Having used the Pioneer DV-410V for a while, I liked it a lot and had no intention to switch to another DVD player. After all, it had all I needed (or so I thought).
I also have had the original king of DivX, a.k.a. Philips DVP642 for a while and considering its impressive feature list (including PAL playback, DivX playback and progressive scan), I was relatively happy with it for $41 that I paid. I was not happy with it overall however, and would not have paid its original price (my unit was Philips-refurbished).
One of the issues I had with it was the fact that although it played most DivX videos, it stuttered on some others and showed terrible block noise on some others, making them unwatchable. That was in addition to it having fast scan speed of no higher than 8x and its resume functionality requiring you to push Play while it said Loadining. Miss Loading and you are stuck trying to find the point where you stopped watching last time. Exciting.
To improve on the above and to supplement my then-new 50-inch 1080p Hitachi plasma TV, I decided to get a DVD player that would further improve on DivX playback, have HDMI and upscaling to 1080p (or at least to 1080i) and, for the love of progress and file sharing, a USB port.
I tried newer Philips DVD players, namely Philips DVP5982 and Philips DVP5960 and, although they were both improvements on the DVP 642, they were not perfect. I got the Pioneer DV-400V in black color and kept the Philips DVP642 for the sole use as a CD transport.
With its features, fast response and sleek GUI, the DV-410V was all I needed. Then I upgraded my receiver from Panasonic SA-XR55 to Panasonic SA-XR57. The XR57 has an HDMI input and can play DVD-Audio (including multi-channel) when passed over HDMI. Since wasting HDMI inputs is not what I like to do, I adopted a "no HDMI input left behind" policy.
Plus I always wanted better sound quality than what CD or DTS CD can provide. Although some well-mastered CDs sound very good, in most cases I felt I needed better SQ. The above is to make a short story long. To make a long story short though, I saw the universal (SACD and DVD-Audio) Pioneer Elite DV-49AV on sale and bought it.
Once the player arrived, I disconnected the DV-410V and put the DV-49AV in its place. The two look very similar. The size, control placement and even USB port location are the same. There are things that aren't, however. Weight is one of them. The Elite DV-49AV is appreciably heavier, which makes me happy. Perhaps it is well-made (not that I have complaints about its predecessor).
Another positive is the back panel. Or rather the number of jacks on it. The Elite has both an optical and coaxial digital audio outs (the 410V only had a coax). The 49AV also has a 5.1. analog out for those who need or want to use the player's decoding abilities for DVD-Audio, SACD, DD or DTS.
The remote is also more substantial and has more buttons, so I knew that at least I am getting a better button/$ ratio. The remote also feels more substantial, can control some TV functions and, unlike the DV-410V's remote is black in color to match the player itself.
So far I connected the player to my receiver (the aforementioned Panasonic SA-XR57) with both a coaxial cable and an HDMI cable. The coaxial cable is redundant, but I have extra cables.
The Pioneer Elite DV-49AV is a "universal" DVD player with upconversion to 480p, 720p, 1080i or 1080p. It can play DivX, WMV, AAC, MP3 and WMA as well as display JPEG pictures of up to 6MP. You do not need to create a VCD disc structure, just copy the files to a CD-R/W disc or DVD and insert it into this player and it will play them. Same applies to the USB port that the player has: you can copy files onto a USB drive and the player will play them, albeit sometimes with some slight issues.
The player supports slow and fast scan, even in DivX files. Even though the manual does not say anything about it, it will play (and even upconvert) European PAL discs on an NTSC TV. Nice!
For audio, in addition to CD Audio, the player can play both high-resolution audio formats: DVD-Audio and Sony's Super Audio CD (SACD), including outputting them over HDMI to compatible receivers (bitstream), converting them to PCM or outputting them over digital outs (downmixed) or outputting them through the analog 5.1 connections.
It has an optical and coaxial digital audio outs, HDMI out, component video out, S-Video and composite video out. It also has an analog 5.1 audio out for playback of DD, DTS, DVD-Audio and SACD. Unlike so many recent DVD players, it has buttons on the front panel to control its menus, USB/DVD switching and playback and has a very intuitive remote control.
