- Review Price: £435.00
Despite its reputation as a pioneer in the DVD market, Denon has been surprisingly slow to embrace Blu-ray. But now it’s making up for lost time with three hi-def players – the top-end DVD-3800BD, the DVD-2500BT transport and the entry-level DVD-1800BD. We say entry-level, but with an MSRP of £550 (or around £450 online) the DVD-1800BD is a lot pricier than entry-level players from the likes of Panasonic, Sony and Samsung, so let’s find out if it justifies the extra cost.
Denon sent us the black version of the player and after pulling it out of the box we were pleasantly surprised by its understated and slightly old-fashioned looks. The fascia has a fetching curved ridge along the top and a helpfully large display panel, while the inclusion of just five buttons keeps things nice and minimal. But if you’re after a bit more pizzazz then go for the silver version, which for our money is the better looking of the two.
On the front panel is an SD/SDHC slot, which enables you to play music and photos stored on SD cards through the player. It’s a convenient and somewhat surprising feature, given that Denon doesn’t even put card slots on its DVD players, let alone Blu-ray decks.
The DVD-1800BD’s entry-level status means that it sports fewer sockets than the 3800BD, but for this sort of money we would have expected more. You obviously get an HDMI output, whose v1.3 specification offers Deep Colour support and HD audio bitstream output, plus component and composite video outputs. On the audio front you get coaxial digital and analogue stereo output, but sadly there are no 5.1- or 7.1-channel analogue outputs or optical digital output.
The other major omission is an Ethernet LAN port, an indication of the player’s Profile 1.1 specification. This of course means that it doesn’t support BD Live, another feature we would have expected at this price – particularly as it’s found on even the cheapest players (the Samsung BD-P1500 springs to mind). The DVD-3800BD doesn’t support BD Live either, making Denon’s Blu-ray family better suited to those who would rather watch the film than download trailers or chat online. You can, however, access BonusView content such as picture-in-picture commentaries.
When connecting the player to an AV receiver, there are a few things worth bearing in mind. The DVD-1800BD can output Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD as a raw bitstream, so if your amp can decode any of these then you’ll be able to enjoy hi-res audio quality. But the player lacks the relevant decoders to turn these formats into PCM and output them via HDMI, so if your amp can’t decode these formats then you’ll have to settle for two or six-channel PCM converted from the regular Dolby Digital or DTS core. For two-channel audio the deck boasts Burr Brown 192 kHz/24-bit digital-to-analogue converters.
Video features are excellent. The Denon can output Blu-ray films in 1080/24p and will also upconvert DVDs to 720p, 1080i or 1080p. It features complete 10-bit signal processing and a video equalizer, which lets you alter the levels of colour, contrast, brightness, sharpness gamma correction and noise reduction. These settings are easily tweaked by pressing the Mode button on the remote, which also lets you turn secondary video on and off.
The DVD-1800BD also supports DivX files from DVD-RW/-R and CD-RW/-R, and also supports video on demand. In fact the player’s format support is impressive across the board, as it also welcomes MP3, WMA, JPEG and DVD+RW/+R discs.
Using the DVD-1800BD is a pleasant experience, as it responds quickly to commands from the remote and onscreen displays are easy on the eye. The superb remote has a spacious and intuitive button layout with clear labelling, plus its brushed aluminium finish makes it an eye-catching adornment for your coffee table. Disc loading times aren’t lightning quick but perfectly tolerable, taking 54 seconds to display ”Hellboy 2’s” first menu screen, which is pretty much the average these days.
Our initial impressions of the unit’s picture quality are generally positive, but it doesn’t quite deliver the awe-inspiring performance we were hoping for from a player bearing the Denon name, especially one that costs so much money. That’s not to say it’s bad though, far from it. ”Hellboy 2’s” richly textured visuals are imbued with layers of detail, bright, vivid colours and deep blacks, with well-defined edges and little noise to speak of. The Troll Market scene is the sort of thing Blu-ray was made for, and the Denon does a decent job of bringing the background characters and textured prosthetic make-up to life, plus the image has a convincing sense of depth, even with the dark surroundings.
The deck also has no major problems with the Silicon Optix Benchmark Blu-ray and DVD tests, doing a particularly good job of keeping jaggies at bay on moving diagonal lines.
But while the Denon’s Blu-ray pictures are impressive, certain scenes exhibit the faintest touch of softness – particularly ones with lots of movement – which prevents it from matching the mind-blowing clarity of the Pioneer BDP-LX71 or Panasonic DMP-BD55, its closest competitors from a price perspective.
Unsurprisingly given Denon’s track record, DVD playback is right out of the top drawer. ”Gladiator” looks sharp and punchy, with natural colours and clearly-defined edges. There’s a touch of mosquito noise here and there but it can’t stop its DVD performance being anything less than impressive.
Through a decent sound system with HD audio decoding, the player delivers breathtaking audio performance, and with PCM output selected (which is necessary to hear secondary audio tracks) there’s a distinct drop in crispness but it still sounds great. When playing back CDs through the analogue stereo outputs, Denon’s hi-fi heritage shines through in its open and detailed reproduction of music across a range of genres. By selecting the Pure Direct mode, the deck turns off the video circuitry, allowing for greater audio signal purity.
We wanted to be blown away by the DVD-1800BD but sadly it’s left us feeling a little bit underwhelmed. Although it’s an all-round solid proposition, we can’t help feeling that it’s a touch overpriced for a player that lacks BD Live support, multichannel analogue outputs and HD audio decoding. And while its picture quality is undeniably impressive, it lacks the jaw-dropping sharpness offered by the latest Pioneers and Panasonics. Maybe we expected too much from an ‘entry-level’ player – hopefully the sumptuous-looking DVD-3800BD can show us what Denon is really capable of.
Score in detail
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