Sugg. Retail: $2999 (CAN)
Distributor: Pioneer Electronics of Canada
300 Allstate Parkway, Markham,
Ont. L3R 0P2
(905) 479-4411 FAX 946-7427
(Reprinted from the Almanac 99 Audio Ideas Guide)
If you are seeking the DVD player that combines the most features and the fewest compromises, you should probably start by looking at the DV-09. There may be more exotic models from smaller high end companies like Theta or EAD, but as likely as not, these will be repackagings of this or another top-of-the- line Japanese model.
The DV-09 weighs almost 35 pounds, with a great deal more internal damping, bracing, and shielding than any other player in my experience. In addition to dual composite and S-video outputs, it also provides component video outputs (3 RCA). There are also dual stereo analog audio outputs, and optical and coaxial PCM/Dolby Digital/DTS RCAs, with an additional straight PCM RCA coaxial out. This versatility allows direct hookup to audio and video recorders (the latter unlikely to record copy-protected video, though my Sony SLH-750 Super Beta machine copies DVDs), and direct digital connection to DAT or Mini-Disc machines.
For all its size, weight and price, the DV-09 does not contain Dolby Digital nor DTS decoding, buyers expected to have either an outboard unit, or a matching receiver like the Elite VSX-09TX. It provides all the normal operational features of DVD and more, including some unique to Pioneer, for example, their Condition memory, which allows memorization of language, subtitle, surround mode, and other characteristics for up to 30 discs; though the number of discs is too few, this feature helps one avoid repeating with every play the incredible annoyance of defeating the defaults of individual discs; Condition allows you to set the disc up the way you want it before the first play. I still don’t understand what provokes some of these DVD manufacturers to program discs for Dolby Surround instead of Digital and with English subtitles on. You really do wonder, when they can’t even get the no-brainers right.
Another unique feature of this Elite player is its range of picture and noise reduction adjustments. Separate adjustments are provided for brightness NR (YNR), Colour NR (CNR), and overall Video NR (VNR). In addition, Sharpness can be adjusted in both Vertical (V SHARP), and Horizontal (H SHARP) modes. C LEVEL allows varying of colour depth (or saturation), while the most useful adjustment, Y/C TIMING gives the user control of picture colour phase. This is valuable in cases where a fairly long run of S or component cable is used, for example, with a front projector. Setting the Y/C TIMING is easily done using an accurate colour bar display like the one provided on the Video Essentials DVD. I’m quite familiar with this feature, since it is a primary control on my Faroudja VP100 video enhancer (Wtr 98).
All of these adjustments are accessed using the GUI (as in messy) menu system. I’m not fond of these multi-level menu systems, especially in cases like this, where they largely obscure the screen when you’re trying to make precise adjustments of picture quality. However after 5 seconds, the display reverts to just the adjustment bar you are set to, making the picture more visible. There are 3 memories for these settings, a good idea that allows setting of well defined thresholds of tolerable disc noise, colour values, and/or resolution.
In operation, I generally preferred the NR at low settings, or off altogether, since there is a definite tradeoff between NR and picture sharpness. In other words, you can have reduction or resolution, but not absolutes of both, just something in between. In this respect, it’s a little like the anti-shake feature built into many camcorders. In most that I’ve used, the anti-shake causes a very visible degradation of picture detail, and though the effect here is more subtle, it does exist because of the extra video processing involved.
More important, when you have a DVD player that can produce such a fantastic picture, why do anything to degrade it? Looking at the charts on Video Essentials, resolution could be seen to well beyond 450 horizontal lines (it’s hard to put a number to this, but the DV-09’s resolution definitely approaches the 500 mark). Not only is the picture sharp and detailed, it also has superb colour values. Though my Elite DVL-90 came close in many respects when processed through the VP-100 in terms of colour and picture depth, it did not match in resolution, the DV-09 always providing more detailed images.
As a second generation DVD player, the DV-09 comes with a 96 kHz/24-bit DAC, though this fact is nowhere revealed in the owner’s manual. Both AAM and I used it first as a CD player, and I did the usual tracking tests on it. On the Verany dropout disc it played fine through track 28 (.3mm), ticked once on 29 (.5mm), with regular ticks on those above, ultimately skipping ahead to seek good data. It didn’t much like the narrow gauge tracks, ticking on 40 (1mm), and in the double dropouts was error-free through 45 (2 x .2mm), with one tick on 46 (2 x .5mm) and effective interpolation thereafter. Using our new Digital Error Detector (DED) I could see the corrected errors flashing on the red indicator light. The upper limit seems to be .5mm.
On the CD CHECK disc, the DV-09 played only track 1 with complete success, and ticked or made other progressively louder noises on 2, 3, 4, and 5. Beyond track 1 the error light on the DED flashed almost continuously. In our random error disc, the player also had quite a lot of trouble, though it corrected many of the smaller dropouts in the 35 seconds before it locked up. It’s also interesting that some types of data loss make it skip ahead, while other larger data gaps cause it to lock up and repeat a phrase. In our partially transparent CD test, the DV-09 ticked loudly on tracks 1 and 2, but played 3 and 4 quite well while correcting errors shown on the DED.
These results show a player which, while not a great CD tracker, is capable of fully correcting errors of up to .5mm, so owners will want to keep their CDs clean and scratch-free. However, it obviously extracts all the data from the much smaller pits on a DVD disc, and I mean “obviously”.
Listening to this Elite player was a very different experience from testing its tracking. I compared it, in level-matched A/B tests, with several other CD and DVD players, including the Arcam Alpha 9 (a much better disc tracker), my portable Panasonic DVD-L10, and the the Linn Classik.
In all cases the DV-09 came out on top, its sound quality pretty much equivalent to high end players in its price range, and transport/DAC combinations that cost even more. The Alpha 9 was very close, as was the astonishing little DVD-L10, but the authoritative bass and extreme midrange lucidity of the Pioneer prevailed. And that was just with CDs. With audio DVDs, its sound was amazing (as is that of the Panasonic), with greater detail and depth, solider and more extended bass, and more of everything musical there. In audio and video, it’s superb.
One drawback common to some DVD players is the inability to play CD-Rs, which will concern only those who make their own CDs, or professionals who end up listening to these discs frequently. Oddly enough, the DVD-L10 portable plays CD-Rs so well that I tend to use it for making CD-R copies (and when its digital signal is passed through the Monarchy Audio DIP jitter box, the SCMS anti-copy flag created by my PDR-05 is stripped out, though not the track ID codes); I’ve been doing quite a lot of dubbing lately of our new jazz recordings with the Chuck Israels Quartet. We hope to have commercially pressed CDs to sell before Christmas. Watch this space for further news.
I did not have an opportunity to check out the DV09’s DTS output, since the Elite VSX-09TX does not decode it (look for the receiver review in the Winter 99 issue upcoming), but did check out its component video output with the plasma display Monitor just reviewed. Using Ultralink’s new Platinum Series Component Video Pro cables, the full resolution and superb colour values of the DV-09’s picture were passed on to the monitor.
I wasn’t all that excited about some of the ergonomic aspects of this player, specifically the GUI system that requires several button presses to achieve one function, and the fact that with some DVDs you had to press Enter to get play because the Play button would not do its thing. I’ve never encountered this latter peculiarity on any other player. That said, the Pioneer Elite DV-09 is still the best looking DVD player in my experience in terms of picture quality, as well as being one of the best single-box CD players available. It also plays 24-bit/96-kHz audio DVDs superbly. Too bad for me that it doesn’t manage CD-Rs.