Denon's high-end upscaling DVD player, the DVD-2930CI ($850 list), is initially a somewhat confusing product. With Toshiba's HD-A1 HD-DVD player going for $500 and upscaling DVD players costing about $150, who wants to spend $850 for a non-high-def DVD player? Well, plenty of videophiles still aren't quite ready to spend their money on a high-def format that could eventually go the way of Betamax, yet still want the absolute best picture quality they can get out of their existing DVD and audio disc collections. If you're that guy, and you have a lot of cash, the DVD-2930CI was built with you in mind.
The design of DVD-2930CI immediately sets it apart from your bargain DVD player. Its solid construction and all-black brushed metal faceplate give it the feeling of a serious A/V component. There are quite a few front panel buttons, including chapter forward/backward buttons and HDMI resolution controls, which are handy for when the remote goes missing. At 4.02 inches high, 17.09 inches wide, and 16.19 inches deep, it's a bit larger than a usual DVD player, so make sure you have room in your cabinet to accommodate its size.
The remote, like the unit, is bulkier than average. We found it easy to navigate, and the buttons are logically placed. It's not backlit, but we're guessing most people spending this much on a DVD player probably can spring for a good universal remote.
There aren't a lot of extra features, such as network media streaming or USB ports on the Denon, but it does handle both high-resolution audio formats: DVD-Audio and SACD. In addition, it can handle several different file formats, such as DivX, MP3, WMA, and JPEG. It also has a "pure direct" mode that disengages all video processing so that audio-only discs have less chance of picking up interference.
Although it's admittedly uncommon, one feature we would have liked to see in a player this expensive is aspect ratio control. Some HDTVs, such as the HP LC3760N and the Philips 42PF9831D, do not have aspect ratio control when fed high-def sources, so it's nice to have the upscaling DVD player handle it. This is not an issue for most high-quality DVDs, which are anamorphic, but nonanamorphic wide-screen discs will look distorted via the Denon unless you change the aspect ratio using your HDTV. The DVD-2930CI does have a "squeeze mode," however, that will display 4:3 material (such as TV shows on DVD) properly in the center of the screen. The problem is that the picture is still flanked by black bars on the right and left, and it doesn't have an option to zoom in on the image so that it fills the screen properly. For example, we used a nonanamorphic wide-screen DVD of Carlito's Way, and the best we could do was to use the squeeze mode to see it in the correct aspect ratio. In contrast, the $150 Oppo DV-970HD has a similar squeeze mode but was able to zoom in so that the picture filled the screen properly.