Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi universal disc player

At first glance, Pioneer's new flagship universal DVD player bears a close physical resemblance to its predecessor, the DV-47Ai. And like the earlier model, the new DV-59AVi also includes two i.LINK (IEEE1394) Advanced Resolution Digital Audio Interfaces. These are designed to carry the digital DVD-Audio and SACD high-resolution audio datastreams to select Pioneer receivers—and, perhaps, to other IEEE1394-equipped products, though cross-manufacturer compatibility is not guaranteed.

If you can't make use of i.LINK, the new Pioneer player also has the usual set of multichannel analog outputs for carrying 5.1 audio. These can be used for Dolby Digital and DTS as well, if you choose to use the decoders in the player instead of those in your AV receiver or preamp-processor. Also carried over from Pioneer's earlier players is a wide selection of useful video controls, including Noise Reduction, Gamma, and two Sharpness adjustments.

But there are changes as well, the most visible and important of which is the addition of a High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) digital output. HDMI is functionally similar to the more common DVI-HDCP link, but it can carry both audio and video signals (though not DVD-A or SACD), and it uses a smaller, less cumbersome connector. (You can send an HDMI signal to a DVI-equipped display using an adapter, but only the video signal will reach its destination; the audio in this case must be carried by a separate cable.) The new Pioneer player also incorporates a 14-bit/216MHz video D/A converter for analog video outputs.

Bass management through the multichannel analog outputs is functional not only with DD, DTS, and CD material, but with DVD-A and SACD as well. The DV-59AVi also provides optional audio controls, including Legato Pro (upsamples the data to an unspecified higher frequency) and Hi-Bit (increases the resolution of 16- or 20-bit recordings to 24-bit). These two operate with CD sound only (front left and right channels), not with DVD-A, SACD, DD, or DTS. I performed my tests with these controls at their default settings: Legato Pro Off, Hi-Bit On.

I had only two complaints about the DV-59AVi's ergonomics. First, Pioneer's redesigned video menus cover too much of the screen while you're making adjustments. Second, the unilluminated remote, with its small buttons, is less user-friendly than Pioneer's earliest DVD remotes. The remote was also not as effective at off-axis angles as most players we have tested recently, including even the budget-priced V, Inc. Bravo D2.

Looking and Listening
Pioneer's PureCinema progressive-scan deinterlacer provided above-average performance with real-world DVDs, though the DV-59AVi could be caught out by a few challenging discs and test patterns (see sidebar, "Tests"). Apart from this, the images produced by the Pioneer were nearly impossible to fault in either interlaced or progressive component mode.

The player's luminance response tilted down very slightly toward the top end when its two onboard Sharpness controls, Mid and High, were centered (see "Tests"), but this may have had a positive effect, producing a picture that not only had a creamy texture but was also as naturally sharp and detailed as you could want short of high-definition.

When I compared the Pioneer's component-output performance directly to several other top-quality players—the Marantz DV-8400, Ayre DX-7, and Denon DVD-5900—the differences were invariably subtle. They centered almost entirely on how crisp the images looked and on slight color shifts (a good display calibration can compensate for the latter). The outcome of each comparison nearly always depended on the specific DVD being played and on how each player's sharpness controls were set. (Three of the four players each have two sharpness controls; the Ayre has no onboard video adjustments.) Sometimes a change of disc, or a one-step change in, say, one of the players' High Sharpness control, would shift my preference from one player to another.

The Pioneer looked outstanding from its HDMI output, and, if anything, even more filmlike than from its component out. If you have the option, and if your display's HDMI or DVI input works well with video material and is full-bandwidth (not all digital video inputs meet these criteria), this is the connection to use with the DV-59AVi. Of the competitors mentioned above, only the far more expensive Ayre looked arguably better than the Pioneer with a digital video link. (I used a Marantz VP-12S3 DLP projector for these comparisons.)

For more on these match-ups, see the reviews of the Denon and Ayre players elsewhere in this issue. You'll find comments on the Pioneer's sound quality—particularly when playing DVD-As and SACDs—in the Denon review, so I'll cut to the chase here. I used the analog 5.1 outputs exclusively. They sounded highly detailed, with fine depth and soundstaging; solid, tight bass; and an open, clear top end that some (not I) might find just a bit elevated. That last point could just as easily be attributed to a small rise in the brightness region of the speakers I used: B&W's 703 L/Rs, HTM7 center, 705 L/R surrounds, and ASW750 subwoofer.

We'll have more to say about the Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi in upcoming reviews of other products—reviews that will give us the opportunity to comment on additional aspects of its performance, including the digital i.LINK feature. But based on the results so far, the DV-59AVi does nothing to tarnish Pioneer's outstanding video reputation, which began in the laserdisc era and has continued to the present. This is one of the best DVD players on the market, regardless of price.