Onkyo DV-S939 Progressive-Scan DVD-Audio/Video Player
I hate going shopping by myself. I don't know whether it's the result of nature or nurture (after mapping the human genome, maybe they'll discover a treatment for the cheapskate gene), but I am often afflicted with serious outbreaks of miserable, miserly thriftiness. At its worst, it can make an innocent trip to the grocery store a torturous hell—as I rub brain cells raw attempting to mathematically determine, among other things, which roll of toilet paper provides the best deal per square foot. Considering my penchant for the finer-but-cheaper things in life, I should be absolutely thrilled by the vertiginous free-fall of prices on entry-level DVD players over the last few years. It wasn't that long ago that the least expensive DVD player would set you back $1,000 or more. Today, it took me fewer than 10 minutes to track down a DVD player selling for less than $120 at a national retailer. While the available information on this machine was pretty sparse, I'd be shocked if it weighed more than five or six pounds. Giving it the weighty benefit of a very generous doubt, six pounds brings the cost of the player in at just under $20 per pound. That's a lot to pay for a roll of Charmin, but it's dirt-cheap for a DVD player. Interestingly, I've noticed that low-end DVD players and cheap toilet paper share a close correlation: The lower the price, the thinner and lighter each one gets. At some point, the performance of both really begins to suffer.
Lifting Onkyo's DV-S939 DVD-Audio/Video player out of the box started me on this whole bizarre chain of thought. It wasn't because of any serious deficiency on the part of the DV-S939, though. Quite the contrary, it was a mighty pleasant surprise to lift the built-like-a-brick-you-know-what-house, 24-pound player out of the carton. There is simply something indescribably satisfying about the way a finely crafted, precision-made machine feels—even before it's turned on—that distinguishes it from lesser engineering achievements. This Onkyo player has that feeling. It's not at the level of a Krell or a Levinson, mind you, but it's clearly head and shoulders above the more-mainstream pack.
Turning on the DV-S939 further reinforces the feeling that this machine is special. The average DVD player plods along, opening and closing its drawer at a pace just this side of excruciating. Of course, that's nothing compared with the small eternity it routinely takes the average player to get the disc up to speed, read the necessary information, and put the first menu on the screen. Unlike the vast majority, this Onkyo player's loading and transport mechanism is fast—really fast. The drawer opens and closes, and a picture is on the screen seconds before most other DVD players can do the same. Once a disc is playing, moving from chapter to chapter or track to track is darn near instantaneous. While I realize that no one is going to pass on to the great home theater in the sky simply because their DVD player takes a few seconds longer to begin playing a movie, the confident and nimble quickness of the DV-S939 make it a very enjoyable player to use. Adding to the experience, the internal mechanism revs nicely as it loads and searches, sounding as if it were a tiny but ultrahigh-performance automobile engine waiting for the starting light to turn green.
On back, there's an RS-232 port, two sets of component outputs that can be set to interlaced or progressive, the standard S-video and composite connections, and the important 5.1-channel analog outputs.
The remote control is another part that adds to the whole, but it's a more-qualified success. Thanks to two sculpted channels on the backside of the remote that let your index and middle fingers slide in comfortably, the remote has a nice feel in your hand, although it's a bit long for my taste. More problematic is the location of the battery compartment in the bottom third of the remote, which shifts the center of gravity down about 2 inches from where it would be most comfortable. It's a minor beef, to be sure, but it's the sort of thing that distinguishes the very good from the really excellent. A limited number of functions (like TV power on/off, TV volume up/down, and TV channel up/down) can be programmed into the remote control, but doing this causes you to lose control of a couple of DVD functions. It's almost as if Onkyo included the learning capability as an afterthought. Maybe they should have spent the time re-engineering the location of the battery compartment instead.
Aesthetically, the front of the DV-S939 is simple and uncluttered. The DVD drawer emerges from behind a drop-down door in the center of the front face. I'm not sure how much, if anything, this drop-down door does for the performance of the player (it doesn't appear to create a very tight seal as it closes), but it is definitely cool to watch. The door's smooth operation is another visible sign of the quality of this player's construction. Positioned to the right of the drawer door are the open/close, stop, and play buttons. With a DVD or CD inside the transport, each of the three buttons has a softly lit bar of amber light above it. When no disc resides in the player, only the open/close button lights up. To the left of the drawer is a small, circular, backlit button that allows you to turn off the DV-S939's video circuitry when listening to CDs. Farthest to the left are the main power and standby on/off buttons. With the main power on but the unit in standby mode, pressing either the play or open/close button will wake up the player. Unfortunately, when waking up the player from standby mode, you have to wait for "Imaginative Sight & Sound" to crawl across the display window before the drawer will open or the disc will play.