One more "bang for buck" variable to consider. The player comes with full 2-year parts and labor warranty.
Once the player arrived, I immediately checked whether it could play European PAL discs on my non-PAL TV. It turned out it plays them and plays them well, without stuttering. It even upconverts them.
The player is medium-sized and is rather hefty, which gives it a very solid feel. The front panel is not Spartan like so many recent DVD players. It has menu control buttons as well as playback control buttons, all of which look stylish and have good tactile response.
The display is bright and informative with the remote control button letting you switch between several levels of brightness. The onscreen displays are excellent and are very well designed. The look very similar to the ones of my previous DV-400V. I adjusted some settings and was watching movies in no time.
Again, the player is connected to my receiver and the receiver is connected to the TV using HDMI. The TV is Hitachi P50H401 50-inch plasma. I also had to switch the sharpness mode to "Soft" to get rid of oversharpening. The player also has adjustments for brightness/contrast and Gamma.
One strange issue I discovered was that you cannot adjust any of the digital (non-HDMI) outs' settings unless you disable HDMI first. Also, speaker management (distances, etc.) for 5.1 analog outs are disabled when HDMI is set to "on". Not that I needed it anyway, but I checked out the picture of the room you are presented with when the speaker settings are adjusted. Then I set the HDMI to "Auto" and never looked back.
Ah, but not so fast. The first issue was that the sound coming from speakers when I played a 5.1 DVD-Audio disc in 96kHz/24 bit was definitely stereo, even though HDMI light on the receiver was on. Lame.
After switching back and forth between various HDMI settings on the player, the sound mysteriously appeared in all speakers. Currently, I have the HDMI option set to Auto.
One interesting item is that when I turn the TV off, the resolution on the TV player changes to 480p and once I turn the TV on, it changes back to 1080i. But not always. Strange.
I was immediately impressed with how convenient and informative the menus and onscreen displays are. From colors to presentation, the menus are among the best I have seen.
For example, the onscreen display shows at the same time the total time of the current chapter, remaining time and running time. It also can show bit rate in real time, which is not always useful (DVD), but interesting nonetheless.
And another impressive asset in this player is how Resume functionality is implemented. In some DVD players you have to jump through the hoops to ensure the movie starts playing from where you left off last time. This Pioneer just does it seamlessly and it has resume functionality even in the MPEG or DivX files! Very convenient. But (and it is a significant "but") there is no Resume functionality for DVD-Audio or SACD.
Most DVD players have remote controls you have to look at when using or struggle to remember the button locations. The DV400 had a remote control that is pretty close to perfection. The one for this player is close. The buttons have excellent tactile response. They do not require high effort yet have good positive feedback.
The buttons are located in intuitive order and the most frequently used buttons are larger than secondary ones. The remote is almost perfect. The lower part of it has buttons to control the TV. The only issue I have with that is that there is no "Select" button and on my Hitachi, hitting Input cycles through inputs, but never actually selects them. No big deal though.
The 1080p output over HDMI is excellent: razor sharp and clear. It does not quite have the smallest detail of the HD DVD or Blu-Ray, but it is pretty close. And I saw definite improvement over passing 480p signal from my old Philips DVP642 over component out to my TV.
The in-player 1080p upconversion of the DV-49AV is very good. It is not perfect though. You can see the stairstep artifacts, especially obvious when watch "South Park" - the diagonal lines are not smooth but resemble steps. But what can we expect at this price point?
Since I have not expected it to rival an HD DVD disc in my Toshiba HD-A3, I am very happy with the image quality. I have to use the player at 1080i though since the receiver claims to support up to 1080i.
The sound during movies is excellent as well (using coaxial digital connection as well as HDMI to my Panasonic XR57 receiver). The player also passes sound over HDMI, which is convenient. The player plays most of my MPEG and AVI computer files flawlessly. The files can be burned on a CD-R/W disc just as a regular data CD with no VCD structure needed. I say most, because although it stutters on fewer files than my Philips did, it still has issues with some files, which it refuses to play completely.
