Denon DVD-A1UDCI Universal Blu-ray Player Page 2
Then there are the player’s core attributes. The DVD-A1UDCI is said to be the first player that was designed and wholly built by the company. And Denon did a real number on it. A heavyweight at 41 pounds, this player would be physically imposing even if it were an A/V receiver. As a disc player, it’s an Abrams tank. Everything about it is substantial, with tactile sensations of mass and precis-ion. It indeed makes the $300 plastic-encased players look like they belong in my four-year-old’s toy closet with the Legos.
But the player offers more than aesthetics. There’s a set of two-channel XLR outputs and, according to Denon, a balanced analog audio output board. There are four separate power supplies dedicated to separate sections within the player. And all of the onboard AKM DACs, including those dedicated to each of the 7.1-channel outputs, are spec’d as 32-bit/192-kilohertz. Denon’s AL32 processing upsamples 16-, 20-, and 24-bit signals to 32 bits in the D/A process. As you’ll read, the sonic results are spectacular.
Is it fair to expect more from this player’s feature set? Probably not. Am I being curmudgeonly in suggesting a short list of features that would push this player over the top? Absolutely, yes. But at this price, are the moon or the stars necessarily too much to ask? First, why is Wi-Fi such a rare and exclusive feature on BD players given that Internet connectivity is essential? Even if it’s an outboard accessory, why not include it with the player? As you’ll read, the Denon’s DACs and analog output sections do their job superbly. Why not add a USB and/or S/PDIF digital audio input so that you can use this player to make your other audio sources sound better? Since there’s Ethernet, why not let the player access your digital music library over your home network and play it back with the extensive audio processing featured here? Sure the DVD-A1UDCI handles MP3, AAC, and WMA files. But how convenient is it to burn music files onto CDs, DVDs, or SD cards to play them on a disc player? On the video front, why not add an HDMI input that lets you apply HQV video processing to the output from your cable box, which almost certainly needs the help? These must be far-out suggestions, because no other manufacturer offers these features, either. Maybe it’s not fair or reasonable to suggest them here. But there’s so much innovation happening with streaming audio and video connectivity in midrange level players, I keep thinking manufacturers are going to think beyond the disc in designing a flagship BD player.
But perhaps I’m the one who’s missing the point. The interior design attributes I described in the previous section probably shine the brightest light on what this player aims to be. The high end has not traditionally been about convenience features or functionality; it’s almost always been about purist performance. It’s my opinion that this player’s strongest pitch is to audiophiles who will use its HDMI outputs for DVD and Blu-ray but still want to use the analog outputs for high-end audio playback. And if that’s not you, then this isn’t your player. Put another way, although my experience shows that this player is a superb digital trans-port, my experience also says that those who only need a superb digital transport or want conven-ience features don’t need to spend this kind of dough to bring that home.
Setting up this player is a trying experience. The menu choices offer text-based support, but the wording there and in the accompanying user manual is an exercise in frustration tolerance. Prime example: In the HDMI Setup menu, there are two settings for Auto Format. The Max Res. setting is said to “output data using the maximum resolution that can be handled by the connected TV.” The Panel Res. setting will output “the maximum resolution of the panel of the connected TV.” One of them actually ignores the resolution setting determined in the HDMI handshake with the connected device if it’s incorrect, which is a good thing. But only someone more skilled in decoding ciphers like this would know.
The remote, on the other hand, is solid and easy to use. It’s chunky, it’s backlit, and it’s easy to find and activate the backlight in the dark. Winner!
I set up and used the Denon using the HDMI out to the Anthem D2v surround processor for DVD and Blu-ray playback. For dedicated music listening, I used the balanced analog out to an Audio Research analog-only preamp. The DVD-A1UDCI’s performance with Blu-rays and upconverted DVDs alike is awe-inspiring. I watched the player on a JVC DLA-HD750 projecting onto a 92-inch-wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and the image was sensational in every way. Even with dark, ultra-high-resolution Blu-ray transfers like Warner’s Harry Potter series (prepping for The Half-Blood Prince theatrical release, of course) or the more recent Watchmen, this player delivered every pixel of high-def goodness in glorious fashion. All of the Blu-ray movie images I watched on this player were every bit as deep, three-dimensional, and eye-popping as I’ve come to expect from the very best of the format. While this refrain might be familiar in BD player reviews, this kind of image quality is nothing short of spectacular to behold on a big screen.