Denon DVD-A1UDCI Universal Blu-ray Player Page 3
1080p/24 playback with the standard DVDs I watched—especially Star Wars: Episode IV—worked well, without loss of cadence or image breakup. And on top of that, the image quality on Star Wars was as good as I’ve seen from that DVD in my system. Even problem-child clips from DVDs like Gladiator that give some players fits were highly detailed and as gorgeous as standard def can be to an HD snob like myself. Even hard-core high-def addicts might find that this player rekindles their love affair with catalog titles that haven’t gone Blu yet.
Use and Interactivity: The Need for Speed
While the Denon’s pure performance was beyond reproach, it is a step backward in disc loading and access times compared with the newest, speediest players and that old standby, the Sony PlayStation 3. The PS3 and the recently reviewed OPPO BDP-83 (which I bought and is now my reference player) are very comparable in terms of speed. I compared the Denon with the OPPO and timed the loading/access times to the first onscreen image and then to the main menu with Disney’s difficult Ratatouille and two new titles: Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain and Warner’s Watchmen. These are difficult discs that require multiple hits of the skip forward button. Still, the OPPO accessed both main menus in less than half the time it took the Denon. Watchmen and Witch Mountain took more than two minutes to get to the main menu with the Denon, while the OPPO took just over one minute.
Overall disc access and reaction times with navi-gation and other interactivity was also on the slow side, including Bonus View PiP and BD-Live. As with so many other standalone players, if Denon’s looking for an area to improve upon this player’s formidable performance, interactivity and disc speed offer the biggest opportunity.
Comparisons and Sweet Sounds
There’s no reason to compare the OPPO BDP-83 and the DVD-A1UDCI, except that they are both universal Blu-ray players and the $500 OPPO is a ridiculous overachiever. The OPPO offers much faster disc access and loading times, and its video processing and video performance over HDMI with BD and DVD are on par with the very best players I’ve seen at any price, including this Denon. But I don’t think it’s fair to expect different, and I note this not to criticize the Denon, but to set reasonable and accurate expectations. With HD video over HDMI, I just haven’t seen a magic bullet from any player at any price, even on my large projection screen. The Denon is absolutely beyond reproach, as it should be. It’s just not alone in that regard, and it would be contrary to my experience to suggest otherwise.
However, over its analog audio outputs, the Denon is far more singular. It smashes the sound quality of the OPPO and every other BD player I’ve yet heard by a degree that’s nothing short of astonishing. Saying it’s night and day is only the beginning. The OPPO’s analog audio playback is very respectable for a $500 player, but the Denon goes much, much farther. When you listen to CDs on these two players, you’ll never guess they were playing the same format. On the Denon, Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall CD wasn’t merely good playback; it felt like a live performance. The size of the venue and the energy of the audience were both evident and palpable. The guitar sounds weren’t merely strings anymore. I could hear the body of the instrument and Young’s hand-slapping interaction with it to an uncanny degree, and it was clearly apparent when he moved closer to or farther from the microphone. These details sound small, but they add up to an experience that’s entirely different in total. On the Denon, the jump from CDs to SACDs expanded as well. The difference in clarity and detail when the higher-resolution discs were spinning wasn’t just noticeable, it was dramatic.
Going further, and perhaps more surprising, I preferred the Denon’s analog output’s sound on both CDs and audio-oriented Blu-ray Discs over a digital connection from that same player to Anthem’s D2v surround processor, which retails for $7,500. The Anthem is no slouch at all. The Denon is that good.
The Denon DVD-A1UDCI offers cutting-edge video that’s unexcelled, and it’s the best-sounding BD player I’ve heard to date. By about a mile and a half. On that criterion alone, this player is the proverbial bomb. However, this player does leave me a little conflicted. I loved its picture and sound every day it was here, and it made me dig into my movie and music library with glee. But I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I consistently wished for better speed in disc loading and access times, as well as swifter response with interactivity. The DVD-A1UDCI isn’t alone in having somewhat sluggish response. Much of that is inherent in the Blu-ray format, which has improved interactivity at the expense of speed. But the players we’ve gravitated to here at HT are typically those that go farthest in solving these inherent issues, and there’s a simple reason for that. They’re the easiest players to watch movies on day in and day out. Still, to an audiophile who doesn’t care about the newfangled interactivity as much as I do, the DVD-A1UDCI’s performance will be more than enough.