The front USB port is a great feature and lets you use a USB drive or any similar device, provided it does not require much power. USB-powered hard drive will most likely not work. Still, it is a great feature as I can copy over a bunch of MP3 or WMA files onto a USB drive, plug it into the USB port of this player and play it through my receiver and speakers. Ditto the video files. The only issue is the player asks you if you want to play audio or video when the USB mode is turned on. So you have to use the onscreen menu to select that. But after that you can switch the TV off and just play your music.
The front panel display says GUI when you are using the menus or shows numbers if the GUI mode is off.
DVD-Audio and SACD
I have not yet tried SACD and not sure if I will. One issue is the fact that my receiver does not decode DSD over HDMI, so I would have to use the player's 5.1 analog connection. I already ordered the cables, but I would use the 5.1 connection as the last resort. The first reason is the fact that the bass management on the player itself is not as good as on the receiver. The other is that the receiver has a fully digital amplifier, so using the 5.1 analog connection would result in an extra trip through the DAC in the player and then ADC in the receiver to convert the signal from digital to analog and to digital again.
What I have used the player's "universal-ness" is to play DVD-Audio discs over HDMI. I have it connected to the Panasonic SA-XR57 7x100W receiver with full digital amplification and dual-amped front channels. The speakers are Athena AS-F1 fronts, Athena S.5 rears, Athena C.5 center and an Athena AS-P400 subwoofer. I use Phoenix Gold M-1250 Super Oxygen Free Copper 12-Gauge speaker cable.
The sound quality from DVD-Audio is amazing. The sound is smooth, has huge dynamic range and expansive frequency range. The imaging and instrument separation are great. CD Audio sounds slightly harsh by contrast and even worse if it is not mastered well. So far I listened to 96 kHz 24 bit discs and they sound amazing. The DVD-Audio has sonic advantages of vinyl/LP without hissing or clicks and with higher dynamic range. But maybe I overestimate LP, since the last time I listened to LP was about 11 years ago. Still, once I heard DVD-Audio, I immediately thought that is sounds somewhat similar to LP. But maybe it is just because I have been consuming Glenlivet.
The most noticeable improvement over CD Audio seems to be smoother treble. Which makes sense, since at 44 kHz 16 bit CD Audio does not have much resolution in the highest frequencies. Fewer than three 16-bit samples to be exact. Oh, and no center or surround channels.
The 192 kHz stereo DVD-Audio sounds amazing as well. Is it better than 96 kHz? Hard to tell, but it sure seems like it.
Unlike many other DVD players, which only have 90-day labor warranty, and the Pioneer DV-400V with 1-year warranty for both parts and labor, this Elite model has full 2-year warranty.
So far, after 6 months, the unit performs flawlessly. Aside from occassional refusal to turn off if the receiver is turned off before the player. Might be a slight glitch in the HDMI implementation.
What I Like
Amazing sound from DVD-Audio, connectivity and low price for feature set, PAL playback and conversion to NTSC, computer video file playback, USB, 1080p. Very good build quality, excellent video and sound, great remote control, menus, responsiveness. 2-year warranty does not hurt either.
What I Dislike
The initial startup takes several seconds. The player switches HDMI output resolution randomly (but most of the time not to detriment of video output and there is a remote button to cycle through resolutions instantly). I now have to spend lots of money of DVD-Audio discs.
As of 11/2011, I have had this player for 3 years and it works perfectly.
Pros: DVD-Audio, SACD, connectivity, price, features, DivX, USB, upconversion, remote, menus, responsiveness, 2-year warranty
Cons: Slow startup
The Pioneer Elite DV-49AV excels on all fronts. It plays virtually any format short of Blu-Ray. It plays both DVD-Audio and SACD. It is also a very good upconverting DVD player with a USB port, DivX playback and even PAL playback on an NTSC TV. If you need to play PAL discs on an NTSC TV, play computer files and DivX, play media files from a USB drive and upconvert up to 1080p, the DV400 is an excellent choice. And it is an excellent choice for regular DVD playback as well. With its 2-year warranty and solid build quality, I highly recommend it. It is my current #1 pick for a DVD player.