Component Reviews

Denon DVD-3910 Universal DVD Player $1499.00 SRP (See also review of matching Denon AV Receiver)

A universal SACD & DVD-A player that connects digitally to a Denon multichannel receiver

Published on May 24, 2005

Denon DVD-3910 Universal DVD Player
$1499.00 SRP
(See also review of matching Denon AV Receiver)
Denon DVD-3910 Universal DVD Player
$1499.00 SRP
(See also review of matching Denon AV Receiver)
Denon Electronics (USA), LLC
P.O. Box 867
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
(973) 396-0810 (voice)
(973) 396-7455 (fax)
http://www.usa.denon.com/

Basic Description2

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.

 
[See also our review of the matching Denon AV Receiver HERE.
  

- Brian Bloom




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