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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 2/4/99



Pioneer DV-414 DVD Player

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

DTS Digital Out

Pioneer's DV-414 DVD Player Performance Rating: A
The DV-414 is an outstanding DVD player. It's priced for the everyman (or everywoman), yet it's packed with all the features that you high-end types require in a good player.

Ease-of-Use Rating: B-
The setup menus are a bit clunky, but the manual is easy to use. The remote looks like it belongs to a CD player - the navigation buttons required for DVD are less than optimally sized. But it's not too bad, once you get used to it.

Value/Overall Rating: A+/A-
The SRP is $599, but I've seen it everywhere for $400 and under. Given all the features this player packs, and the overall performance, this is one of the best buys I've yet seen.

Specs and Features

Performance Features: 96kHz sampling frequency, 24 bit resolution Audio D/A Converter, Pioneer Exclusive Viter-Bi RF Decoding process for improved error correcting capability, Newly developed Accurate Digital Servo for precise data reading, Automatic Gain Level Adjustment minimizes jitter of individual discs, 10 Bit Video Processing re-quantizes 8 bit video data to 10 bit video data prior to D/A conversion process, Twin-wave Pickup, DTS Compatible, Video CD playback capability

Convenience Features: Condition Memory for DVD recalls set-up conditions such as Language, Subtitle, Aspect Ratio and Mode for up to 30 discs, Last Memory for DVD recalls last scene played and set-up conditions for 5 DVDs, Graphic User Interface

Output Terminals: AC-3 Bit Stream / PCM Optical Output, AC-3 Bit Stream / PCM Coaxial Output, Analog Audio Output x 1, S Video Output x 1, Composite Video Output, Component Video Out x 1

Other Features: 1 Year Parts and Labor Warranty

Review

OK, I'll admit it - I was biased. Way back in March of '97, I picked up a Toshiba SD-3006, and it's been my trusty workhorse DVD player ever since. Unlike some on the Internet, I've never had a problem with a single DVD on the 3006, other than Kalifornia (which was a disc problem, later fixed by Polygram). My copy of Austin Powers worked just fine thank you, and so had all of the other discs I'd ever spun in the 3006. I'd never even had an upgrade or firmware modification done. Bottom line - there was no way I was going to switch players. I was quite happy with mine. Then along came DVDs like L.A. Confidential, which have more complicated menu systems (my 3006 took forever to navigate around that disc). And along came DTS, which the 3006 couldn't output. I needed to be able to review DTS DVDs for the Bits, so I knew I would have to invest in a new player, albeit reluctantly. Then, just as I was struggling with a purchase decision, along came the DV-414.

I first saw the DV-414 at last year's Home Theater Magazine Expo in nearby Newport Beach, CA. The player was brand-spanking new. There, right on the face plate, was the DTS Digital Out logo I was looking for. There was the spiffy-looking new Pioneer logo. And there, on the back, was the Component video output I demand from any good DVD player. But best of all, there was the price: a dealer's show special of $350 (less than half what I paid for my 3006). "I'll take it!" was my quick pronouncement. Minutes later, my credit card still warm from the reader, I hurried home to play with my new toy.

The 414 was surprisingly light out of the box - it reminded me of a normal CD-only player. Still, the unit seemed sturdy enough. I plugged in all the necessary cables, connecting the unit to my TV via Component and S-Video, and to my Dolby Digital and DTS decoders via the Toslink (optical digital) output. Armed with a collection of suitable DVD test material, I fired the unit up, and was greeted with a Pioneer logo screen (which I, for one, like better than the old logo). So far so good.

L.A. Confidential, the disc which had given my 3006 so much trouble, was the first in the tray. The disc started much faster than I was used to - another good sign. But the next thing I noticed was a bit irritating. The DV-414 is factory preset to the anamorphic widescreen (16x9) mode - always an irritation to me, and the reason for many needless player returns by unknowing, first-time DVD consumers. Correcting this situation took some doing - the location of the aspect ratio adjustment in the setup menu wasn't obvious. I was just about to consult the manual (which is extremely well written and easy to use by the way), when I discovered the Aspect selection hidden on the second page of Initial menu. Go figure.

Now properly adjusted, L.A. Confidential looked terrific. The 414 cruised through the complicated, full-motion menus with ease. I was really impressed. I skipped to an actual scene in the film, and was rewarded with a stunning letterboxed widescreen picture (via the Component video out). But something was amiss, and it took me a minute to determine what it was. Then I figured it out - 2nd and 3rd generation players handle the anamorphic down-conversion for 4x3 TVs better than 1st generation players did. Gone were the slight artifacts on vertical movement - the subtle jitter on rolling credits for example - that I'd seen on my 3006. OK, it wasn't that big a deal. After years of editing and directing, I have a pretty well trained eye for video quality, and I hadn't really been bothered by the artifacts on my old player. The point is, I was impressed with the DV-414.

Next I checked the S-Video picture. Unfortunately, you have to change the setting of a switch on the back of the player, to select between the two video outputs. Not too much of an inconvenience, but still a few points off. That aside, the S-Video looked almost as good as the Component had. The DV-414 reproduces deep blacks, and rich colors from both outputs. The S-Video picture was actually a bit crisper than the Component, but the latter seemed to have slightly richer color definition. Component also provided a more film-like picture (in my opinion at least), which I prefer. I popped Terminator 2: Judgement Day into the player, and was rewarded with another fantastic visual display. Shadows were deep and dark, but still held good detail. The RSDL layer switch was quick and barely noticeable. Next came Austin Powers, with it's vibrant colors, and again, the 414 delivered. Finally, I tried Video Essentials. The DV-414 handled all of the test material very well, and even reproduced that "blacker-than-black" stripe in the Pluge pattern (something which my 3006 couldn't do).

The audio performance was also good. The DV-414 has a standard coaxial digital output for Dolby Digital and PCM, as well as a Toslink (optical digital) out (which provides better transmission of data to outboard Dolby Digital or DTS decoders). The DV-414 lacks a 5.1 track auto-detect, but handled audio data as smoothly as video. It was some time before I had any DTS DVDs to play in my 414, other than the DTS Demonstration DVD #3, but that at least sounded great. And when I later played the DTS version of Dances With Wolves, everything worked like a charm.

Some on the Internet have spoken of Pioneer players having trouble with audio sync problems while playing some DVDs. I can tell you that I've only experienced a sync problem once, with Artisan's Moby Dick, and I had the same problem with that disc on other player brands as well. I suspect it has more to do with software issues, than anything about the hardware. I have yet to find a Pioneer player-specific audio sync problem, so this is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. I've played literally hundreds of DVDs on the 414 with no problems at all.

As far as audio CDs, the DV-414 has a slightly edgy sound, but it isn't at all bad. I'm no huge audiophile, and the sound was entirely acceptable to me. I'd guess most people will be quite happy with the 414's CD performance in general.

One thing I didn't care for about the DV-414, was the forward and reverse scanning process. The player has very awkward scan controls - you have to hold down a button to keep scanning, but if you keep holding it for more than a few seconds, the player continues scanning even after you release the button. It's easy to scan right by the scene you were looking for. The remote also leaves a little to be desired. I'd fallen in love with the remote on my 3006 - everything was just the right size, and in just the right position for easy, one-handed access. The DV-414's remote is almost identical to a regular CD player remote. The up, down, left, and right buttons are no bigger than any of the others, making it harder to navigate quickly, or by feel in a darkened room. It's still better than some remotes I've seen, but definitely leaves room for improvement.

Those are minor complaints however, given all of the features packed into the DV-414, and it's wallet-friendly price. Other goodies on the 414 include a well-designed on-screen display (which includes a video bit-rate meter - quickly an indispensable tool when reviewing discs), and a still frame mode adjustment (from field to frame, or auto, for the best freeze-frame quality). The player also handles Video CDs (VCD) in addition to DVD and CD discs. And I eventually discovered another "hidden" feature that I Iiked about the 414 - that glowing blue light on the player's face blinks when you pass the RSDL layer switch on many (but not all) DVDs. I'm something of a nitpicker about layer-switches, and on really well done dual-layered discs, they can be hard to find. The blink helps. Silly I know, but I liked it.

Bottom line

The Pioneer DV-414 is an all around terrific DVD player. I mean, for about $400, you get Component video out, Toslink audio output, DTS compatibility, a 10 bit video DAC - in short, everything a really good DVD player should have. For the price, this player is VERY hard to beat. You really get every penny's worth. I've been using the DV-414 as my player of choice for several months now, and I can attest first-hand, that it's never failed to please. And that, ultimately, is the real test. What more do you really want?

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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