Component Reviews

Pioneer Elite Universal DVD Player DV-79AVi

Pioneer's flagship player plays it all with Elite elan

Published on August 3, 2006

Pioneer Elite Universal DVD Player DV-79AVi
Pioneer Elite Universal DVD Player DV-79AVi
SRP: $1000

Formats Played
    •    DVD Video, DVD Audio, SACD, MP3, DD, DTS, standard CD
Features
    •    14-bit / 108 MHz Video DAC
    •    24-bit 192 kHz x 3 Audio DAC
    •    10-bit Digital Video Processing (VQE9) from MPEG2 Decoder to HDMI signal out
    •    PureCinema Progressive Scan for film-like video images.
    •    Digital Direct Pixel Drive – Converts DVD-Video up to High Definition resolutions (1080 i or 720 P) through the HDMI output.
    •    True Chroma Upsampling Error Reduction – Improved color resolution.
    •    SACD Direct
    •    Separate Audio Transformer provides a dedicated power supply
    •    Solid Audio Circuit Block – superior audio performance.
    •    New Triple Layer Chassis – Reduces vibration.
    •    Direct Mount Drive Mechanism – Reduces vibration.
Connections
    •    HDMI v1.1 output – Single wire connection providing digital video and audio signals, including: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround, and more.
    •    Dual i.LINK outputs – Single wire connection providing jitter free multichannel high resolution audio, including: DVD-Audio, SACD, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround, and more.
    •    1 Component video output, 2 S-Video outputs, 2 Composite outputs
Dimensions
    •    W x H x D: 16.54″ x 4.61″ x 13.39″
    •    Weight: 19 lbs. 13 oz. (25.4 lbs carton)
Available in Black or Silver (DV-79AVi-S) Finish
For more information, visit www.pioneerelectronics.com

 

  

Intro

The DV-79AVi replaces the former flagship Elite DVD player, the DV-59AVi, which retailed for $1600, and it has a number of added features.  Pioneer, like several of the other makers of both SACD-only and universal disc players, used to convert the DSD data of SACDs to PCM before outputting at the two or six-channel analog jacks and the i.LINK outputs.  The 79AVi does not do that, retaining the DSD signal until conversion to analog (“SACD Direct”). The case is beautifully designed and quite sturdy, though not as solid and heavy as my Integra 10.5 (which retails for 2.5 times as much). Just about every possible connection option you would need is found on the rear panel of the 79AVi.

 

Setup

I used Monster Cable component cables, not having any compatible HDMI gear on hand at the moment. The six-channel analog cable sets to and from my multichannel switcher for SACD & DVD-A  were Harmonic Technology’s Rainbow cables. Running the Elite thru my remote-controlled six-channel switcher allowed me to compare both CD and multichannel hi-res discs on the Elite with the Integra and the new Oppo DVD 970HD. (Other reviewers have been reporting poorer fidelity using the multichannel audio capability of the latest HDMI vs.six-channel analog connections.)  I lacked equipment to interface with the i.LINK connections, also called IEEE1394 and FireWire. With HDMI the 79AVi offers two special video parameters: HDMI Color and HDMI Detail. There is a provision for SRS TruSurround, which creates a 5-channel-like surround effect from only two front speakers. Audio cables were mostly Kimber Kable, and I also used a Kimber AC cable.  Prior to auditioning I ran the 79AVi on repeat with a couple different sampler discs – both SACD and standard – for several days. I also put the player on the carbon suspension blocks from Boston Audio Design. The  79AVi manual is 100 pages are very thorough.


[The rest of my system involved: Sunfire Theater Grand IV AV preamp, Consonance M400 tube monoblocks, Von Schweikert VR-2s L & R with VR-1 center, Elite Pro-510HD RPTV.]

The first step is to do the initial settings for the player using the on-screen Setup Navigator.  The procedure is similar to most DVD players so I won’t detail it here. I was surprised at the extensive picture quality settings possible. There are different options for plasma screens, for CRTs, an enhanced setting for animation, and so on. Also controls for white and black levels, gamma, hue, chroma etc.  It would be well to ascertain what options you have already selected on your video display before changing any of the default settings on the 79AVi. The remote control, by the way, is not backlit but it is well laid out and quite easy to use.  The most vital of its commands can be easily programmed into a universal remote such as the Harmony.

