Pioneer DV-414 DVD Player
The search begins
When I first began my search for a DVD player last fall, I had the unique opportunity of being able to try many, many players in my own home theater. I tried numerous machines from JVC, Kenwood, Mitsubishi, Sony (including the prestigious DVD-S7000), and Pioneer. I admit to deliberately avoiding the Pioneer Elite DV-09, as I was afraid what it might set me back after seeing it in action. The Elite-badged unit carries the skyscraping price tag of $2200 and is the best unit I have ever had my hands on. But Pioneer has a rich heritage in optical video, having been a pioneer (no pun intended) with laserdisc, and so I had high hopes for the little DV-414.
Of standard component size, the unit is 16 9/16" wide, 11 5/16" deep and a scant 4" tall. This allows for easy placement in just about any system. The back of the unit features, from left to right, both a TosLink optical and a female digital output RCA jack. Those are followed by a 3.5mm Control In jack for wired hook up (for use with broad line Pioneer products). Next comes a feature I would not expect to find, a switch to let you select NTSC, PAL, or auto-sense output for either of those video standards. The three RCA jack component video output is next, followed by the two-channel analog audio output. Rounding out the back, on the far right is the AC cord.
The front of the unit is simply laid out. The power switch is in the upper right corner, with a round on/off switch for the display directly beneath. The display is centered on the face for easy viewing, with the disk-loading tray directly above. To the right of the tray is the Open/Close button, with a pair of small round buttons beside the display for FF and REV. The Stop and Play/Pause button finish out the faceplate to the far right.
The smallish remote has 43 buttons that are not backlit, denying it from being mistaken as one of the more user-friendly remotes Ive run across, especially in poorly lit "home-theater" conditions. The GUI on-screen display will walk you through just about everything, from first-time set-up and digital-audio choices to time remaining and angles when applicable. As to subtitles, if the disc in play supports it, the unit is embedded with 136 different languages! The unit has all essential features one would expect in terms of disc search, pause, slow motion and programming, but it offers a host of capabilities one would not expect to find at its modest price point.
The medium-sized display window indicates when and what title is in play, when decoding 96kHz, when the GUI is on screen, chapter, track, angle (if available), running time, last memory (if in use), condition (to indicate the conditional memory from disc to disc) and Dolby Digital. Though no display is provided, the unit will decode DTS, which is one of the many reasons this unit finally won tenure in my system. I find DTS to be much superior to Dolby Digital, when I can find software to utilize it.
One of the other more attractive aspects of the DV-414 is that it supports both 16-bit/44.1kHz and 24-bit/96kHz audio, making it a very affordable candidate for multi-purpose applications. You can use this device for DVD, CD and the new audio formats that use the higher bit rate and sampling frequency. The unit has many on screen displays, which will guide you thorough initial set up and all of the in use viewing options you have available to you.
Some of these features simply beg to be singled out, as they give the DV-414 a very strong appeal. Near the top of the remote, just above the perfunctory cursor controls, is a button called Mode. This button performs three functions. Pressing it repeatedly brings up the Video Mode, Pause Control and DRC, or Dynamic Range Compression, in sequence. The Video mode offers three positions, Cinema, Animation and Standard. I must say, my machine never leaves the Cinema mode, which gives it a level of video performance not too far removed from the old benchmark Sony DVP-S7000 (now the DVP-S7700). These soft switches engage preset levels of sharpness, blackness and contrast, with much success I might add. While Animation offers very bright, clear color, it does not offer the intensity of black and sharpness that the Cinema preset provides. Standard simply is the unmodified output of the device.
Pressing the Mode again moves the user into the pause control screen, offering field, frame and auto. Field offers a standard, motionless freeze frame, Frame gives you the highest picture quality the unit can deliver, and Auto selects one or the other, depending on the disc.
The third field of the Mode button is the Dynamic Range Compression control. The purpose of using dynamic range compression is to allow the contrasts between the loudest explosions on your favorite action adventure and the softest whisper of the protagonist to be brought closer together. This is especially helpful for viewing when the kids/significant other/room mates are sleeping or whenever fewer audible distractions are required. Where as most DVD players offer a switchable on or off compression control for late night viewing, the DV-414 offers nine user selectable levels! No more scrambling for the remote to turn down the volume when some alien blows up New York or an airplane crashes into a train. This is a truly useful feature, allowing you to choose any setting you might find most appropriate to suit your needs. Well done Pioneer.
