Marantz DV-8300 SACD & DVD-Video/Audio player

The first thing I noticed about the new Marantz DV-8300 DVD player was its weight. You won't confuse the 24-pound Marantz with a Krell power amp, but with so many DVD players today weighing less than the boxes they came in, the DV-8300's comfortable heft, metal front panel, and smooth mechanical operation suggest quality.

But there's more here than sheer mass. The Marantz joins a short but growing list of DVD spinners that play not only CD and DVD-Video—including progressive scan—but DVD-Audio and SACD (2-channel and multichannel) as well.

In many respects, the DV-8300 appears to be very similar to Pioneer's DV-47A, the first player fully compatible with all current sound formats. In fact, the Marantz's video features, onscreen menus, and subjective video performance seem virtually identical to the Pioneer's. But Marantz claims credit for the DV-8300's audio design, if not for its specific audio features.

As is usually the case, DVD-Audio and SACD signals are available only from the DV-8300's 6-channel analog outputs. To use these, your surround processor or receiver must have 6-channel analog pass-through inputs. The setup menu lets you configure the player's analog outputs for speaker size, subwoofer on or off, distance, and levels (including a built-in test-tone generator, which functions only with the player in Stop and the drawer closed).

But the DV-8300's bass management is relatively inflexible. It doesn't function at all with CDs, the L/R front speakers must always be designated Large, and all channels automatically revert to full-range in DVD-A mode, no matter how you've set them up.

The DV-8300 has built-in 5.1-channel decoders that can also be used for Dolby Digital and DTS from the player's 6-channel analog outputs. But because of the bass-management limitations noted above, I recommend using the Marantz's multichannel analog outputs only for DVD-Audio and SACD, where you have no other option. A digital connection from the player into your surround receiver or processor for DTS, Dolby Digital, and conventional CDs will likely provide better performance with these sources.

On the video side, the DV-8300 can be set up for progressive or interlaced scan from its component outputs. A Video Adjust menu provides user control of 16 different parameters. Most users will be happy to leave these controls in their factory default positions, but they do provide useful adjustments that video perfectionists will appreciate. Depending on the DVD, careful tweaking of these controls can sometimes mean the difference between a very good picture and an exceptional one.

The player also has a "16:9 (Compressed)" mode that is designed for use with widescreen TVs that lock into anamorphic mode when they receive a progressive signal. This provides proper geometry with non-anamorphic discs (standard letterbox and 4:3) on such displays when using a progressive output.

The remote is outstanding. The only better DVD remotes I've seen have been those Toshiba provided with its earliest players and then abandoned. The Marantz can't be programmed to control other devices, but that keeps it relatively simple. The size and layout of its buttons make error-free operation a breeze. While there's no backlighting, after a short period of use I found it easy to consistently locate the most frequently used controls by feel alone.

Experienced users will find nothing particularly challenging about setting up the DV-8300, but those who want to get the most from the player should follow the manual closely the first or second time around. Less experienced users will find the so-called Navigator function useful. It simplifies the process by asking several basic questions about your setup (such as what type of TV you have), and automatically performs the adjustments your answers require.

However, one section in the manual is misleading. It states that a widescreen film watched on a conventional 4:3 TV will have black bars top and bottom if the player is set up for 4:3 (Letterbox), and it will be cropped to fit the whole screen, without bars, if set for 4:3 (Pan&Scan). This is not true. With all widescreen programming currently available, there is no difference in the playback from any player we know of with either of these settings. Both will provide a letterboxed image from a widescreen DVD on a 4:3 set. This confusion comes from the original DVD spec, which included a provision that would allow the user to pan&scan widescreen releases, if desired, to fill a 4:3 screen. But for this on-the-fly pan&scan option to work, the DVD had to be specially mastered and encoded, which has never been done on commercial discs.

The DV-8300's video performance was exceptional in interlaced mode—no surprise, given my previous experience with players using Pioneer's video engineering. The progressive-mode deinterlacing was not quite up to the level of the Faroudja and Silicon Image circuits found in some competing players, but it was more than satisfactory. Compared in progressive mode with the Kenwood DV-5700 (Faroudja deinterlacing), the Marantz's performance was identical on the ship's railings in Titanic, and a little edgier on the haystacks at the beginning of Star Trek: Insurrection, but fine on the subsequent pan across the village rooftops. The DV-8300 did less well than the Kenwood with the waving-flag and pendulum tests on the Faroudja test DVD, but it did fine on 3:2 pulldown. The dreaded (by some) chroma bug was visible on the usual suspect scenes from Toy Story, but just barely. I never found it to be a distraction on any program material.

In progressive or interlaced operation, the Marantz's colors were rich and true, its images 3-dimensional, and its black-level detail as good as I've seen from any DVD player. I've seen reports elsewhere of black-level differences between players, or differences in the same player between progressive and interlaced operation. These can invariably be traced back to differences in setup level—technically, 7.5 or 0 IRE, as noted on the Marantz's video adjustment controls (referred to on some players as Normal and Enhanced black)—and not to anything inherent in the player or differences between interlaced and progressive performance.

With some discs, particularly when projected on a big screen, I noticed edge enhancement with the DV-8300 that was not always visible on other players. This could almost invariably be compensated for with careful balancing of the player's two Sharpness controls. I believe that the Marantz, because of its exceptionally flat video-luminance frequency response (see sidebar, "DVD-Player Measurements"), tends to spotlight the presence of edge enhancement more than many other players.

I was able to closely compare the Marantz's performance with a number of other DVD players, and the only consistent differences involved the amount of detail. Compared with the Kenwood DV-5700 in interlaced or progressive mode, the Marantz was just slightly sharper—and I mean slightly. The Kenwood does have superior (Faroudja) deinterlacing, but the difference was not obvious on most program material. In my opinion, the differences in video performance between these players was less significant to a purchase decision than the differences in their features—the Marantz with its SACD playback, the Kenwood with its 5-disc carousel.