DVD Video Viewing

Pioneer’s Pure Cinema technology converts 24-frame film material to progressive 30 frames video rate to more closely match cinema picture quality. I have the settings on my Elite 53-inch CRT monitor optimized and usually merely set DVD players to interlaced output. However, since that display is becoming rather long in the tooth and the 79AVi is more recent, I thought there might have been improvements to Pure Cinema in the meantime. I therefore went into the Setup Navigator on the 79AVi to make sure Pure Cinema was turned off.  It was not; the choices are a bit confusing, being labeled only that your display is either Compatible or Not Compatible.  Fortunately, at the bottom with Not Compatible appeared a line of text saying “Outputs 525i interlaced signal from component out.”  That’s what I wanted.  Not being enough of a videophile to get out my video test discs, I just watched a few select scenes from two of the current feature film DVDs I was reviewing.

Then I turned off the Pure Cinema option on the Elite display, which had been set at HQ – the highest setting. And I went back to Setup Navigator in the 79AVi and selected Compatible. There is an adjustment for the speed of the Pure Cinema treatment, and according to others more videophilic than myself the best setting for this is Slow. I watched the same excerpts on the two DVDs again. There was a noticeable improvement in depth, dimensionality and a more film-like appearance.  So improvements have been made in the Pure Cinema technology, and I’ll let the 79AVi do the processing after this rather than my aging display.

The picture quality was brighter and somewhat more detailed than that from the much-pricier Integra 10.5, but the differences were subtle. It was also very similar to the Oppo player. While the 79DVi lacks some of the advanced video processing of the 59DVi, it does have 4:4:4 video upsampling and something called the Super-Fine Focus Filter, which increases the horizontal resolution to 540 lines.  I found the video performance exemplary.

Audio Auditioning

In general the sonics produced on all the various formats by the 79DVi paralleled in sound the qualities of the picture display. It was detailed and more forward and bright than either the Integra or Oppo universal DVD players, as well as my modified Sony CE775 SACD player. My first most telling A/B comparisons are always those with high quality standard  44.1 CDs.  Some of the best universal players which excel in playback of all the other options sometimes fall down when it comes to standard CDs, although that has improved recently.  I tried both the coaxial and  optical connections and heard no difference between them. I used the Source Direct setting on my Sunfire AV center, which bypasses all digital processing and feeds the signal directly to the amps.

I have several duplicate copies of standard CDs.  Some have been tweaked with green pen or Cryo, but in such case both copies have been so treated so there is an identical match. The 79DVi was very close to the quality CD playback of the Integra, but a subtle refinement present with the Integra was missing. Piano music is one of my favorite test sources.  The same solo selection of music of Lecouna had an increased brilliance on the 79DVi but the Integra supplied a bit more support and impact behind the notes. Solo instruments with orchestra tended to seem a bit closer physically with the 79DVi as opposed to the Integra. (Remember we’re talking a 2.5 times more expensive player here!) I would say neither was right or wrong – just a personal taste matter.

I next compared a number of three-channel SACDs, deciding to concentrate on the frontal soundstage playback rather than risking any confusion with the surround channels also in operation. I found SACD playback quality identical to the Integra uni player, while both the Oppo and Sony players were extremely close behind, making it difficult to pin down any differences with some of the discs.

When I began the hi-res audio comparisons I noticed a slight enhancement when switching to the Integra from the Elite player. Then I saw that I had selected the Video Off feature on the Integra, which disconnects all the video circuitry to assure the purest audio signal.  I had not selected the same option on the 79AVi. Also the 79AVi was originally sitting on its own feet directly on the shelf whereas the Integra was on the Boston Audio Design graphite blocks with weights on top. So I put a second set of the graphite blocks under the 79AVi and turned off – using the front panel button – the video circuitry. Actually, Elite calls this Pure Audio and when you push the button you get a blue LED to indicate you are now in Pure Audio. What was a surprise was that their iteration of this feature turns EVERYTHING off – including the front panel display!  You no longer have any indication of what track you are on or the timing.  Anyway, the tweaks were worth it because now the match of both SACD and DVD-A reproduction between the two players was just about identical.

Conclusion

The DV-79AVi came thru with flying colors as the best flagship DVD player that Pioneer offers. It has all the features one could want and would be a good choice for any fan of the hi-res formats who currently struggles with switching between separate players for SACD and DVD-Audio. Although its performance with standard CDs is better than were many of the earlier SACD and universal players, it is still not up to the level of most of the  CD-only decks retailing at the same price point. If your main interest is video DVDs or either of the two hi-res audio formats, or if you already have a high-quality separate CD-only player, the DV-79AVi should be seriously considered.  It appears to be available  at a street price considerably lower than the SRP listed.

- John Sunier

 




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