We have to confess that we enjoy getting to play with new Denon gear. We aren't biased (so don't come and hang us from the nearest tree), but there are certain manufacturers who know how to impress even the most fastidious AV fanatic.
This admiration is rooted squarely in previous experience, with therecently thrashing all other £500 home cinema systems by a long distance. The DVD-2910 is a serious investment at £550, but to call it a mere DVD player is like calling a Swiss Army knife a basic cutting utensil. Put any shiny 120mm disc in the tray and the Denon will turn the 1s and 0s within into some of the most sumptuous audio and video you've ever experienced. With high resolution DVD-Audio and SACD playback, it even knows what to do with a Kodak Picture CD or Fujicolor CD.
Add these fantastic features to top of the range HDMI/DVI outputs and traditional RGB Scart/component connections, and you have the most compatible DVD player ever made. You'll probably have to upgrade the rest of your system to make the most of it, but home entertainment doesn't get much better.
The DVD-2910 is expensive, but it looks like it's worth every penny. The badges adorning the disc tray hint at how high-end it is: it's saying, "If I don't support it, it ain't worth having." The build quality is solid, with a brushed aluminium fascia and all the controls you'd need if you ever lost the remote. The DVD tray feels very solid, but it moves in and out with all the urgency of an arthritic tortoise.
Every DVD player on the market offers an RGB Scart connector as standard, but if you've got a flat screen or projector, you require something more sophisticated. The DVD-2910 will satisfy the most demanding user with not only a set of component outputs, but DVI and HDMI as well. That's two separate HDMI and DVI outputs, so whichever flat screen you buy, you know you'll get the very best digital picture possible. You can also use S-video and composite outputs, but with a DVD player this expensive, that would be a travesty. However, RS-232 control really should have been included on such a high-end player -- owners of Crestron and AMX control panels will not be able to control the DVD-2910 centrally.
Audio connectivity is just as impressive. Although you can't plug surround speakers directly into the back of the player, you can send signals to your amplifier either via optical or coaxial digital connectors, or via separate phono connectors for each available channel. This might seem like a less efficient way to hook up to your amp, but it is required to listen to 5.1-channel Super Audio CDs.
The Denon remote favours the more experienced user -- it's absolutely packed with buttons. With the sheer number of features and options on offer, advanced users will be in their element tweaking everything to find the perfect picture. It's a nice touch that the main action buttons glow in the dark (using Denon's 'Glo-Key' technology), but the controller itself is too fat to hold comfortably. You'll need two hands to operate it, which is not ideal.
The only thing missing from the extensive features list is DivX playback, but given the quality of everything else on offer, you wouldn't want to stoop to using the compressed video format. With DVD-Audio and SACD playback, you can treat your surround sound system to some beautiful, high-resolution audio. If your music collection resides at the other end of the quality spectrum in MP3 or WMA format, the DVD-2910 will play those files too. It's a shame that network facilities weren't implemented on Denon's high-end kit, but the company does offer a media server if you're into the digital home idea.
If you've recently splashed out on a high-definition TV, you are in for a treat. The DVD-2910 will upscale standard DVD material when you use the component, DVI or HDMI outputs. DVD movies are encoded in NTSC at 480 lines or PAL in 576 lines, but modern plasma, LCD and rear projection displays have resolutions of 720 or 1080 lines. The result is that DVDs can lack detail on these modern displays, and any defects in the encoding are even more apparent when blown up onto these big screens. The Denon fills the gap by processing the video and interpolating the extra lines of resolution before sending it to the TV in either 720p or 1080i. While you won't confuse it for high definition, the results are somewhere between that and standard definition, and if you're serious about your movies, you should consider buying an upscaling model. They don't have to be this expensive either: Toshiba's SD-350E also has an HDMI output and is due out in July 2005 for around £100.
Denon's technology list reads like a who's who of high-end AV. DCDi video processing smoothes out the video, while Noise Shaped Video (NSV) removes as many flaws as possible. There's also progressive-scan playback across component, DVI and HDMI outputs, which provides a judder-free image on a flat screen or projector. PAL and NTSC video output is switchable from one button on the remote -- handy if you want to match the original encoding of the DVD itself, but bear in mind this isn't a multi-region player.
Many people will rightfully question why they should spend £550 on a DVD player when you can pick one up for as little as £20 online. But if you're spending in the region of £2,000 on a TV, you should pair it with a player that will make that investment worthwhile. With video upscaling, support for nearly every major disc format and a completely future-proof connection roster, the DVD-2910 could be the second-best AV investment you ever make.
Picture quality is absolutely incredible. If you're using a DVI or HDMI connector, the video signal is processed and transmitted digitally, so the only time it becomes analogue is when it's interpreted by your eyes. This is what the future of AV looks like.
If your TV isn't quite so fancy, you can still use the component outputs. DVI/HDMI removes the last traces of image noise, but in many ways it's like the old CD versus vinyl debate -- some people may actually prefer the analogue 'warmth' of component over the digital precision of DVI/HDMI. If your TV or amp supports HDMI, then the audio signal is also carried down the same cable in digital form. Amps with HDMI are currently very expensive, but Denon's excessively large AVC-A1XV will process everything from this DVD player via one simple connection.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide