, and serve as an outboard DAC via optical and coaxial digital inputs on the rear panel. Front-panel controls are basic, except for the Source and Pure Direct controls. The Source switch lets you choose the internal disc drive or an external digital source. Pure Direct lets you pre-select two memory modes that can be programmed to turn off the video circuitry, the digital audio output, the front display, or any combination of these. Denon claims better analog audio performance for the DVD-9000 when its digital and video circuits are turned off.
Rear-panel facilities include coaxial and optical inputs and outputs, multichannel analog outputs, two sets of stereo analog outputs, component-video outputs, pairs of S-video and composite video outputs, 12V trigger jacks, an RS-232 port, and Denon's proprietary high-data-rate Denon Link jack, which connects to Denon's AVR-5803 A/V receiver. What you won't find are balanced (XLR) audio outputs, or BNC-type connectors for RGB with separate horizontal and vertical sync; the DVD-9000 would not be the first choice for owners of CRT video projectors, most of which require RGB inputs.
Inside the DVD-9000 is Silicon Image's newest PureProgressive deinterlacing chipset, the Sil 504. This features the latest 3:2 pulldown processing for every kind of program material (including a 4:3 squeeze mode for HD-ready sets that don't provide control of aspect ratio in progressive/HD mode); eight 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown PCM1704 audio DACs, including two pairs in dual-differential mode per left/right channel output; a new ESS Vibratto MPEG/DVD-Audio decoder; the newest Analog Devices 14-bit/108MHz video DACs; built-in Dolby Digital/DTS decoding; and more.
In addition to DVD-Video and DVD-Audio, the DVD-9000 can play DAD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 (feh!) CD-R, and MP3 CD-RW, and it can display JPEG photos and Kodak Picture CDs. It will also output a 24/96 bitstream, and it features full digital bass management for DVD-A using Analog Devices' 32-bit processor with 80Hz crossover, 12dB highpass and 24dB lowpass slopes, and adjustable delay time. It can decode HDCD CDs, and it includes Denon's latest AL24 Processing Plus, a proprietary digital algorithm that extrapolates 16 bits to 24 bits before D/A conversion. For $3500, you'd also expect an ergonomically efficient, full-function, backlit remote control. You get one.
Setup and Use
The DVD-9000's onscreen menu system makes setting it up reasonably painless, given the range of adjustability provided. You can set the video output for progressive or interlaced scan. If your video display has a built-in deinterlacer, you should preview this—and any other player offering such a choice—both ways to see which looks better. The player features duplicates of such display controls as Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, and Hue, which you can adjust and save to five memory locations. But with a properly calibrated set, Factory Default will most likely be the preferred setting. You can also play with the gamma setting; I found the factory default optimal.
Denon's instruction manual is an unacceptable mess. It's loaded with acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, unexplained jargon, and omits a lot of key information. How absurd for a company that produces complex, high-quality products to ship them with such slipshod and densely packed instructions. I defy any SGHT reader to read the manual's description of configuring the Audio Setup page, which controls bass management and the analog and digital outputs, and understand what to do, how to do it, and why. In addition, I couldn't highlight the Denon Link On/Off item so I could turn it off to access the multichannel menu and play with the bass-management facilities. I tried and tried but got nothing. It drove me crazy. I later found out that these menu items are not accessible when there's a disc in the drive. Well, why not say so on the Audio Setup instruction page? Or in the Troubleshooting section?
At one point, the menu item for selecting "MLP packed DVD-A" (the high-resolution DVD-A audio choice) was grayed-out and inaccessible with every DVD-Audio disc I tried. That left Dolby Digital or DTS (on discs that include it)—the choices normally available if you slip a DVD-A disc into a conventional DVD-V player. But this is a DVD-A player—it should let you choose the DVD-A option. I'd been able to play DVD-As at full resolution on this player for weeks, and now, all of a sudden, I couldn't. I picked up the instruction manual, and guess what—not one word about DVD-A. Not a section, not a page, not a troubleshooting guide. Nothing about DVD-A in a DVD-A player's instruction manual.
A friend of mine who does DVD authoring came over, and he couldn't figure it out either. I had to call Denon to find out that, in the Etc. section of the setup menu—where you choose Captions, Slide Show, Auto Power Mode, and other secondary and tertiary functions—is a function called Player Mode, which has a factory default of Audio. Somehow, the Player Mode of my DVD-9000 had been switched to Video, which made the player think it was a DVD-V player, which prevented it from accessing the DVD-A menu items. Nowhere in the instructions is the function of this key control defined or described. This sort of oversight is absurd, and in my experience a chronic problem with Denon manuals.