Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Way to go, slim
Measuring roughly five inches tall, the DV-444 will easily slip into any home-entertainment center and still stand out. The sleek front panel has a minimalist design, with only a handful of buttons and a sharp, dimmable LCD that displays plenty of pertinent information, including MP3 track names. Since there are so few control buttons on the player itself, you'll be compelled to rely upon the remote, which is also well designed and quite functional.
As far as connectivity goes, around back you'll find one set each of component-video, composite-video, and S-Video outputs as well as digital optical and analog audio outputs. Setup is simple, and the transparent onscreen interface allows you to make performance tweaks while you're watching a DVD (most decks force you to stop the movie to call up the setup menu). Granted, the DV-444 doesn't offer the picture-tweaking capabilities of Pioneer's high-end , but beyond the three video presets--standard, cinema, and animation--you'll find user-programmable picture settings, which provide a reasonable amount of control over chroma delay and gamma settings.
One pleasing picture
As noted, this deck can output progressive-scan video. However, it lacks 3:2 pull-down circuitry to eliminate interlacing artifacts from DVDs that were originally shot on film. So to get optimal picture quality, this deck is best matched with a TV that has decent 3:2 pull-down.
Still, when we tested the DV-444 with a , we were pleased with the results. In the opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection, the pans across the landscape didn't reveal the usual number of jaggies--jagged edges--that we've almost grown accustomed to when using lesser decks. Another good test scene is from the Brad Pitt and Robert Redford thriller, Spy Game. During one sequence, the two stars have a heated rooftop conversation. As the camera rotates around the building, take careful note of the cityscape and the columns in the foreground, as there's minimal artifacting and line noise from the structures. This is pretty impressive considering what does--and doesn't--lie under the DV-444's hood.
In the final analysis, the only serious knock against DV-444 is the lack of 3:2 pull-down circuitry. True, this player doesn't offer the advanced audio features of Toshiba's and nor is it as inexpensive as Zenith's budget progressive-scan player. But there are enough positives here to recommend this deck to users who own HDTVs that offer 3:2 pull-down and who don't need DVD-Audio or Super Audio CD support.
Editor's note: If you're lacking a proper home-theater setup, the DV-444 also comes bundled within Pioneer's highly rated home-theater-in-a-box kit.