Denon DVD-3910 £1000

1st Jan 2005 | 00:00

Packed with innovative touches, Denon is aiming high

Over the past couple of years, Denon has given new meaning to the term prolific by introducing one stunning DVD player after another, each improbably more sophisticated and better endowed than the last.

The DVD-3910 is the direct replacement for the DVD-2900, itself a big hitter in the upper mid-price market. It has now had a hefty upgrade, and a modest £50 price increase to match. Given the advances onboard, I'm amazed the brand has charged more.

The DVD-3910 is first and foremost what is generally (but inaccurately) described as a universal player; a DVD-Video player with PAL progressive scan that can also play Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio discs.

Key changes from the previous models include several new high-performance digital outputs, and better internal processing, which is available through the analogue outputs. In both cases the changes affect the audio and the video sub-sections.

The new model has acquired an HDMI digital output in its latest iteration, which now includes full non-compressed multi-channel audio alongside video across a single wire.

The interface even has some control functions, but these are not implemented right now, and the interface is unable to carry DSD data from SACD because HDMI has not yet been approved for the task.

Restrictions apply

The same restrictions apply to another interface provided on the DVD-3910: the high performance proprietary Denon Link, which streams multi-channel non-compressed data from CD and DVD-Audio, but which currently locks out SACD.

In both cases, the solution to the problem is in the hands of the official working groups that mastermind the various standards, and reading between the lines there appears to be a certain amount of politics going on.

Denon makes up for this with another addition to the player: an IEEE1394 (aka i.Link and Firewire) which handles all currently available digital audio. IEEE1394 is becoming widely available on upmarket AV amplifiers and receivers, so its inclusion here is essential.

The HDMI, DVI-D (with HDCP), IEEE1394 and Denon Link interfaces were not fitted to the previous DVD-2900, which is more than evidence that the name change is not a marketing rouse.

The HDMI output is the optimum choice for high-end plasma or LCD displays, and the DVI digital video interface, which doesn't handle audio, is an obvious choice for compatible projectors, but there is a considerable overlap between the two, and HDMI and DVI can talk to each other across a converter cable.

Video outputs are fully HDTV compliant up to 720 progressive or 1080 interlace. The video subsection is PAL progressive and it is powerfully endowed, with a DDVC (Dual Discrete Video Circuit) featuring separate dual 12-bit 216kHz DACs for interlace and progressive scan and a new and powerful Image Enhancer circuit.

Simultaneous outputting

The video subsection is built from a number of separate functional blocks which are intended to reduce mutual interference between them. There are, for example, completely separate encoders for component video and for composite/S-video.

The logical separation of video processing blocks means it is possible for most of the outputs to be used simultaneously, the exception to the rule being HDMI and DVI, which are mutually exclusive.

A similar situation applies with the audio feeds, which use an entirely separate and superior quality audio chain feeding the stereo audio output. There was no such demarcation with the DVD-2900; the difference in sound quality from CD is palpable, and incidentally is reflected in superior signal/noise and distortion figures.

One small but significant feature that affects sound quality is the so-called Pure Direct mode, which can be set to switch off the video, digital and display circuits, thus providing a quieter electrical environment. This is particularly useful with CD and SACD material. Significantly, there is also twin Hammerhead SHARC processors specifically for bass management.

One problem I had reviewing this player is that it is slightly ahead of its time. HDMI was not available on the amplifiers available as partners, and I had no access to a Denon amplifier with Denon Link.

For the purpose of this review, I used the i.Link interface into a Pioneer DSA-AX10Ai-S. Various projectors were connected via the HDMI (via adaptors) and DVI inputs, which meant it was possible to evaluate the Denon with a fully digital video signal chain.

In this mode it is bright, extremely sharp, clean, with vibrant colours and a strong video dynamic range that extends impressively into the near blacks, where resolution of subtle shadow detail remains possible.

Switch to analogue, using the component video output, and the DVD-3910 is smooth, with a complete lack of grain in the image. It gives a top quality end result, with additional benefits from the onboard video image processing.

This is the kind of player that will have you rushing back to your old DVD stack, as every familiar disc played suddenly has more subtleties to reveal. Sonically too, the DVD-3910 more than merely hold its own.

DVD-Audio replay is highly enjoyable. The multi-channel soundstage is upfront, solid and stable. As a CD player the 3910 is also a winner. It becomes one of the select handful of DVD players that are good enough to be used as stereo CD players in top class systems. This is a thriller in every sense.

The special one

In a world where DVD players appear to have little intrinsic value, it takes something rather special to validate a £900 price tag. But then the Denon DVD-3910 is indeed, rather special.

Its superior analogue processing (audio and video alike) and the future proofing afforded by the plethora of digital interfaces, combined with a solid build and excellent feature set, actually make it something of a steal. Consequently, I'd elevate it straight to the top of its class as the definitive sub-£1,000 DVD player on the market. Audition one today, and see if you don't agree.

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