Products from East Asia have been dominating our review studio for so long that I've almost become fluent in Chinese and Korean. Oh, I'm not complaining about quality or performance; it's just that I'd like a change once in a while – a new brand, a different style of design...
But that will have to wait for another day. In the meantime I've managed to get hold of a gadget from Pioneer that's come all the way from Tokyo, Japan. The company deserves credit for 'pioneering' (heh!) a lot of technological advances over the decades – this includes the first CD player, DVD gear, OLED, plasma displays, and what-have-you.
The Pioneer DVD player that came in for review is the DV-696AV. It's been around in the market for a while, and perches comfortably in the middle segment. After reviewing so many TVs, it’s rather a relief to do something else, so you can imagine why I was excited.
Design and Features
The DV-696AV has a very tough, straight-edged look about it, with its flat rectangular surfaces joined at sharp cliffs all around. It’s not like some audio amps which can actually cut you, but it gives the product a very 90s look, and probably a high-end tag.
The design is simple and straightforward. The unit we got was all in one color, just like Henry Ford's original Model T Ford. Yes, even the buttons were black! (If you have the silver version, replace the last word of the previous sentence with silver.) It more or less conforms to one rack unit standard as far as size goes; weight-wise it’s medium.
The Pioneer logo on the top left of the front panel is the only element that's in a different color. The menu navigation buttons are on the right extremity, arranged in a circular joystick style, while tiny round buttons for random functions are placed in a line below the screen. The tray is bang center of the front panel, along with a camouflaged eject button.
The player has many features – it not only plays DVDs but also SACDs and DVD Audio, which would be music to audiophiles' ears. DivX, JPEG, MP3 etc are all invited to the party. Pioneer's higher-end models play Blu-ray as well; just to remind you.
This model has an HDMI out, with upscaling capabilities, so it fits the needs of the day perfectly. Dolby and DTS are supported as surround sound outputs, through an optical out at the back panel. The player also has composite video, component video, S-video, SCART and analog 5.1 channel out.
We connected the unit to a Hitachi LCD, via HDMI, and proceeded with our not-so-secret rituals. First, test patterns and videos were employed to check de-interlacing. Motion and sharpness were good, but quite frankly not up to the mark of a player in this price segment.
I’m saying this as some artifacts were visible here and there, and the edges were a bit off. But this is a minor problem; the image was largely good. Color-wise I had no complaints at all; the entire spectrum was represented – and represented well – with no signs of bleeding or oversaturation of any hue.
We then switched to a movie to see how it handles film content, and what else but Star Wars? So we put the Star Wars DVD in, pushed Play, and sat back. The color was as great as before, though a little banding was present. But then, this happens virtually in every DVD player I check (except the very high end); it's like noise in LCD TVs.
The upscaling was adequate. We effortlessly viewed stuff at 720p, though this has to be set in the menu. If you don't, the default setting is 4:3, so when you first switch on the unit you may think either you or your TV has lost it. The menu system is comprehensive, with readable fonts and hierarchy.
This DVD player costs Rs 12,990, so you could consider it if you're in the market for a mid-range player. The quality is definitely better than that offered by the sub-5000 units. Compared to other brands in the segment the Pioneer DV-696AV might have to struggle to catch up, but then the other units offering the same range of features tend to be much more expensive.