Pioneer Elite DV-47A universal DVD/CD/SACD player

For the last two years, only Pioneer has made products that bridge the gulf between DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD, the new, competing formats for high-resolution audio. The company's estimable DV-AX10, first offered more than a year ago, played both formats, plus DVD-Video discs—no other company offered a similar product. Back then, however, Sony and Philips, SACD's backers and licensers, sold only 2-channel versions of the hardware.

Though the DV-AX10 was great for its time, its price of $5500 caused many potential buyers to choke. Still, if you wanted a universal player, it was the only one. But time caught up with the DV-AX10. When multichannel hardware and software became available for SACD, it was hard to imagine anyone paying $5500 for a universal player that didn't offer that. Those who sneer at multichannel music are those most likely to buy a dedicated 2-channel SACD player. The rest of the world has amply demonstrated its demand that any product they buy—particularly an expensive one—offers every bell and whistle available. Remember a few years ago, when every maker of receivers and processors put a DTS decoder in almost every product, even though almost no software was available?

Enter the DV-47A, a more affordable universal player, part of Pioneer's Elite line. It costs $1200 and plays almost everything: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, 2- and 5.1-channel SACD, CD, Video-CD, DVD-R, CD-RW, and MP3 on CD-R. This product should roil the world of universal players. Many manufacturers offer high-end products combining DVD-V and either SACD or DVD-A. Pioneer offers it all, and at a price consistent with the market for other players offering fewer formats.

The DV-47A doesn't look remarkable—the familiar low, flat, black box, with Pioneer's Elite logo prominent at top center, just above the disc tray. The player shares its chassis with the non-US DV-S733A DVD-V/A player, and its instruction manual is written for both products, with numerous and sometimes confusing notes pointing out the differences.

The front panel has only the basic control buttons, but its display is comprehensive and easy to read, telling you what format is in use. Everything else is accessible from the remote, a small, handy device chocka-block with buttons. The manual says a button on the left side of the remote will light certain key buttons, but there was no such button on my review sample; the remote remained dark. Pioneer explained that the booklet was in error, and that the buttons are supposed to "glow" in the dark. If they glowed, they glowed very faintly.

The DV-47A offers 24-bit/192kHz audio processing, provides a built-in decoder for Dolby Digital and DTS, and offers progressive-scan video output with 3:2 pulldown correction—all the key features expected these days in a high-end DVD player. It does not offer a feature common to many "universal" players: a front-panel button that cuts the video circuits out of the signal path when playing audio-only discs. I've never found this option to make an audible difference, but some potential buyers may miss it.

The player also incorporates Pioneer's Legato PRO circuitry, which upsamples 44.1kHz PCM program material to 176.4kHz and 48kHz material to 196kHz. Another feature, Hi-Bit, increases the effective bit depth from 16-20 bits to 24. Both features operate from the analog outputs (left and right front speakers only) and either or both may be switched off, if desired.

Like other DVD players, the DV-47A offers a host of picture options, including various noise-reduction strategies and settings for Black and White Level, Mid and High Sharpness, and Gamma, which refers to adjustments that can be made at various points along the brightness curve, from the darkest parts of the image to the brightest. Gamma enables you, for example, to enhance detail in extraordinarily dark portions of the image without washing out the rest of the picture. The Sony DVP-NS900V, the $1000 DVD-V/SACD player reviewed in the May 2002 SGHT, offers these same adjustments, more or less, as well as a Gamma control that allows you to adjust gamma at nine points along the Brightness scale. The Pioneer's Gamma adjustment is less flexible, offering just one adjustment for the full band.

Use all such player controls with caution; they can do more harm than good, and unless there's a problem with a specific disc, these adjustments are best made on your TV. Still, Pioneer provides 15 memory settings so that you can make tailored adjustments for 15 specific DVDs. And the DV-47A does display below-black, which is useful for adjusting the Black Level using a test disc like Video Essentials.

Setting up the DV-47A was easy, though I found the menus a bit surprising. They were well-organized and fairly easy to navigate, but weren't presented in the warm graphical style to which many of us have grown accustomed. The crude lettering looks as if output by a dot-matrix printer. I suppose Pioneer had to cut corners somewhere to produce a truly universal player at such an attractive price. While this is merely a cosmetic issue, it was a bit startling in an Elite product.