When Michael asked me if I would like to take a good look at Denon's latest entry level model, the DVD-900, I suddenly found myself with hundreds of variations on "of course, what a silly question" coming to mind, for Denon are fast overtaking Toshiba as the makers of reference players, the sort that people can judge the quality of a transfer by watching a disc on. Part of it has to do with the fact that Denon does not make our lives harder by falsely advertising that it is possible to add more picture information to widescreen films by pressing a button, but the overwhelming factor in Denon's emergence in setting standards is that they make players with the features every DVD enthusiast who's watched a couple of hundred different titles would want.
So how does the DVD-900 measure up in terms of that standard? Well, it's two steps forward and one step back for Denon in this case, with some very welcome additions being tempered by some annoyances that make me conflicted about recommending this player. While it is by no means a bad player, the small irritations it exhibits mean that it is really only recommended for users with noticeably more patience than what I have.
According to the manual, one should also get an analogue stereo audio cable, a video cable, and a Service Station list. These were not present in the box that I looked into, so I simply plugged the player in the way I do any other, and started playing back discs.
The Denon DVD-900 that I evaluated was a very black colour, although it is also available in gold if that is more pleasing to your eye.
The front panel is something of a throw-back to the DVD-1500, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. From left to right, we have:
They say it is the little things that make the big difference, and that's certainly true here. While the layout is still a bit awkward, those who have a habit of misplacing their remote controls will welcome the Arrow Key mechanism. The rest of the layout is perfectly satisfactory without being too brilliant.
The rear panel has an interesting layout. From left to right, we have:
Everything that the basic and advanced DVD user needs to get started is present and accounted for. In a move I truly welcome, the manual also politely stresses the superior results of viewing images via an S-Video or Component connection.
At the top of the remote are the basic Power On/Off, Virtual surround, Search Mode, and Disc Open/Close buttons, below which are some of the more advanced function buttons and a numeric keypad. The different shapes of the numeric keys and the function buttons, such as the Zoom button, make it a little easier to avoid inadvertently pressing the wrong button.
In the centre of the remote control is the Arrow Key mechanism, with the Menu, Top Menu, Setup, and Return keys in clockwise order around it. The Arrow Keys are nicely spaced from the Enter key, which lies in a pit in the centre. I found this mechanism quite pleasant to operate in comparison with most of the other remote controls I have tried so far.
Beneath the Arrow Key mechanism are the Chapter Skip, Stop, Play, Fast Reverse, Fast Forward, and Pause buttons. The overall layout of the buttons makes it a little counter-intuitive to find them, and they are easy to confuse with one another, while the Chapter Skip buttons are small enough that one can press them without realising it. I believe that one could get used to this layout in time, although how much time this would take is something I can only guess at.
One specific complaint I have about the remote is that there is a lot of slack space on it, and accessing the entire layout requires some creative shifting of one's hands and fingers. Overall, the RC-554 marks an improvement over the Denon remotes I have seen to date, but there is still a bit of a way to go.
Under the Audio menu, little is provided in terms of downconverting audio bitstreams. The deafening silence most receivers put out when they encounter MPEG soundtracks will be present and accounted for with this player, as this option can only be turned on or off. An option for downconverting all Linear PCM soundtracks to 48 kHz or outputting 96 kHz Linear PCM in its native form is provided for those who have receivers capable of doing something with such a signal.
I must confess to being thoroughly disappointed with this aspect of the DVD-900, as little control over the player's behaviour is offered with next to no option being offered for changing factory default settings that annoy the user, such as the Black Level option.
While there are some interesting changes to many visual aspects of the DVD-900, the one thing that remains the same is the most important. The image that this player produces is very smooth and clear, extracting the maximum possible detail from any given DVD without adding the harsh, jagged look common to a number of other players this can be said of. Indeed, if it weren't for the DVD-1600, I would have no hesitation in saying that this is the best possible image one can get out of a DVD player on the Region 4 market.
The Denon DVD-900 is marked as a Region 4 player. I managed, however, to make it play back my Region 1 version of Starship Troopers and the RCE R1 version of Hollow Man without any problems.
The Fast Forward and Fast Reverse functions on this player are rather well-implemented, with the 2X speed being particularly smooth in comparison to other players I have tested this function with. Speeds of 8X, 30X, and 60X are also available.
Layer changes were fairly obvious on the DVD-900, with layer transitions triggering an approximate quarter-second pause that was quite irritating on the RoboCop: SE disc that I use in order to test this function. This was also quite a surprise in light of the smoother playback when the 2X Fast Forward or Fast Reverse function was in place. Interestingly, skipping chapters produces a similar effect to layer changes - the video and audio stop, and a brief whirring noise can be heard from the transport.
One annoying feature of the DVD-900 is the Black Level setting. This feature boosts the brightness and contrast settings in an effort to make the image look brighter, at least in theory. In practise, it simply leaves the picture looking overbright and pasty, especially if you have taken the trouble to properly calibrate your system. What makes it so annoying is that it defaults to ON, and it always turns itself on again after a disc is ejected, regardless of how one screams at it that one actually bothered to set up their display properly. After receiving and applying a firmware upgrade from Denon, I tried once again to disable this feature, but it persisted in turning itself back on whenever I ejected whatever disc I was playing.
The On-Screen Display is, in contrast to the Denon DVD-1600 and DVD-800, very minimalist, with only text appearing where there used to be some rather interesting graphics. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as it makes the On-Screen Display a little less distracting compared to the previous models, and it allows more of the player's processing power to be devoted to the primary task - decoding the DVD.
In another first for Denon players that I welcome, the On-Screen Display function shows the Time Remaining in a given title or chapter by combining it with the Time Elapsed. The first press of the Display button will reveal the Time Elapsed and Time Remaining in the current Chapter, while the next press will do the same thing for the current Title. A third press will bring up a layer and less than helpful bitrate meter.
Subjectively, I tested the audio sync of the player using the extended DVD version of The Fellowship Of The Ring, mainly because this disc's audio sync tends to marginally wander at times. The audio sync in numerous passages of this film appeared to be slightly ahead of the video on the DVD-900, which is consistent with the result I found on my reference player, the Toshiba SD-2109, so this is a perfectly satisfactory result.
DTS bitstreams can be set to be output in their raw form to an appropriate decoder, or turned off. In another disappointment compared to the last two Denon players I have reviewed, the DVD-900 provides no option for the conversion or decoding of MPEG bitstreams.
|Test Disc Format||Results|
|110 MP3s in 5 subdirectories||. Found all files|
|110 MP3s in root directory||. Found all files|
|128 Kb/s, 256 Kb/s, 320 Kb/s, and Variable Bit Rate||.Could not play the Variable Bit Rate file|
|Multisession CD-R (4 sessions, each with one added MP3)||.Only found the first session|
|Terminator: SE R4
|Hollow Man R1
|RoboCop: SE R4
Tests ability to play back non-seamless branching titles without excessive pauses.
|Video||Component Output||RGB Output|
|Audio||DTS Output||MP3 Playback|
|Value For Money|
|Product Type:||DVD-Video, Video CD and Audio CD player|
|Region:||Marked as Zone 4 (Australia/New Zealand & South America), but played Zone 1 DVDs happily|
|Signal System:||PAL / NTSC|
|Serial Number Of Unit Tested:||Pre-production unit - no serial number|
|MPEG Decoder:||Omega-DVD STi 5519AVB-ES|
|Audio Frequency Response:||20Hz - 22kHz (48kHz sampling)
20Hz - 44kHz (96kHz sampling)
20Hz - 20kHz (CD)
|Signal to Noise Ratio:||110dB (JEITA)|
|Total Harmonic Distortion:||0.005%|
|Dimensions:||435 (w) x 216 (d) x 75 (h)|
|Distributor:||Audio Products Australia
67 O'Riordan Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
|Telephone:||1 800 642-922|
|Facsimile:||1 800 246-262|
© Dean McIntosh
7th March 2003