You've probably already read me running off at the mouth about how great the Denon DVD-1600, with its "play everything" internal audio decoder and silky smooth picture quality, really is. Every time talk has turned to "which DVD player should I buy for my $1000?" during the past six months, the answer from me has consisted of the word "Denon", followed by some ranting about how the images produced by the DVD-1600 seem to more resemble oil paintings than digital representations of film images. The question in this review is whether the same can be said of its lower-specified counterpart, the DVD-800. Featuring much the same bits and pieces, but with a few interesting changes, the DVD-800 continues Denon's trend of absolutely flooring the competition.
While I am still disappointed that at least an S-video cable hasn't been included, everything the user will need to get started is present and accounted for in this box.
The Denon DVD-800 is available in gold or black. The model I evaluated was a very dark black, which suited the style of the rest of my equipment, at least in cosmetic terms, but I do tend to prefer the burnished gold colour for some reason. Possibly it is because the gold colour makes it a little easier to tell one front panel button from another.
Whatever the standard Denon front panel lacks in style, it more than makes up for in functionality. From left to right, we have:
The fluorescent display cannot be dimmed in any manner, at least not by user input. It does dim automatically when the player does not receive any inputs after a while, but I found this more annoying than anything else.
From left to right, the Denon DVD-800's rear panel features:
Everything that the basic user needs to get started is here and accounted for, but it is the minor additions, such as the integral cover on the optical digital output and the analogue subwoofer output, that make the DVD-800 stand out from the competition.
The one complaint I had about the remote included with the Denon DVD-1600, other than an awkward layout, was that there were too many keys in too small a space, a problem that plagues just about every remote control I have ever seen. The remote control included with the DVD-800, the RC-550, still has a fairly irritating layout, but this is made more tolerable by the fact that there are less keys to be found in the same amount of space.
At the top of the remote are the basic controls, with the Power On/Off button in the top left corner, and the Open/Close button in the top right. In the row below these two buttons are the Stop, Still/Pause, and Play buttons. These buttons are easy to differentiate from one another because of their different sizes and the raised spot on the play button, which makes it somewhat easier to determine the difference between them. However, it would have been even better if the actual symbols for their function had been raised. The final row of buttons in this section include the Chapter Skip Reverse and Forward buttons, as well as the Slow/Search Reverse and Forward buttons. These buttons are harder to differentiate from one another because their size and shape are pretty much identical.
In the middle of the remote control is the arrow key mechanism, with the Enter key in the centre, and four buttons set into the corners. Clockwise from the top left, these are the Top Menu, Menu, Return, and Display buttons. The shaping of the arrow keys makes them easy to use in the dark, but the other buttons in this area, especially the Enter key, are hard to differentiate and not particularly easy to find. Beneath this arrow key mechanism are the Play Mode, Subtitle, Audio, and Angle buttons. Again, their lack of difference from one another makes it hard to tell them from one another.
Down the left hand side of the final section of keys are the Repeat Mode, A-B Repeat, V.S.S., and Set Up buttons. Again, these are little different from one another, and thus it is easy to hit one key when you mean to hit another. To the right of these keys are the numeric keypad and the Clear button, all of which are so similarly shaped that they are difficult to differentiate from each other.
All in all, this remote is nothing to write home about, but it is an improvement upon others that have been included with Denon players.
DTS bitstreams can be set to On or Off, depending on the user's preference. By default, this option is set to Off. Dolby Digital bitstreams can be set to be downconverted into analogue two-channel, or output in their native format. MPEG bitstreams can either be output in their native format, or downconverted to two-channel Linear PCM. Although this is not as attractive as the Denon DVD-1600's solution of outputting them through the 5.1-channel analogue outputs, it is encouraging to know that there is not a soundtrack of any type which the DVD-800 cannot handle in some manner.
Pleasure does not even come close to describing my reaction to the video output of this player. The DVD-800 produces a smooth, vibrant image that can be used to showcase DVD-Video at its very best. Even discs such as the recent aliasing-riddled release of The Phantom Menace were improved a great deal by this player. Other titles I tested on this player had a very smooth, film-like quality which leaves me in little doubt as to why Denon players are frequently used in the Hi-Fi stores near where I used to live for demonstration purposes. I cannot say enough complimentary things about this player.
The Denon DVD-800 is marked as a Region 2 player, and obviously would be factory adjusted in this country for Region 4, but I managed to make it play my Region 1 Anchor Bay version of The Evil Dead without a problem. It also played my RCE-protected Region 1 version of Hollow Man without a problem.
The Fast Forward and Fast Reverse functions are of average smoothness, with five different speeds ranging from what looks like 2X to 100X available. At all times, when normal playback was resumed, the player picked up at the exact point of the title that was displayed on the screen, rather than the seconds-later point that my reference player (and numerous other Toshiba players) are known for.
The Denon DVD-800 features a small read-ahead buffer, a feature which effectively makes the majority of layer changes invisible. The Region 4 Special Edition of RoboCop, which I like to use to test a player's ability to hide layer changes or branch to a different title without introducing excessive pauses, played without so much as a hiccup on this player. However, one interesting thing I found was that the Region 1 version of Hollow Man showed a very slight pause, barely a thousandth of a second, while the time displayed in the fluorescent display below the disc tray appeared to go backwards for a brief moment.
The first screen of the OSD features the Title, Chapter, Time Elapsed, and used memory locations for the current disc. Disappointingly, the DVD-800 still does not feature a Time Remaining display of any kind, but this is relatively minor considering what else can be done via this OSD. Other screens feature the controls for picture adjustment
Language names are abbreviated to three letters, which can be somewhat confusing if you don't know the traditional abbreviation of the language you are searching for.
The audio sync on this player is very good - the test with the Region 4 version of Pulp Fiction showed no discernable problems with audio sync at all, nor did any other title I tested this player with.
DTS bitstreams can either be turned on or off, depending on user preference. MPEG bitstreams can either be output in their native format, or converted into 48 kHz Linear PCM 2.0 for receivers that are not equipped with the appropriate decoding hardware. This is a less ideal solution than that of the higher-specified DVD-1600, but considering the lack of analogue 5.1 outputs, it is more than acceptable.
|Test Disc Format||Results|
|110 MP3s in 5 subdirectories||Found all 110 files.|
|110 MP3s in root directory||Found all 110 files.|
|128 Kb/s, 256 Kb/s, 320 Kb/s, and Variable Bit Rate||Played all files.|
|Multisession CD-R (4 sessions, each with one added MP3)||Only found the first session.|
|Pulp Fiction R4
|Terminator: SE R4
|Independence Day R4
|Hollow Man R1
|RoboCop: SE R4
|Video||Component Output||RGB Output|
|Audio||DTS Output||MP3 Playback|
|Value For Money|
|Product Type:||DVD-Video, Video CD, Audio CD and MP3 player|
|Region:||Marked as a Zone 2 player, but played discs from Regions 1 and 4|
|Signal System:||PAL / NTSC|
|Serial Number Of Unit Tested:||1104300627|
|MPEG Decoder:||Panasonic MN677533MP|
|Audio Frequency Response:||4Hz - 44kHz (96kHz sampling)|
|Signal to Noise Ratio:||118dB|
|Total Harmonic Distortion:||0.0016%|
|Dimensions:||420 (w) x 281 (d) x 95.5 (h)|
|Distributor:||Audio Products Australia
67 O'Riordan Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
|Telephone:||1 800 642-922|
|Facsimile:||1 800 246-262|
© Dean McIntosh
30th July 2002