Component Reviews

Denon DVD-3910 Universal DVD Player


Published on May 1, 2005

[No. 1] [No. 2] [No. 3] •   May 2005

Denon DVD-3910 Universal DVD Player
$1499.00 SRP

Denon Electronics (USA), LLCP.O.
Box 867
Pine Brook, NJ 07058(973) 396-0810 (voice)  (973) 396-7455 (fax)

http://www.usa.denon.com/

Basic Description

Universal DVD player that plays DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-R, DVD-RW, Video CD, Picture CD (Kodak), Fujicolor CD, MP3/WMA Audio discs, SACD Stereo/Multichannel, CD, CD-R, and CD-RW discs. Offers Faroudja FLI-2310 DCDi processing, 12-bit video DAC. Outputs include: DVI, HDMI (scalable 480p/720p/1080i), Component, Composite, S-Video, 5.1 Audio outputs and dedicated stereo outputs (on RCA jacks), Coaxial and Optical digital outputs, Denon Link for multi-channel digital audio link for Denon receivers, RS-232 control capable, IR input and output, IEEE 1394 jacks (2) for multi-channel digital output (only for compatible Denon receivers), and Pure Direct mode to turn off certain circuitry to improve audio performance. Onboard DD and DTS decoding and HDCD decoding for encoded HDCD audio discs. Backlit Remote Control. 1 year warranty. 17 3/32” W x 5 25/64” H x 15 55/64” D, 20.5 pounds.

Associated Equipment

Bowers & Wilkins 703, HTM7, 705, ASW750 speakers, Monster 2000 Power Conditioner Strip, Arcam AVR300 receiver, Denon AVR-3805 receiver, Arcam DV79 DVDA player, Fujitsu P50XHA40US 50” plasma monitor, Audioquest Cables.

Setup and Options

Set up with this DVD player was straightforward. The menu system was simple and easy to navigate, and the only area for which I needed to consult the manual was on the picture memory controls. I was hoping to use these controls to match the video output to the other comparison player, but alas, there wasn’t a way to reduce the brightness—only to increase it. There are five separate video memories, so if you feel like tweaking the player for different material, you’ll have some leeway to do it. This meant changing the controls on the TV which had much finer adjustments anyway. This is yet another reason not to use a receiver to switch video (because you lose this adjustment ability in the TV per input).

I had never used a universal player that allowed a multichannel digital output from the player, but I planned to investigate if this yielded an improvement in sound or not. In my case, with the $1200 Denon AVR-3805 receiver (companion review), I figured that the analog audio out of the DVD might be superior. With a more expensive model, this would not be the case, and the savings on six good analog cables would be a worthwhile.

The player was fairly substantial (in terms of weight) given its price and it seemed solid. The dedicated two-channel audio outputs offer slightly better RCA jacks than the other jacks on the back panel (they are bigger, heavier, and more spaced out for bigger audio cables).

The remote control seemed bulky and lightweight at first, but I soon realized it was not only a good size for the hand (that made operation easier), but it worked well, and offered a few options that are not on other remotes. The first is the fact that the remote’s main controls light up, and the second is the easy access to some of the primary functions. Some who listen to SACD are not big fans of the multichannel mixes and want a way to be able to easily go back and forth from the remote. You can set the priority to the CD layer, the multichannel SACD layer, or the stereo SACD layer quickly and easily. You can get into the picture adjust menu with the push of a button, dim (or turn off the display), and turn on the Pure Direct mode.

The Pure Direct mode allows you to turn off video, the unit’s display, and the digital output circuitry if desired in order to provide better analog audio. Another option that helps to improve sound is the bass management offered by the DVD-3910. You have the choice between large and small speakers (or none) and the subwoofer (if used) offers a crossover at 40/60/80/100/120 Hz. Channel levels and delay are all adjustable as well.

The manual is 81 pages long. If you are up for a good, long and detailed read, you can download it off Denon’s website.

Listening, Part I – CD Audio

First, I thought I’d try the DVD-3910 as a standard CD player, because I think that most people who would purchase this unit intend to also play conventional CDs through it. The player has an extra set of dedicated analog stereo outputs so you can easily connect it directly to the CD input on your surround processor or receiver. It was connected to the Arcam AVR-300 receiver for this part of the testing. Also, the Pure Direct feature on the DVD player was engaged.

I had access to an Arcam DV79 DVD player that is well thought of for its CD sound. It is slightly more expensive ($1800) and does not offer SACD capability. I began with track 2, “A Foggy Day (In London Town),” from Michael Buble’s It’s Time CD. The Denon sounded a bit polite and toned down, with less delicacy on its presentation of instruments in comparison to the Arcam. It did an impressive job considering…The Arcam had slightly better high frequency response, fuller bass, bigger soundstage, better dynamics, and more air.

Next up was track 3, “Side,” from Travis’ The Invisible Band CD. The Arcam had more top end and instruments had a more open sound giving the presentation as a whole more realism. The Denon added a slight edginess to the voice and tonal balance from top to bottom didn’t sound like it was in exactly the right proportion—almost as if tone controls were (subtly) engaged.

On the whole, I’d say that the Denon would give a dedicated player under $1000 a run for the money. You’d have to spend $1500 or more on a good CD player to significantly improve upon the sound of the DVD-3910. Some music lovers with large CD collections may find this choice sensible, while others will be more than happy with the performance offered by the Denon.

