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Pioneer DV-410V DVD Player
With a couple of high-spec Blu-ray players due out later this year and a new range of cutting-edge plasma TVs about to hit the shops, no-one would blame Pioneer if the humble DVD player slipped down its list of priorities. But a DVD player market without Pioneer is like Man United without Alex Ferguson - it simply wouldn't be the same without them. The company has a duty to its legions of fans to keep on producing standard-def decks that push the technological boundaries, and thankfully Pioneer keeps the flame burning brightly this year with another awesome range of players, recorders and systems.
Included in this line-up is the £90 DV-410V DVD player, the successor to last year's excellent DV-400V, which knocked its budget competition for six with an unbeatable range of features and top-notch performance. At just under £90, the DV-410V looks like it offers more of the same great value for money without adding anything radical to the 400V's already generous feature list. It's joined in the range by the cheaper DV-310 and the step-up DV-610AV, which adds DVD-Audio and SACD playback.
In stark contrast to its bulky premium players, Pioneer's budget decks are traditionally slim and snazzy and the DV-410V continues that trend. It's certainly attractive, but in a way that will appeal to tech-geeks rather than interior designers. Available in black or silver, the deck harbours no minimalist pretentions - its fascia is unashamedly busy, packed with everything from menu controls and playback buttons to logos and a USB port, the latter allowing you to plug in memory sticks and other devices and play back digital media files.
Moving to the rear, the connection selection might seem a little light at first glance, but you'll soon realise that it actually covers most bases. Of greatest interest to owners of flat-panel TVs and projectors is the HDMI input, which this time round is of the 1.3 variety, serving up what we hope will be pin-sharp digital pictures in 720p, 1080i and 1080p flavours.
It's joined by an RGB and composite-enabled SCART socket, which is hanging on in there despite being an endangered species, plus component and composite video outputs. You can connect the deck to your AV receiver using the HDMI socket, analogue stereo outputs or the coaxial digital audio out (but bear in mind there's no optical digital output for those that need it).