Sony DVP-S9000ES DVD/SACD player Page 2
CD replay was very nearly as good as the best of the above recordings. Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-2), an exceptional recording of tenor José Carreras backed by a chorus and small ensemble of instruments, exhibited perhaps a bit less air than the better SACD releases, but sounded otherwise pristine. Imaging and depth were superb, and overall the sound was equal to or better than any I have heard before from this CD. The same was true of the King's Singers' Good Vibrations (RCA Victor 60938-2). On both of these recordings the overall balance leaned slightly toward the warm and full-bodied—a characteristic I've noted in the past with Sony CD players—but warmth is far superior to brightness and edginess, particularly when, as here, the warmth does not sacrifice detail.
Even on the very best display devices, the video differences between top-rank DVD players is never more than subtle. I had little cause for complaint when I viewed the DVP-S9000ES through three different displays: a very-high-end projection system, a 57-inch widescreen PTV, and a 4:3, 36-inch direct-view set with a squeeze mode for full-resolution replay of widescreen-enhanced (anamorphic) DVDs. The latter two sets were both Sonys (see "Review System" sidebar). Disney's Tarzan and Stuart Little were both crisp and vividly colored, and Dances With Wolves was sharply detailed. And the challenging yet creative cinematography in Amistad was perfectly rendered. In all cases, the images—as long as the transfer cooperated—were smooth, clear, and grain-free.
When I compared the Sony with my long-term reference, the Pioneer DV-09, things got interesting. This comparison was made using the Sony's interlaced outputs through the projection system. (The Pioneer is interlaced only, and the Snell & Wilcox Interpolator used to drive the projector will not accept 480p inputs, so this was the only fair comparison that could be made.) The color renditions of the two players looked slightly different, but in ways difficult to categorize, and quite insignificant even in a direct A/B comparison. The players differed a bit in sharpness, the Sony looking a trace softer.
This plot thickened when I looked at each player's luminance frequency response on a waveform monitor. Both were flat, if not entirely so. The Sony's response looked like a flat line with a very slight downward tilt toward the high end up to about 5MHz, beyond which the response fell off rapidly, as it does in most players. The Pioneer exhibited a marginal but visible rise centered at approximately 3.5MHz, followed by a gentle falloff from there up to the 5MHz region—sharper than the tilt in the Sony's curve but still within acceptable tolerances. The bottom line was that the visible performance of both players was consistent with their video (luminance) frequency responses.
I was able to bring the looks of the players closer by turning the Sony's Sharpness control to +1. (This is a mere 5% of its maximum setting of +20; the Pioneer's Sharpness control was centered throughout the tests.) This degree of change was barely visible on the Video Essentials frequency sweep (title 17, chapter 23), and was similarly subtle on regular program material in direct comparisons with the Pioneer. It did offer a degree of useful sharpness enhancement, but on the high-end projection system I ultimately preferred the Sony with its Sharpness control set to 0. Though sharpened only by that marginal single step, the image looked just a little overenhanced and artificial. But on the more real-world Sony 57-inch widescreen PTV, this very slight increase in sharpness looked fine; there, I actually preferred it to no increase at all.
For all the comparisons I made on the high-end projection system, I used an Extron switcher and two identical copies of each of six films: Stuart Little, Prince of Egypt, Seven Years in Tibet, Amistad, Dances With Wolves, and The Haunting, the last two from excerpts on a recent DTS sampler. The two players were matched as closely as possible by adjusting the Sony to equal the brightness, contrast, and color levels of the Pioneer, using the Sony's onboard video controls.
From their coaxial digital outputs with DVD-Video source material, I heard only very subtle differences in sound from the Sony and the Pioneer. The latter sounded a little softer and sweeter—a slight advantage with bright soundtracks, and a slight liability with those having more natural balances. But the differences were certainly not pronounced enough to be deciding factors in a purchasing decision.
For those with standard 4:3 televisions, the DVP-S9000ES handled anamorphic downconversion (which modifies wide-screen-enhanced DVD signals to look correctly proportioned on a 4:3 set) the same way as do other Sony DVD players. That is, there were virtually no downconversion artifacts (rippling and twittering on horizontal lines), but the tradeoff was a noticeably softened picture. To a limited extent, this can be compensated for by the Sony's sharpness control, though of course this is no substitute for using all of the available scan lines in enhanced DVDs. For this you will need either a widescreen television or one with an anamorphic "squeeze." This player deserves nothing less.
Sony is particularly proud of its Motion Adaptive noise reduction. This can indeed reduce the sort of noise that can make portions of an image, particularly large areas of solid color, look like it's squirming. The noise reduction does its job without visibly softening the picture. I must say, however, that I find such video noise to be rare when DVDs are viewed on a properly adjusted display.
The degree of improvement any progressive-scan player provides will, of course, be dependent on the individual set and the quality of that set's built-in line doubler. I auditioned the DVP-S9000ES's progressive scan on the two Sony one-piece televisions, both incorporating Sony's Digital Reality Creation (DRC), which is bypassed when the input is progressive-scan. As I noted in my review of Sony's direct-view KV-36XBR400 (December 2000), using DRC with interlaced input actually looked slightly sharper than the progressive connection with the DVP-S9000ES. But on the the 57-inch set there was little difference in subjective resolution between the two formats—sometimes I thought the progressive feed was crisper, sometimes it appeared to be a toss-up. There were a few artifacts from the DRC on difficult discs (such as Titanic) that were significantly reduced but not always completely eliminated using the player's progressive-scan output. The Sony player also incorporates 3:2 pulldown recognition from its progressive outputs.
I noted a very small color shift with the progressive feed, but it was relatively insignificant and might have been due to the fact that the color-decoding matrices for DVD and DTV are slightly different. (The DVP-S9000ES had to be connected to the 57-inch set's DTV input when using progressive scan.) In any event, the progressive-scan feature of the Sony player performs well for those who need it.
The Sony DVP-S9000ES is a very special product that provides superb DVD-Video interlaced, DVD-Video progressive, and SACD performance. It is very much worth the price of admission, even for those interested in only one of those applications. It isn't cheap as DVD players go, but its performance and build quality might keep manufacturers of far more expensive players up at night.