Pioneer's DV-440 is different from some of the other the entry-level DVD players available today. It's slim enough to fit inside a briefcase and has almost as much MP3 muscle as Winamp. The differences, unfortunately, extend to the price tag: a slew of players that cost significantly less offer nearly identical features and performance. Pioneer's DV-440 is different from some of the other the entry-level DVD players available today. It's slim enough to fit inside a briefcase and has almost as much MP3 muscle as Winamp. The differences, unfortunately, extend to the price tag: a slew of players that cost significantly less offer nearly identical features and performance.
Trim and proper
One of the slimmest DVD players around, Pioneer's DV-440 would look sleek on any equipment rack. Its face is a clean sliver of matte black, with the bare minimum of buttons and a discreet (even in the dark), orange-lit display. The disc drawer is a little noisier than those of other players, but otherwise the unit seems quite solid. There's no lack of buttons on the remote, but they're arranged logically, and your fingers will grow accustomed to navigating by feel in no time.
The DV-440's MP3 functionality beats the jacks off that of any player we've seen. An MP3 navigator displays the first seven characters of track filenames complete with an honest-to-goodness file tree. The player lacks ID3 tag support, though. Still, the navigator can create playlists, play MP3 tracks randomly, and easily find songs among folders--a blessing since MP3 CDs can contain hundreds of songs.
The well-designed, text-based setup menu can be set to either Basic or Expert. In Basic mode, short explanations appear when an item is highlighted (for Virtual Surround, for example, it reads "surround effect from 2 speakers"), and the number of menu items is minimal. In Expert mode, the explanations disappear and the full range of options is available. One of the most convenient is Auto Language; this plays a disc in the primary language in which it was filmed, with subtitles automatically appearing for films made in languages other than the primary language of the player's encoded region. We tried this out with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and were delighted to hear the original Chinese dialogue instead of the default English dub.
The DV-440 has picture adjustments for contrast and sharpness, three memories for custom settings, and three picture presets--all of which are missing from most entry-level units. If you want to customize the settings specifically for certain DVDs, the player can remember settings for up to 15 discs. It can also remember where you left off watching a movie and begin from the same spot, even if you remove the disc. It may be questionable how much you'll use all this wizardry, but it's there if you want it.
Standard composite-video, S-Video, and component-video (Y, Pb, Pr) jacks are also available. On the audio side, the player has analog jacks and both kinds of digital outputs: optical and coaxial. The choice of one or the other is a boon if your receiver's inputs are crowded.
Partly clear with a chance of jaggies
The DV-440 delivers video performance on a par with that of any entry-level player out there. Details abounded on the excellent Men In Black disc, from the minute instrumentation surrounding the tiny doomed Arquillian inside the human robot to the not-so-minute crags on Tommy Lee Jones's face. We could even read the name of the eight-track he slips into his player.
The major problem here had to do with the DV-440's ability to convert anamorphic, "enhanced for widescreen," DVDs for display on standard-shaped 4:3 screens. In Men In Black, we saw moving jagged edges on the flying saucer as it swept over Shea Stadium to the dismay of New York Met Bernard Gilkey. Adjusting the player's internal sharpness control in an attempt to soften the edges didn't help much. This is a common problem, though, and some DVD players do an even worse job of anamorphic conversion.
The DV-440 has much to recommend it, but its Achilles' heel is its $299 list price. Although it's well designed and packs some unique bonuses, such as an MP3 interface and video adjustments, it's just a notch above an entry-level player. But if you can find it online at a significant discount, you should certainly consider it.