Those of you out there with direct-view televisions should try the S-Video output. In that realm, it offers superior continuity during motion, better control of dot crawl and richer saturation of color. You Rear Projection television viewers, while wanting to try the S-Video output, will likely be better served with the component (if your unit accepts it) or, believe it or not, the composite output. For some reason, most S-Video outputs in my experience actually serve to increase dot crawl problems and over-saturate the whites to the point of black tears on rear projection monitors. I suspect it may have something to do with the comb filtering in todays better PJ televisions, but am not completely sure that is the only cause. I am sorry to say that my current monitor does not offer component input, so I could not evaluate that aspect of the device.
The other valid concern here theater fans is that if you use one S-Video input on your receiver, you must use ALL S-Video inputs. So, unless you are using an S-VHS or Hi-8mm videotape machine, you will not be able to use the switching functions in your receiver to select your VTR(s). This can be a royal pain in the you know what for those who have gone to a one remote-control solution. For some reason, which Im convinced is mostly economic in nature, all of the composite inputs are disabled whenever you plug in even ONE S-Video plug. So, lets say you have two VCRs and a DVD player, like I do. If you use all the composite inputs from all three devices into your video receiver, you can very easily and conveniently use the receivers switching functions and run all your video sources through one monitor output to your TV/monitor. This means you can lock the TV/monitor to one input and do all your switching with the receiver. If you chose to plug your DVD player into your receiver via the S-Video connection, the two VCRs will not send their video on through the monitor output to the TV/Monitor. This is a problem shared by ALL video receivers in my experience at this point in time.
Although several companies like Tributaries and Monster Cable make composite to S-Video adapters, with varying degrees of success simply to combat this problem, they still dont offer the level of performance you could get by just using the pure composite signal. This is an area that requires some serious attention by the industry as a whole. I wonder if anyone is listening?
Audio performance is quite good, and will likely allow most using an inexpensive mass-marketed CD player an apparent step up in sonic performance. Those of you out there with a two, or even a three, box compact disc transcription system arent going to abandon your current reference system. But keep in mind, it passes 24/96, so try to keep it close to the two-channel system. This is the only area where the aforementioned and highly lauded Sony DVP-S7000 really had any appreciable distance. The DV-414, while performing quite admirably given all its abilities and price, is not a CD giant killer. It does perform far enough above the level of most introductory Japanese mass market players and changers that I think most will easily be able to retire the current player, especially if it is approaching its fourth or fifth birthday.
The Dolby Digital and DTS performance of this machine are exemplary. I had an opportunity to plop the DV-414 down into a $30,000 reference system that used a Runco front projection monitor and the Sunfire Theater and Cinema to drive the new Elite TZ700 series of theater speakers. I had a DTS sampler on hand with an eleven-minute scene from Apollo 13. WOW. I tried some DTS audio only programming with John Marks stunning recording of Nathaniel Rosen and Doris Stevenson on Reverie [JMR 10-S/ID 4687JMDTSC]. This little baby really hangs with the big boys. It was spooky! The side and rear walls of the venue suddenly jumped into position and the stage depth and width blossomed into reality. It was just a bit more lean in the lowest register, had a tad more brightness or perceived glare in the upper registers and was a little more forward than the Elite DV-09 or Sony DVP-S700, but the difference was much out of proportion to the disparity in prices. After all, the DV-414 retails for a fraction of its better sibling's price.
Wrap it up, Ill take it
What Pioneer has achieved with the DV-414 is a level of versatility and performance one would only expect from a unit at near double its meager asking price. Exquisite video, excellent digital audio, very good analog audio, exceptional control and poise and the most useful collection of features at anywhere near half again its selling price. I cant wait to see what Pioneer is going to do with the direct replacement model, the DV-424, this fall. It's well-known that the street price for this unit is under $400 and the fact that it represents the highest level of DVD performance, it's a steal. What more can I say?
Price: $525 USD
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