While rival manufacturers are embroiled in the format war being waged between HD DVD and Blu-ray high-definition players, Denon has ignored the hype and concentrated on improving standard-definition performance.
Although you won't get the same image quality that true hi-def content offers, you can enhance the quality of your existing DVD collection using integrated video scaling. Standard-definition images are upconverted to hi-def signals, including the latest 1080p, which creates more detail and cohesive movement -- provided you have a compatible display.
The price (£249) may seem high for a DVD player but class-leading build quality and all-round performance mean you can get close to hi-def image quality without paying inflated prices for a next-generation player.
The thickset design -- featuring exceptional build, an anti-vibration construction and a stylish brushed aluminium front panel -- is consistently styled in line with more expensive models from Denon's AV range.
It's slightly larger than a typical DVD player and the front controls and display have been purposely oversized to make the player easier to operate manually. Unlike some players, all key functions can be controlled from the front panel -- although there is also a well-arranged but comparatively ugly remote.
To output upscaled video signals you will need a compatible digital display with corresponding HDMI connectivity. This digital connection carries all hi-def signals and multi-channel audio in the convenience of a single cable.
If you have an older display without digital connections there's a range of alternative analogue outputs, although they will not support video scaling, and performance will be less impressive. Component outputs using progressive scan video offer the next-best image quality while there is also an RGB Scart terminal for standard users.
There are several audio outputs that can be connected to an external amplifier to carry multi-channel film and music soundtracks for surround set-ups. These include a choice of optical or coaxial digital outputs with support for Dolby Digital and DTS formats, a set of dedicated 5.1 analogue outputs used for multi-channel music formats like SACD and standard stereo outputs that can be connected directly to your display.
This player's ability to upscale standard-definition video is really what separates it from typical DVD players. It's ideal if you own a compatible digital display and want to enhance the quality of your current DVD films -- but if you're not interested in using video scaling it makes sense to opt for a more affordable conventional player.
The player will upconvert standard DVDs to hi-def 720p, 1080i and the latest 1080p formats. It's one of the few players we've seen that features the highest 1080p standard, but you'll need a compatible display with a full hi-def resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels) to display it. Upscaling improves detail and fluidity, which comes close to hi-def performance but still falls short of playing true hi-def content using next-generation players like Blu-ray and HD DVD. The saving grace is that upscaling models are notably more affordable.
You can play a variety of discs including standard DVDs and CDs and -R/-RW recording formats carrying encoded JPEG, WMA, MP3 and compressed video DivX files. There's also support for both DVD-Audio and SACD multi-channel music formats.
Denon always uses the highest quality components for the price. The impressive internal specification includes high-resolution audio and video DACs, the latest Faroujda DCDi progressive scan processor and advanced separated circuitry.
The icon-based menu system appears outdated with unimaginative graphics, but it is easily navigated and uncomplicated. There's a Quick Set Up option and some more advanced custom settings, but once you've made most adjustments you shouldn't have to access the menu system too often. In fact, some settings can only be controlled from the front panel -- including HDMI output selection and a Pure Direct function, which turns off analogue video and digital signals for improved analogue audio performance.
Although upscaled images using HDMI produce the highest performance, the quality of analogue outputs deserves a mention. Progressive scan images, in particular, are beautifully balanced, clean and stable.
Switching to video scaling, however, creates more decisive detail and depth, using pronounced black levels, which can be controlled with the Black Enhancer from the set-up menu system. Even dimly lit scenes manage to retain composure without losing detail in dark backgrounds. Movement is smoother too, although it's difficult to perceive the difference between 1080i and 1080p outputs -- so spending more on a high-resolution screen that supports the latest format isn't essential.
The audio performance is also a cut above typically restricted DVD players. Multi-channel music discs and standard CDs deliver Denon's trademark warm performance with plenty of refined expression and subtle separation.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin