Denon DVD-5900 universal disc player Page 2

I used the Denon with several video projectors, including the Sony Qualia 004, and the player's DCDi video processing did a better job than the Qualia's own internal scaling. I found no advantage in using 720p or 1080i from the DVD-5900's DVI output over the same output set to provide a 480p digital feed to any of the displays I used.

However, I didn't always prefer the Denon's DVI output over component. In theory, DVI should be superior, and in many ways it was. I saw better performance from DVI in many (but not all) characteristics when viewing test patterns. Watching a good DVD with a DVI link, I saw not only less overscan, but an image with subtly sharper, cleaner edges.

But on some material, I actually preferred the component output. The DVI images could be a little bland, with more subdued colors and less punch. Because this can be as dependent on the display as on the player, I advise anyone with DVI (or the similar HDMI) capability to experiment with both. And don't assume that the correct display setup (brightness, contrast, etc.) will automatically be the same for both DVI and component. They are often very different.

Watching as good a DVD player as the DVD-5900 and trying to describe what I saw can be a frustrating experience. With a wide range of DVDs viewed on several different displays, I had no complaints. Color, resolution, black levels, and the lack of noise and obvious video artifacts would all rate at least 9 on a scale of 10.

But to come up with any useful observations, I needed to compare the Denon directly with at least one other well-regarded DVD player. An obvious candidate—it was also under evaluation at the time—was the Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi, reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Because I wanted this to be a direct A/B, and we do not currently have a good DVI switcher, I restricted the comparison to the component outputs, both progressive and interlaced. I used the Marantz VP-12S3 projector on an 80-inch-wide screen, an Extron pro video switcher, and duplicate copies of several pristine DVDs.

After I'd tweaked each player's video controls to match their images as closely as possible, the differences were elusive at best. Comparing the players' interlaced modes, I ultimately gave up trying to declare a "winner." Even taking into account the fact that there was a 2- or 3-second period of image blanking during the switch, I had a hard time distinguishing the images made by the two players.

Progressive mode, however, produced no such blanking; the images switched almost instantaneously, and here I did see differences. There was a slight divergence in color balance—the Pioneer looked a little rosier. The Denon, in comparison, shifted a little toward green, though not enough to produce unnatural flesh tones.

The other distinguishing characteristic was a slight difference in sharpness, though this varied with the source material. On Seven Years in Tibet, the Denon's picture looked more crisp and subtly more natural. On Shakespeare in Love, however, the situation was reversed, with the Pioneer edging to the top. This was also the case on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Special Extended DVD Edition—arguably an excellent transfer of a more surrealistically produced film, and not as inherently sharp as the two other DVDs. But it would be hard to classify these differences as anything but minuscule. The color shift was easily the most distinguishing characteristic, but this is the sort of difference that can be dialed out with a good calibration of the display.

Keep in mind that the Marantz projector uses Faroudja's DCDi deinterlacing, as does the Denon DVD-5900. Pioneer uses its own PureCinema Progressive Scan technology. There were visible differences in the deinterlacing between the two players on moving test patterns (see the "Testing" sidebars of both reviews for more on this). But these differences were visible only occasionally, and they were never significant during the hours of material I watched, apart from the small differences noted above—and different deinterlacers can cause slight shifts in both sharpness and color balance.

The Denon's playback of Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks was comparable to that from other good DVD players. With a digital connection, in particular, the performance of the digital circuits in your pre-pro or AV receiver will have far more effect on the sound than will the player itself. Nothing I heard in the sound from the DVD-5900's digital output detracted from its top-level performance on DVD-Video material.

I did most of the remainder of my listening—to CD, DVD-A, and SACD—using the DVD-5900's analog outputs, with the player set up to treat the main-channel speakers as Small and to pass all of the bass below 80Hz to the subwoofer.

The Denon's CD playback was pristine: clear, open, and detailed. I had no complaints at all. High frequencies were airy, mids were clear, and lows were deep and tight. The imaging was solid, with a convincing sense of depth. The sound was at least as rewarding as I've heard when routing the digital outputs of a good DVD player through a top-class pre-pro.

Near the end of the review period, however, the Denon began to refuse to play CDs. Not all of them, but a significant number took several tries before loading properly, and some would not load at all.

We asked Denon for a second sample of the DVD-5900. This one worked flawlessly, but I recommend that buyers try a wide variety of CDs in their units as soon as possible after setting them up to ensure that they don't encounter this problem.

DVD-Audio and SACD
My initial impressions of both of these formats through the Denon were good. Paul Simon's You're the One (DVD-A, Warner Bros.) was very soft and sweet—a refined and clean pop mix, with Simon's vocals sounding far smoother than on most of his CDs. Nothing was forced or in-your-face. The mix on Aaron Neville's Believe (DVD-A, Silverline) was a little overprocessed, and I wasn't crazy about the backup vocals wrapping around behind me; but on quieter, more reflective cuts, such as "I Believe" and "Ave Maria," the mix worked much better and the sound was pristine. And on Ton Koopman's Organ Spectacular (DVD-A, Teldec), the ambience and space of the recording environment were impressive.

Nevertheless, I didn't find the sound to be fully involving. Everything was clean and highly listenable, yet just a little too sweet and bland, with less inner detail and dimensionality than I expect to hear from a high-resolution format such as DVD-Audio. The bass response was satisfactory, but nothing out of the ordinary.

When I switched over to the Pioneer DV-59AVi, there was no getting around it: the Pioneer simply sounded clearer, had a much stronger bottom end (I'd matched the players' output levels as closely as possible), and, overall, simply produced more of what I expect to hear from hi-rez audio. The same turned out to be true with SACD, whether I used bass management (which, remember, results in a conversion of SACD from DSD to PCM) or switched to Source Direct. Still, I suspect that many audiophiles will find the Denon's sweet, smooth sound more appealing than the up-front, brighter Pioneer.

The Denon DVD-5900's playback of both the sound and picture from DVD-Video was outstanding, whether I used it from the player's component output or its DVI link. Its picture quality puts it in the company of the best-performing DVD players I have encountered. It's not inexpensive, but you can spend a lot more and do no better.

I do feel there's more to be had from DVD-Audio and SACD than I heard from the DVD-5900. You may disagree; certainly, the Denon's sound with DVD-A and SACD was clean, open, and always listenable (as long as the recording cooperated!). CDs, on the other hand, sounded superb.