Pioneer DV-563A Universal Disc Player

A Combi for Everyone

It's finally happened. No longer does the desire for high-resolution audio mean that you must decide between two formats or max out your credit card on one of the high-end combi units. With the DV-563A, Pioneer has released a DVD player that not only offers progressive scanning and multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio playback, but it costs only slightly more than an entry-level DVD player. The difference in price is so slight that anyone looking for a DVD player would be insane not to look at the DV-563A. Keep reading because, believe it or not, the review's not over.

The DV-563A is incredibly slender, just over 2 inches high, and it's attractive, unlike many of the small, inexpensive DVD players out there. The outputs on the back are huddled together as if for warmth. Granted, the back panel doesn't have much more real estate than downtown Tokyo, but plugging in the 10 or so connections that most people will use is hard on the knuckles.

Once you make all of the connections, plug in the player, and power it up, the first thing that comes on screen is Happy, the Smiling Remote (my name for it) to lead you through the first part of the setup process. Seriously, it's a smiling remote with arms and feet—one part freaky, one part amusing. I mock because I like. I only wish he walked you through the entire setup process to ensure that you don't miss anything. Maybe he could get angry with you if you tried to skip over parts. Raise your hand if you think I'm thinking way too much about a menu feature. The rest of the setup process is painless, thanks to easy-to-use, color menus.

Driving the DV-563A is a remote with fat, rubbery buttons that, although not backlit, are easy for your thumb to locate in the dark. While you can access the chapters directly using the numeric keypad, the remote lacks direct title access while the disc is playing. You have to stop the disc to select a different title. It's not a big deal, but it would make operation easier.

With setup complete, it was on to some video tests. When it's set to output interlaced video, the DV-563A passes PLUGE; however, with progressive signals, it doesn't. If your TV's component input accepts both interlaced and progressive signals, this isn't a problem. You can just set the brightness level with the interlaced output and then switch over to progressive. If your TV doesn't accept interlaced signals through the component input, setting the brightness level is a little harder but certainly not impossible.

Using a Philips PM 5662 waveform monitor and title 17, chapter 24 from Video Essentials, it's possible to see if and/or by how much a DVD player rolls off the signal's high frequencies (fine detail). The DV-563A's interlaced and progressive outputs roll off the high frequencies slightly, but no more than average for a progressive DVD player of any price. When I looked at the resolution pattern on the same disc (title 17, chapter 13), I didn't notice the rolloff. It looked like the DV-563A output all of the resolution that DVD is capable of.

With film-based DVDs, the DV-563A performed admirably. Both with test patterns (like the Snell & Wilcox Zone Test Plate; title 15, chapter 12 on Video Essentials) and actual material, the DV-563A picked up the 3:2 sequence instantly and created an artifact-free image. In the second chapter of Armageddon, the camera shot looks up at a building, which makes all of the building's horizontal lines diagonal. If a player doesn't pick up the 3:2 sequence quickly, these diagonal lines will be jagged. The DV-563A picks up the sequence fast enough that you'd never know it even had to.

These aren't the only tests of a DVD player's prowess. There are times when the DVD player will lose the 3:2 sequence because the disc was incorrectly authored (rare these days) or there's a mixture of film clips and video (like the documentary extras on most discs). In these cases, the player's video processing comes into play. To test this, I use the Apollo 13 clip on the third DTS demo disc. This clip's opening includes a slow camera pan across a neon motel sign, with the motel in the background. The 3:2 sequence is incorrect here; on a lesser DVD player or a TV with a poor line doubler, the sign's diagonal lines will be jagged, as will the balcony in the background. You'll also notice a combing effect in which moving edges seem to have been scraped over with a comb. The DV-563A does an excellent job with this test. The jagged lines are minimal, and there's no combing. The Pioneer's performance here isn't quite as good as that of the best DVD players out there, but it does a good enough job that it won't be distracting while you watch a movie.

The DV-563A also does an excellent job downconverting anamorphic DVDs (or "Enhanced for 16:9" DVDs), which need to be squeezed into the correct shape for display on a 4:3 TV. During this process, some DVD players soften the image, while others create jagged lines in place of the smooth diagonal ones. The DV-563A does such a good job that it's nearly impossible to tell that it's doing its job at all. There are no artifacts, and the player doesn't seem to soften the image.

Plenty of DVD players can do all of this. What makes this one special is its ability to play both DVD-Audio and SACD. To this end, I put in my new favorite DVD-Audio, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. The surround mix is exquisite, and it sounded great through the DV-563A. I also put in Pink Floyd's amazing Dark Side of the Moon SACD. If ever there was an album that screamed for a 5.1 surround mix, it is this one, and the DV-563A showed it off in all its glory. From the multilayered guitars to the multitude of electronic instruments, the disc's extra fidelity through the DV-563A was outstanding.

The real question that many of you may ask is, how does this player sound compared with all of the other combi players out there? It's a valid question, but mostly unfair. Almost all of the other combi players are at least four times the DV-563A's price. But for you, our fearless readers, I shall endeavor to compare one of these products with the Pioneer. I used Yamaha's DVD-S2300 that I reviewed in the August 2003 issue as a reference. This player costs $1,000 and is worth every penny. I checked the levels at the speaker terminals with a voltmeter and a 1-kilohertz tone from each player to make sure that they were reasonably close. Then, using two copies of the same DVD-Audio disc, I switched back and forth between the two players with just a press of a button on my pre/pro's remote.

In this unfair pseudo Face Off with the DV-563A, the Yamaha was the definite winner. Duh . But here's what was interesting. The DV-563A didn't sound like it was only 25 percent as good as the Yamaha. There was a difference between the two players, but it wasn't as noticeable as one would think.

I can't overstate how impressed I am with what Pioneer was able to accomplish for so little money. Yes, $250 is on the high end of low-end DVD players, but it's completely worth it. You get a solid progressive-scan DVD player with excellent interlaced performance and full DVD-Audio and SACD playback. If you have the money for one of the expensive combi players, go for it. There is certainly a bonus in audio and video performance. However, if you don't, this player is a stunning value for $250 and will sound and look excellent in your system. We all thought Pioneer's DV-47A would bring high-resolution, multichannel audio to a wide group of people, and it has. When the DV-45A was released, we were convinced that multichannel would finally reach the audience it deserved, and it has. With the DV-563A (what, was DV-43A taken?), multichannel can and will hit the masses. If you've been waiting for a high-resolution player to fit your budget, it's here—and it's good.


• DVD-Audio, SACD, and progressive scanning
• Just look at that price