Listening, Part II—DVD-A and SACD

For the multichannel audio portion of the testing, I utilized the Denon AVR-3805. Unlike many universal players, the DVD-3910 happens to offer a few choices for audio connection. In addition to the audio side of the HDMI output, there are 5.1 channel analog audio outputs, two IEEE 1394 Firewire outputs, and a special Denon Link that works via a CAT5 cable. I tried both the analog and Denon Link digital connection, but preferred the sound through the analog cable with the AVR-3805. (Details are in the companion AVR-3805 review.)

One of my favorites on DVD-A is America’s Homecoming. If the first track, “Ventura Highway,” doesn’t convert you to DVD-A, then nothing will. The guitar is so natural and sweet and the Denon combo did a nice job of conveying the details in the music—the harmonies, the multiple guitar lines, the bass, etc. There wasn’t quite as much air and the sound wasn’t quite as smooth as you’d hear on higher-end setups, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Next, I popped in Jamie Cullen’s fantastic jazz release Twentysomething. I didn’t have any comparably priced SACD player to compare performance, but noise level was excellent and high quality multichannel audio is an experience all its own. Voice was slightly congested (compared to what I remember), but instrumentation was great, separation was superb, and I felt like I was right in the middle of the music.

Just for the heck of it I thought I’d compare the CD layer on the Arcam to the SACD layer played on the Denon. I used the Arcam AVR300 receiver for this comparison and used The Police disc Every Breath You Take (a hits CD). The sound of the Arcam was slightly brighter with more top end, but the Denon beat the sound in just about every area. Bass was deeper and tighter, the soundstage and images were bigger and deeper, and the sound was smoother. Percussion was noticeably better as was voice.

The Denon player handled the high resolution formats well, and didn’t take a long time to cue up the disc either. I liked the ability to quickly switch between Stereo SACD, Multichannel SACD, and the CD layer if I desired.

Viewing

Many people rate the video quality of Denon machines up there with the best—the DVD-2900 being a very popular player before it was discontinued. Being one of the newer mid-level machines, the Denon is feature-rich in the video department. The player offers both a DVI and HDMI output—the latter offering audio on a single cable as well. Unfortunately, try as I might, I was unable to get a picture via HDMI on the Fujitsu plasma that I was using for the evaluation. Personally, I’ve had many problems using digital video connections in the past and/or seeing big improvements in performance when they were operational. It seems that certain products just don’t work well together and good ole analog component video works every time. If this feature is important to you, I suggest that you make sure that the player will work properly with the intended display AND at the proper cable length. Long cables tend to be problematic as well.

The HDMI output has a resolution setting that can upsample the video image to a higher resolution. The choices are: progressive 480, progressive 720, and interlaced 1080. Theoretically, if you have the option to drive the TV at panel resolution or at a comfortable scaled resolution that can be easily downscaled, the video processing in the set will have to work less or not at all yielding an improved image. The video processing in the Fujitsu sets is quite good, and use of an external video processor might be even better. I was unable to do this test due to a complete lack of image.

Instead, I used the component video outputs and again compared the quality from both the Arcam and the Denon DVD-3910. I used the THX Optimizer on Akira to match the levels from both players. Originally, I intended to use the internal controls in the Denon, but there was no way to decrease the brightness—it would only go up. The monitor had finer adjustments, so it was just as well. Both players offer an outstanding picture.

I started testing with chapter 3 from Ghost World. This is a scene in the market and has lots of colored items along with things in the background and foreground of interest. It was in this area that the players differed. While the Denon did a nice job delineating the foreground and background, there was less uniformity to the entire image. The Arcam might have been slightly less sharp/softer, but the image was ever so slightly more natural and film-like. I could easily see someone preferring the look of the Denon over the Arcam in this regard—in fact a friend who saw them both did.

One of the discs that shows off a player’s ability or inability to process moving images is a Kenwood test disc that contains a bevy of Faroudja test patterns. On the waving flag and the pendulum, the Denon shined. I suppose it is no surprise that a player that incorporates Faroudja’s chipset performs well on these patterns, but it clearly outclassed the Arcam on these tests. To check how visible it is on real material I put on chapter 13 from The Bourne Supremacy. For some reason they decided to film this movie in what I’ll call “shaky” cam. The camera is bouncing around more than an episode of Law and Order. Anyway, a friend and I both observed the superiority of the circuitry in the Denon in comparison to the Arcam. When things were moving around on-screen the image panned much smoother on the Denon.

The Denon truly excelled on the video portion of the testing. And, if you are interested in a slightly more sharpened image, then it clearly beat the Arcam—a more expensive, less feature-filled player.

Conclusion

Universal players used to be synonymous with compromise. These days, companies like Denon have done their best to offer the best performance in a variety of areas all in a single machine. The DVD-3910 is a perfect example of how an excellent DVD video player can be combined to offer all the benefits of a good CD player and include both high-resolution formats—DVD-Audio and SACD. For those looking to go up to the next level and purchase a statement piece, Denon offers the $3500 DVD-5910. Although it is hard to believe the video portion of the player could be significantly better, my guess is that the audio quality is stepped up a few levels. For those looking to keep their options open with the ability to play all the formats, the Denon DVD-3910 is quite a value and a product worthy of serious consideration.

big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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