We were floored by the DVD-2930CI's image quality, but we were also floored by its high price.
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.
The Denon DVD-2930CI's jack pack consists of one HDMI output, one component-video output, one A/V output with S-Video, two digital audio outputs (one optical, one coaxial), a 5.1-channel analog output for multichannel music, Denon-Link, and an RS-232C port. The DVD-2930CI is able to perform upconversion over its HDMI output to 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p resolutions. Like most DVD players, it cannot output SACD audio through its HDMI output, but it can output multichannel DVD-Audio.
We ran the DVD-2930CI through our disc compatibility suite of home-burned CDs and DVDs and got mixed results. While it was able to play some of the more difficult discs in our suite, it choked on a number of discs we have labeled as easy. More annoying was the fact that these discs made the player hang up and required us to cycle the power to get the disc out.
The video quality performance of the DVD-2930CI was impressive, as we expected. We started off testing it with Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark DVD, in 720p, 1080i, and 1080p modes, and were rarely disappointed. It performed excellently on everything from resolution tests to 2:3 pull-down tests. Even the difficult swaying flag test looked remarkably lifelike, without being peppered with artifacts that many other players produce. We were also impressed with the Denon's noise reduction capabilities, as it was able to smooth out simulated digital transmission noise, leaving a clean image. The bottom line is that the DVD-2930CI turned in the best performance we've seen of any player using the HQV Test Suite, which isn't surprising, considering that the Denon uses Silicon Optix's video-processing chip.
We also looked at our torture test for 2:3 pull-down--the opening of Star Trek: Insurrection--and the DVD-2930CI passed commendably. There was still a slight stutter as the camera made a long pan, but that's to be expected with proper 2:3 pull-down. On the downside, using the Windows DVD Test Annex, we noticed that it suffered from chroma bug in 1080i mode.
Finding out that it was a great performer was no surprise, but with an $850 price tag, we wanted to how DVD-2930CI stacked up to cheaper alternatives such as the Oppo DV-970HD and the Toshiba HD-A1. We hooked up all three DVD players to the Sony KDL-40XBR2 and the Pioneer PDP-5070HD, and watched several scenes from Serenity to see how they performed. Right off the bat, the most striking impression was how similar they all looked. All three are very good upscaling DVD players, and only serious videophiles will find much of anything to complain about. That being said, we did feel like the DVD-2930CI had the best image quality of the three--but it was close. It was hard to pin it down to any one specific quality, but we felt like the DVD-2930CI had slightly more detail and looked more lifelike than either the HD-A1 or the DV-970HD.
Although we give the nod to the DVD-2930CI for pure performance, the other two players will be better values for most people. If you're not ready to spend more than $500 on a standard DVD player, the Oppo DV-970HD delivers most of the performance for a fraction of the price of the DVD-2930CI. On the other hand, if you're willing to spend $500 on a DVD player, why not go HD-DVD? Again, the performance for upscaling is very close to the DVD-2930CI's, plus you get the ability to play HD-DVDs that look much better than DVDs ever could.