Denon DVD-2500BTCI Blu-ray Player

Breaking new ground in HD.

Since the arrival of Blu-ray, I’ve been waiting for a player from Denon, whose high-end DVD players have served as references for me for years. So far, the standalone Blu-ray players I’ve used have left me wanting. Pioneer and Sony are the only manufacturers offering players with the construction quality I expect from a top-end player. But both of these manufacturers have delivered products with their own issues, including extremely slow response times and lack of support for cutting-edge Blu-ray features.

Denon’s first Blu-ray offering is an unusual one. While the $999 DVD-2500BTCI is among the first players to support Picture-in-Picture Bonus View interactivity, it’s also the first entirely digital Blu-ray player we’ve seen. It lacks analog outputs entirely, featuring only a single HDMI output. It’s clearly designed to be used with the current crop of AVRs and pre/pros that offer full advanced audio decoding.

Design
The DVD-2500BTCI uses a completely different chassis than the rest of Denon’s DVD player line. The front panel has a nicely machined, curved faceplate that is very similar to the new look of Denon’s A/V receiver line. The DVD-2500BTCI is definitely on the chunky side, standing nearly twice as tall as most BD players on the market. This player has a high-end look and feel, to be sure.

The front panel includes basic playback controls, along with a selection for the HDMI video output resolution. The front-panel display provides all of the necessary information, including title, track, time, and playback mode. This front panel can be dimmed or turned off completely using the Pure Direct mode.

The back panel is where you’ll see the most obvious difference between this player and any other on the market. The only connection on the back panel is a single HDMI (v. 1.3a) jack. I’d say that takes the guesswork out of things. But it also limits this player to a very specific base of customers.

The back panel also features an RS-232 input for control systems and a remote interface for connection to other Denon equipment. It’s quite the Spartan design, but I will say it makes hookup a lot less daunting to the end customer.

Features
The DVD-2500BTCI is among the first Blu-ray Profile 1.1–compliant players, which requires secondary video and audio decoders for playback of Bonus View Picture-in-Picture interactive features. This kind of content has only been included on a handful of titles to date, but we’ll be seeing more now that supporting hardware is becoming more prevalent. The front panel features an SD card slot for storage of additional content and also includes support for Windows Media Audio, MP3 files, and JPEG images.

This is also one of only a few players that supports bitstream transmission of lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It does not support onboard decoding of the new lossless codecs.

The only advanced audio formats that the DVD-2500BTCI decodes at full resolution are PCM (up to 7.1 channels) and Dolby Digital Plus. With Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, the player decodes only the core lossy Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, which are output over HDMI as 5.1-channel PCM.

There are quite a few BD players on the market at this price point and below that decode Dolby TrueHD and output it as PCM over HDMI, including the PlayStation 3 at less than half the price.

The video side also has a few quirks. The DVD-2500BTCI supports all of the typical standard- and high-def output resolutions, including 1080p/60 and 1080p/24. It does not feature a source-direct output that simply outputs the native resolution of whatever is on the disc you’re playing. This feature, common to Sony and Pioneer Elite designs, allows the end user to take advantage of the video processing in their A/V processors or displays to make the most out of the video source. Denon did not employ a superior video-processing solution, so the need for a pure video output becomes more important, as I’ll explain later.

You can select the video output by specific resolution or set it to Auto, which simply polls the display device and outputs the maximum resolution that the end display supports.

In Use
By far my biggest gripe with standalone Blu-ray players to date is transport speed. Overall, I’ve been more than impressed by the quality of video and audio performance from the higher-end player models, but they’ve left a lot to be desired in terms of speed and ergonomics. Load times are usually mind-numbingly slow, and even powering up the player and accessing disc menus can be a serious frustration.

The DVD-2500BTCI does far better than most standalone players in these areas. It still has a lot of ground to cover before it catches up to the lightning-quick PlayStation 3, but it is a far cry from the nerve-wracking Pioneer Elite and Sony units. Powering up only takes a few moments, and disc load times are nearly half of what I experienced with the Pioneer Elite BDP-95FD and more in line with what I see with my Panasonic DMP-BD30. Even intensively authored BD-Java discs like Ratatouille and Close Encounters of the Third Kind load acceptably fast, and once a disc is loaded, access times are decent. There is definitely room for improvement, but it’s a refreshing change from many standalone models out there.

Video playback has always been one of Denon’s strongest suits. Most Blu-ray material is mastered at 1080p/24, and the Denon delivers this content in stunning form. Every bit of detail is preserved with high-definition playback. The DVD-2500BTCI shows no signs of rolloff or compromise out to the limits with 1080p HD signals. Every pixel was preserved, and full dynamic range was obtained in the Normal HDMI output mode.

I did run into some problems with video processing with the Denon. Blu-ray players have increasingly frustrated me with their lack of decent video-processing components. There are some Blu-ray Discs on the market mastered at 1080i (mostly concert videos). It is imperative that players that don’t offer a source-direct output properly deinterlace 1080i to 1080p when playing back at 1080p/60. Unfortunately, the Denon does not. It plays back 1080i HD material with noticeably reduced resolution coupled with other artifacts.

The Denon comes up a bit short with DVD playback. The player showed obvious issues with my standard deinterlacing tests, losing detail with motion. With video-based material, the DVD-2500BTCI does do correct motion-adaptive deinterlacing, but it could not lock on to material with a 2:2 cadence. Overall, the DVD-2500BTCI is an average upconverting DVD player, but not in the same league as Denon’s standalone DVD players in the same price range.

Denon has also released a Blu-ray flagship player, the DVD-3800BDCI ($1,999), which incorporates Silicon Optix’s Realta HQV processing, a solution we know resolves these issues. But, even at $999, the DVD-2500BTCI is priced as a step-up model, and since it forgoes an analog output entirely, I was hoping to get more bang for the buck in the video processing.

I did find a rather serious caveat with audio performance, though. With PCM soundtracks, the subwoofer channel is output approximately 5 decibels lower in level than the rest of the channels. Thankfully, Denon allows full adjustment for playing back PCM soundtracks, including channel levels, crossovers, and time delays. By adjusting all the channels except the subwoofer channel to be 5 dB down, I was able to level-match the system. This even affects the player when you use it in bitstream mode since PCM soundtracks are passed through. If Denon hasn’t issued a firmware update by the time you read this, I recommend that you tweak this in the setup.

Aside from that, the audio performance was excellent. I’ve had some occasional audio dropouts with advanced audio soundtracks from quite a few Blu-ray players I’ve used, but not this one. Lossless audio playback was uninterrupted, and PCM audio (once adjusted) sounded incredibly rich in detail. Just remember that you will need to mate this player with an outboard AVR or processor that can take full advantage of the native bitstream output to get the most from advanced audio with this player.

Conclusion
The DVD-2500BTCI is a respectable first step into the Blu-ray arena for Denon. You get Denon’s classic solid build quality, innovative design, and outstanding playback and responsiveness with Blu-ray titles. With the single digital output design, customers need to be sure they can take full advantage of what this player can do before jumping in. But if you have a current-gen AVR or pre/pro with the requisite decoding, put this player on the short list of players to consider.

Highlights
Outstanding build quality and intuitive design
Full bitstream support of the latest advanced audio formats
Full support of Profile 1.1 Blu-ray titles
Audio requires some dialing in for optimum results
Video processing leaves room for improvement with 1080i and DVD playback

COMPANY INFO
Denon Electronics
(201) 762-6500
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