With DVD players available at ever more affordable prices, the £750 tag on Pioneer's flagship DV-989 is certain to raise eyebrows. But if you're an avid enthusiast with a high-end system there are few players better equipped for premier performance.
The superbly constructed universal design integrates state-of-the-art DVD technology including high-performance components, advanced digital processing, intricate adjustments and class-leading connectivity. Both HDMI digital video and FireWire digital audio connections are featured for superior quality performance -- particularly if you're using the latest digital receivers and screens.
In an age when DVD players are constantly slimming down in size, Pioneer's DV-989 is instantly conspicuous by its overweight construction. Weighing in at an incredible 9kg, the design dwarfs its typically slimline rivals and alludes to the abundance of technical features it carries.
Exceptional build quality, featuring a triple-layered chassis and flawless finishing, gives the player a reassuringly solid feel supported by firm controls and an enviably smooth loading mechanism. And the elegant, uncomplicated styling screams high-end quality.
Unfortunately, the accompanying remote isn't cast from the same mould. Although the design is spacious, with surprisingly few controls, the lightweight build and ugly, plastic jog wheel feel cheap by comparison -- but that's the only design drawback.
The rear panel is ridiculously well connected, with an all-inclusive range of audio and video options. On the sound side, you can connect the player to an external receiver using a choice of standard analogue and digital outputs, including 5.1 analogue preouts for listening to multi-channel movies and music.
The DV-989 also features a pair of the latest digital audio i-Link connections. i-Link, also known as FireWire, allows the direct, uncompressed transfer of any digital audio signals using only a single cable -- provided you have a compatible receiver. Not only does this mean fewer necessary cables but there's also improvements to sound quality, especially with SACDs.
Also included is the video equivalent, HDMI, which transfers pure digital audio and standard and upscaled video signals to a compatible receiver or screen providing the best picture performance currently available. At this level, it's likely that HDMI will be your video connection of choice, but there's also a supporting cast of analogue connections. These include dual composite, S-Video and Scart terminals -- one that's RGB enabled and another that can be used to link a recording device. And the impressive connectivity is completed by a set of component outputs with support for PAL and NTSC pure progressive scan.
It's not only the DV-989's comprehensive connectivity that affords it a state-of-the-art specification. The universal design is compatible with virtually every disc available, including recordable discs, MP3-encoded discs and both SACD and DVD-A multi-channel music formats. And, internally, only the finest components have been used in the construction.
This includes high-performance 108MHz/14-bit video and 192KHz/24-bit audio DA converters with integrated decoding for Dolby Digital, DTS and SACD soundtracks. There's also Pioneer's own Two-Dimensional Resolution Expander video scaler, which can upscale digital video signals via HDMI using 640x480, 720x576i, 720x576p, 1280x720p and 1920x1080i resolutions.
With all this technology at your fingertips, it's no surprise that operation is supplemented by an exhaustive list of advanced adjustments and features. Anyone not au fait with a glossary of AV technical terms may feel initially unsettled, but the clearly defined menu system and uncomplicated manual will help dispel any fears.
The Set Up Navigator feature offers a useful introduction, using a series of prompts to define the compatibility of your partnering equipment. The more complex Initial Settings menu allows you to select audio and video output options with accompanying individual menus dedicated to specific multi-channel music, HDMI and i-Link settings.
You can optimise the picture according to your screen type, choose between presets or individually adjust practically any picture element from gamma to chromo and black levels. And audio settings include several effects as well as advanced speaker management that allows you to configure your surround-sound system from scratch.
The sheer number of options available overwhelms ease of use and the remote's uncomfortable joystick is annoyingly unresponsive at times. But few players offer you such complete control over picture and sound presentation. Plug-and-play it isn't, but your patience will be rewarded by performance.
At this price level, the DV-989 pleads to be partnered by equivalent equipment to realise its full potential. And using a screen without HDMI connectivity would be wasteful, especially since digital images are at the forefront of its ability.
Using HDMI with an upscaled 720p signal seems to work best and literally transforms the picture in terms of clarity and definition. Superbly dense black levels expose previously unnoticed detail and enhance depth-defining contrast, without losing distinctness in dark scenes. Elsewhere, authentic colours are beautifully balanced with seamless gradation between shades and shadows. And there's no sign of shimmering straight edges or unstable backgrounds with even the slowest panning movements gliding effortlessly across the screen.
There is an expected decline in picture quality using analogue connections with detail diminishing and less overall density. But, especially using progressive scan, images are still outstanding if compared to typically priced players.
The DV-989's sound performance also outclasses its contemporaries, especially with movie and multi-channel music soundtracks. The player creates a balanced, cohesive surround soundstage featuring accurate expression and controlled dynamics, which are enhanced using the FireWire connection. And even stereo tracks can compete with a dedicated CD player.
If you are prepared to pay the price, the DV-989 offers simply peerless picture and sound quality. However, the law of diminishing returns does play a part and you're asked to spend significantly more for what a layman would deem as only subtle improvements. Also bear in mind that Blu-ray and HD DVD players will appear this year, promising an even higher quality of picture. The DV-989 is top of the pile for now, but it isn't future-proof.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide