Pioneer DV-S737 Player

    When the laser in my trusty old Panasonic A130-MU broke down early last year, my search for a new DVD player, one with RGB video and DTS audio capabilities, began in earnest. Finally, after nine months and eight false starts, I believe I have found a suitable replacement given the state of the current marketplace.

    Modelled after the 535 and 636, the DV-S737 is the first mid-range Pioneer machine that outputs progressive NTSC and interlaced PAL/NTSC video using the new 10-bit 54Mhz video D/A. The audio specifications, GUI menu system, functionality, and outward styling are all similar to earlier models, while the revamped remote control is one of the best in the field. Sadly I could not secure a European player that output RGB video via SCART, but the quality of the component video signal on my TV is only a smidgen under the mark

What's In The Box

    The following items are included with each player.

Front Panel

    The front panel layout retains the Pioneer DVD player standard. On the left is a hard power button, together with an LED that glows green for ‘On’ and red for ‘Stand-by’. Typically I keep the player ‘Off’ rather than in ‘Stand-by’, unless I know I'll be using the player within the next day or two. Another four LEDs indicate progressive scan activation, noise reduction activation, digital audio data off status, and whether the fluorescent display has been turned off. As usual, the loading tray (above) and display panel (below) are located in the middle of the façade. Just to the right of the tray is a purple LED that shows whether a DVD disc has been loaded. Directly below this LED is the Open/Close/Stop button, followed by the small skip buttons, a pause button, and a large, rectangular Play button on the far end.

    My player and remote control are an attractive champagne gold colour. Their finish happens to match the aluminium woofer cones in my ALR/Jordan floor-standing speakers, creating a delightful aesthetic continuity. The player and remote control also come in black.

Rear Panel

    On the dark side of the player is the conventional array of connectors plus a few novelty items:     To reduce the incidence of oxidization over time, all connectors are gold plated.

Remote Control

    The Pioneer DV-S535 came with a user-friendly remote control. Amazingly, the DV-S737 remote control is even better. It is, quite simply, the best DVD remote control I have ever used, although one of the site reviewing staff hates the remote with a passion. Horses for courses.

    The dominating feature of the remote is the thumbstick and jog-shuttle assembly, or "Multi-Dial" as it's called, which is located one third of the way down the unit. Using the thumbstick for menu navigation is a breeze. It is highly responsive to slight pushes in four directions, while pressing the finger pad like a button invokes the Enter function with a positive, audible click. Sony's new players (e.g. the 9000ES) use a similar device, replacing the flat four-way Enter button. This Pioneer thumb-stick is easier to control than the stiff Panasonic joystick I had on my first player. If you are thick-fingered it could be difficult to use.

    Surrounding the thumbstick like a doughnut is the jog-shuttle dial, a feature I rarely used except in jog mode for scanning backwards and forwards frame-by-frame. It was exceedingly handy when looking for people wearing wrist watches in Gladiator, for instance. Not surprisingly, the shuttle functions differ from those employed by Sony remote controls:

    For the unadventurous user, buttons that perform these functions are also provided: a see-saw forward/backward fast scan button, and two separate buttons for pausing and advancing one frame in either direction. The fast scan button must be held for about 8 seconds before engaging the autopilot. Although this took some getting used to, I now find it handy for small jumps here and there. There is a slight lag between releasing the button and getting normal playback, unless you hit Play when you're ready. Newer Pioneers like this one have dispensed with the jerky frame advance that made it impossible to select an individual frame. Frame stepping backwards displays a half-resolution image. This allows for speedy jog scanning.

    Audio is mute while scanning. One glitch I discovered was the continued absence of audio if the shuttle dial was used to slow a fast scan down to play speed. Pressing the Play button restores the sound. I guess that the sound is meant to stay off in case you have not finished scanning. I don't remember if the manual stated this, but it may well have.

    Two rows down from the jog-shuttle dial are the Stop, Play and Pause buttons. As on Pioneer's other DVD and laserdisc remote controls (I have a Pioneer 927 LD player), the Play button is large enough to find easily, making it an ideal ‘home’ position: something that any well-designed remote control should have. These buttons, and the four special function buttons above it, can be back-lit with a red glow which is activated by a tab on the left side of the remote. Ironically, because of the excellent button layout, the back-light feature is virtually redundant.

    The Audio and Subtitle buttons are along the top of the remote in the middle. On the left of this row is the Display button, which is just below the Power button. I have never mistakenly turned the player off, but that is a risk. The Open/Close button is in the top right corner, and Set Up is below Display.

    Although some memory recall is needed to count buttons to find Audio and Subtitle (a pet hate of mine), the remaining functions are easy to locate on this extremely intuitive remote control. The cheapness of the build, making look and feel like a Star Trek prop, is more than compensated by its user-friendliness and functionality.

Manual

    The manual is well set out and easy to understand.

Operation

    The Pioneer DV-S737 loads and recognizes discs fairly quickly - certainly much faster than the Marantz DV-7000 I struggled with for months. The tray is sturdy, though not strong, and thanks to an acoustic dampener, the playback mechanism is quiet enough during playback so that I cannot normally hear it, but nor is it perfectly silent. Menu and chapter navigation is fast. Layer changes are faster than the Marantz, but with an average of two seconds, they should be much quicker.

    Powering up the player without the remote is difficult. In Stand By, you must press Play to power up, then press the Stop/Eject button twice to open the tray. Ideally pressing Eject once should power up the unit and open the tray.

    The fluorescent display can be dimmed in three steps or turned off with the remote control.

    This player has been modified to play all zones automatically, with an option to manually set the zone with the remote control. Macrovision has been disabled, too, which is good news for projector users.

Set-Up Menus

    Overall, the menu system is a cinch to use, and can operate in ‘basic’ mode rather than ‘expert’ mode (the default) to protect fiddly settings from being fouled up accidentally.

Audio: The standard variables are provided. This unit only allows for 96Khz Linear PCM Audio, not 192Khz. Dynamic Range Compression has three settings.

Video: Again the options are standard apart from the progressive/interlace video toggle.

General: This menu allows you to set up the screen saver, background colours, parental locking, menu modes, and so on.

Video Playback

    This player has two video circuits, one standard 10-bit 27Mhz video DAC for interlaced s-video output, and a 10-bit 54Mhz video DAC for interlaced and progressive component video output. Since my Loewe Ergo only accepts an interlaced signal, I could not test the progressive scan capabilities, although my TV generates a nice progressive NTSC image by de-interlacing the fields.

    S-Video looked exceedingly good. Sharpness and detail was evident in the demo DVD I ran through the player during this brief test. As expected, the THX test pattern on Fight Club showed minor colour shift between the bars. With movie software, s-video looked quite stunning, with better colour depth than the Marantz player and matching the Sony DVP-S7700.

    Component video looked better again, although the improvement was minimal given that my TV converts both RGB and component signals from the SCART input socket to S-Video. As with RGB, the colour bar test pattern on Fight Club showed perfectly distinct blocks of colour, with marginally better saturation and sharp, noise-free transitions. The $15 Encel-made 1.5 metre RCA to SCART lead was connected to the AV3 SCART - the so-called DVD SCART - which has a priority for RGB and component signals. Component sync was via the composite video pin. I noticed no difference in image quality between a sync on Y, requiring just the three RCA connections, and a sync on composite, requiring a fourth RCA connection to a composite output on the Pioneer. I will compare them with Video Essentials one day.

    With movie material, the component image was a notch cleaner than S-Video. The Pioneer gave a more detailed picture than the two-year-old Sony DVP-S7700 via component, and close to the Marantz RGB image. Jerry Maguire yielded more background detail, as did all other DVDs I tested. You can see for a mile down the streets of LA as Vincent and Jules discuss Amsterdam in Pulp Fiction. The costumes in Shakespeare in Love, with their infinitely detailed and multi-coloured textures, were breathtaking. Vanishing point details were also evident in The Fifth Element and The Matrix, and you could see right into the dark alleys of Blade Runner's congested cityscape. The Region 1 release of Lost in Space provided more depth and minutiae in the opening CGI action sequence, as well as the fly-by of the Proteus later on. A Bug's Life in PAL and Toy Story 1 & 2 in NTSC were both absolutely stunning. Older movies such as Fiddler on the Roof also gave up more detail behind the main subjects, although the returns were on a lower scale. The Game is stubborn about giving up shadow details. Here it looked as good as it could on a CRT device, lacking the grubbiness I noticed on an old Sony 715 I tested last year.

    I spotted two component video artefacts. The first concerns a loss of detail on bright surfaces on some transfers, for example Pleasantville. S-Video suffered a similar problem on earlier players I tested, e.g. the Marantz. This might be due to being more observant now than before, but I don't remember seeing as many instances of blazing white patches in RGB. I am planning to run an RGB player to see if the problem is with the player or the TV, and the way it handles component. This difficulty was more common with material sourced from video, not film.

    The second problem is the ragged appearance of some gradual tone transitions caused by headlights, sunrises, torches, etc. The dawn in Fiddler on the Roof suffers this problem. It happens on PAL and NTSC. I remember seeing it on some Sony Wega TVs playing A Bug's Life, though they are much less evident on my set up, and they do not appear on s-video. At this point I cannot determine whether this artefact appears because component is too good as resolving such gradations, or whether it's not good enough - that is, lacking colour or luminance bandwidth. I suspect the latter. I never saw it with RGB, and it happened with the Sony S7700 as well. Again, it is probably related to the way my TV handles component video, which mixes things up unevenly compared to RGB.

    I would have preferred a European 737 with RGB via SCART, but Pioneer Australia are not importing them. Very frustrating. I wouldn't care if component was as good as RGB, but with my TV chassis (Q2400), which admittedly represents Loewe's first attempt at component decoding, that is not the case. The frequency of either problem occurring is rare enough to be acceptable, but I shall keep looking for answers.

    Having said all that, the image resolving capabilities of this player are exemplary, thanks to the 54Mhz video D/A.

Video Adjustments

    Like its older cousin the 717, which I had also taken for a test drive, the 737 allows you to tweak the image parameters and save them as presets. The adjustments are:

Presets: These are pre-configured for various display devices: plasma, projector, CRT, LCD: I use the customized settings.
Pure Cinema: Engages special image processing for progressive source material only. As far as I can tell this would only applies in progressive mode. The options are Auto, On, Off.
White Level: Contrast.
Black Level: Brightness. This is always useful for making fine adjustments that your TV cannot achieve.
Chroma Level: Colour saturation.
MNR: Mosquito noise reduction. From Pioneer: "Adjusts the amount of noise reduction applied to the mosquito noise (video artifacts on the edge of the image resulting from MPEG compression. Mosquito noise is a distortion characterized by moving artefacts around edges. They are visible as the fluctuations of luminance and chrominance levels especially in smooth-textured regions. Mosquito Noise Reduction cuts the noise out to present you a consistently smooth image." Can be turned off.
YNR: Luminance noise reduction. Can be turned off.
BRN: MPEG-2 block noise reduction. Pioneer says: "Block noise is a visible annoyance caused by image compression. It is noticeable as discontinuities of intensity between adjacent blocks, especially in low detail areas of the image. New Block Noise Reduction simply makes the noise invisible." Can be turned off.
Hue: red-green NTSC tint control.
IRE: Can be set to 0.0 or 7.5 to correct "floating black colour". This is related to passing an absolute black level. I have it set to zero.
Mid Frequency Detail: Sharpness of "less detailed" background elements, i.e. objects in soft focus.
High Frequency Details: Sharpness of "finely detailed" foreground elements, i.e. objects in sharp focus.
Detail: Overall sharpness level. I have it on the minimum setting to reduce the effect of edge enhancement.
Progressive Motion: Progressive mode only. This parameter must engage algorithms that make pans smoother, as my 100Hz TV does, and also affects still frame quality.
Chroma Delay: This parameter corrects any timing problems between luminance and colour, which apparently "removes blurriness and colour smears." I have not noticed a difference when changing this setting, but I plan on conducting a few tests when time permits.

    All of the video equalization settings are subtle, and it's good that the noise reduction settings can be disabled, which I do in the hope that fewer video circuits and processes interrupt the video signal path. This is also essential for reviewing DVDs. Annoyingly, the manual avoids explaining the effects of these controls in depth. For example, I have the Mid Frequency detail set lower than the High Frequency to retain the natural illusion of depth. Three memory spots are available for storing custom presets. The player can also remember custom presets for up to 15 DVDs.

On Screen Display

    The OSD appears as two lines of bland white text shadowed at the top of the screen. In four pages it shows various chapter/time configurations. The third screen has a bit rate indicator as well as a flag for source video stored progressively. A layer indicator would have been handy.

Audio Playback

    The Pioneer DV-S737 sounded on par with the Marantz DV-7000 and the Pioneer 717. It fell behind the Sony DVP-S7700, which is still the best-sounding DVD player I have tried in my home thus far. (Its replacement the 9000ES and Toshiba's 900e are bound to be better, as would the Pioneer DV-S838A) Using a new half-metre Transparent Audio coaxial interconnect, and sitting the player on an Atacama sorbathane isolation platform, the Dolby Digital sound quality for the likes of Saving Private Ryan, A Bug's Life, Boogie Nights, Das Boot, Terminator 2, Gladiator, and Seven was detailed at the top end and weighty at the bottom end, with a realistic sound stage and crisp detailing. The Dolby Digital trailers were particularly glossy. Stop Making Sense sounded fabulous (although I've never heard it sound otherwise), while the bank robbery scene in Heat rattled the windows with its clarity and punch.

    As a CD player the Pioneer performed solidly. My Arcam 8 CD player sounded more natural, however. I also found the Sony DVP-S7700 synthetic and lifeless as a CD player, despite its excellent 24-bit resolution. Your ears my well have a different opinion.

    I could not test DTS software. Linear PCM content sounded gutsy.

Disc Compatibility Tests

    This unit played CD, VCD, CD-R, CD-RW fine. It refused to play my limited edition Foo Fighters bonus VCD, which contains four video clips, but that could be a disc manufacturing issue.

Other Features

Player Comparisons

    Toshiba's 5200 player, which has a 10-bit 54Mhz video D/A (no progressive output), HDCD, DTS and DD decoding, is the closest competitor for the same money. I would have bought this player except for the fact that, at the time, the 5200 and its big brother the 900e could not be modified to play region code enhanced DVDs. Apparently the modified 900e now plays THE PATRIOT R1, although the modification to achieve this was quite elaborate and may set you back a few hundred bucks.

    The Sony 9000ES is a beautiful machine, with a 12-bit 54Mhz Genesis video D/A, SACD processing (left-right outputs only, not multi-channel), and a massive 18 kg chassis. But it only outputs 96Khz DVD-A, not 192Khz, spits out NTSC progressive only, cannot have macrovision turned off, cannot have manual region selection (as far as I know), and is double the price of the Pioneer 737. For a high-level machine I'd recommend the Toshiba 900e, assuming it can handle RCE, since it also decodes DTS, Dolby Digital, and HDCD, as well as having a SCART socket for RGB output. It only has a 10-bit 54Mhz video chip, but the 10-bit / 12-bit difference is bound to be minor - but that does not stop me from wondering about how much!

    Before too long, the 54Mhz video chips will replace the 27Mhz chips as the standard in low-end players.

Overall

PROS: CONS:

Features At A Glance

Video options
  • s-video
  • composite
  • component progressive (525 lines NTSC only)
  • component interlaced
Video Digital to Analogue converters
  • 10-bit 27Mhz (s-video)
  • 10-bit 54Mhz (component)
Audio 
  • Dolby Digital, DTS, MPEG digital audio bitstream output
  • Analogue left/right output
  • 96/48 Khz digital output
  • Tru-Surround audio with Dolby Digital sound tracks
Disk Compatibility DVD, CD, VCD, CD-R, CD-RW

In Closing

    The Pioneer DV-S737 is an excellent all-round DVD player that performs above its price point. I would have preferred a European model, but for now this one is fine. I have no use for progressive output; I chose this player for its mid-range virtues. The 535 and 636 are also good performers at a lower price bracket, but they use the older 27Mhz video D/A.
 
 

Ratings (out of 5)

Performance
Build Quality
In Operation
Compatibility
Value For Money

Technical Specifications (Manufacturer Supplied)

Product Type: DVD-Video, Video CD and Audio CD player
Region: Marked as a Zone 3 player but modified to play all regions
Signal System: PAL / NTSC
Serial Number Of Unit Tested: ULYD003162LL
MPEG Decoder:  
Audio Frequency Response: 4Hz - 44kHz (DVD fs: 96Khz)
Signal to Noise Ratio: 115dB
Dynamic Range: 109dB
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.001%
Dimensions: 420 (w) x 370 (d) x 128 (h)
Weight: 6.9kg
Price: About $1800 retail. I've seen it for $1550 and $2000 modified.
Distributor: Pioneer Australia
Website: http://www.pioneeraus.com.au

© Rod Williams
24th March 2001
(Note that this review quotes material from the S737 manual and from Pioneer's website.)