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It is sometimes an unfortunate fact of life that a technology is usually perfected just before it is replaced. With the impending arrival of high-definition DVD in the forms of HD DVD and Blu-ray (with the prerequisite format war to slow things down, of course), it is worthwhile taking a look at what has been achieved with regular DVD. The Pioneer DV-59AVi (MSRP $1,000) is a player that takes the universal player format as far as it is going to go, incorporating HDMI digital video out with up-scaling to 720p and 1080i, as well as DVD-Audio and SACD decoding with digital output through an IEEE1394 iLink connector. This is the pinnacle of technological achievement with DVD, and it is amazing how just a few years ago we were marveling at the first progressive scan DVD player. Now we actually have decent de-interlacing, no chroma bug, and digital output of high-resolution audio in one package. Another major reason to look at this player is that it provides a preview of the technologies that will be present in the next generation of high-definition DVD players.
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The DV-59AVi is also a very attractive package with the shiny black finish that is de rigueur in the Pioneer Elite line. The amber display is clear and easily visible; the buttons for progressive scan, HDMI output, and "Pure audio" are on the left front panel, and even the remote is fairly logical with a big jog wheel in the center for controlling reverse/forward and steps. The back panel is just as clean with easy-to-reach 5.1 outputs, two iLink ports, and HDMI/component/S-Video/composite video outputs. This is ergonomically a very clean, well-put-together player.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The setup menu found in the 59AVi is light- years ahead of some of Pioneer's older players. Clean, simple to access, logically laid out, and easy to use, the setup menu literally took me all of five minutes to work my way through. The 59AVi is an enthusiast's delight, as it also has extensive video controls to adjust the picture, giving you the flexibility to either adjust from the television or from the player. In my case, the output of the player was quite good right out of the box, and I only needed to make minor changes to the television picture controls to set the player up correctly.
The real reason to buy this player is for the advanced technology of HDMI out and iLink, so my review focuses on these. There are plenty of less expensive players out there that are quite good if you don't have use for an HDMI or iLink connection. I hooked the 59AVi up to the Integra Research RDC-7.1 processor, which happens to switch HDMI and also has iLink inputs. This procedure went absolutely flawlessly, with HDMI being switched without loss and sent at 720p to my Fujitsu 50 inch plasma, and the Pioneer immediately recognized the Integra in the iLink menu. This is the way home theater needs to be--connecting video with one cable, and audio with another cable, with the pieces actually recognizing each other. This utter simplicity is something that will help home theater succeed in the future, as frankly the average consumer is confused by the complexity of multiple cables, complex setup menus, etc The rest of the system consisted of a Simaudio Aurora amp, the B&W 800 series speakers (802/HTM2/805/ASW825 subs), and my Marantz DV-9500, Krell DVD Standard, and Simaudio Orbiter reference DVD players. I used Tributaries HDMI cables, a Wireworld HDMI/DVI crossover cable to my plasma, and the iLink cable included with the Pioneer.
After things were hooked up, the first thing I did was pop in a DVD to watch it. At this time, I was watching Downfall, the German film about the last days of Hitler in Berlin before the end of WWII. Excellent movie, by the way, and one that should be watched for the amazing history and excellent acting performances. They even have Hitler showing the signs of Parkinson's, which many historians now agree that he most likely had. Picture quality from this player (again at 720p via the HDMI connection) is simply excellent. Clear, crisp, and solid de-interlacing is the hallmark of this player, and the march of technology has made it possible for a $1,600 player to come very, very close to the amazing output of the $8,000 Krell DVD Standard. The up-scaling to 720p allows the DVD player to output a signal that matches the native pixel array of the display, bypassing the internal scaling of the display. Thus, the picture is not being turned into high-definition, but the resulting picture is very resolute and clean.
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