GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published February 1, 2004


Pioneer DV-563A Universal Audio/Video Player


It’s been rough sailing so far for the DVD-Audio and SACD formats. The music industry has been hesitant to invest in them without strong assurances that they won’t find the contents of the new discs uploaded to the Internet and downloaded free worldwide. The prospect of a format war meant that no one was too excited about investing in either until there was a clear winner. Then there was the high price of the players and the lack of software titles. Unlike the advent of DVD, few people were buying. Who could blame them?

History has shown that new consumer-electronics formats don’t gain widespread acceptance until the price of admission drops below $300 USD. As with all new technologies, the early players were geared toward true audiophiles, who consider a price of $1000 or more "reasonable." The average consumer, and even the budget audiophile, laughs at such lofty prices. Manufacturers such as Pioneer recognized this early on, and the inexpensive universal audio/video player was born.

Enter the Pioneer DV-563A, the first consumer-priced universal-format DVD player. With a list price of $250 and a common street price of $180, the DV-563A falls well below the threshold of consumer tolerance -- and because it plays both DVD-As and SACDs, any format war holds no threat. When I tell them the price, friends who’ve investigated the new formats raise their eyebrows. "Really?" they say. Others, who don’t know much about the formats, stop what they’re doing and start asking questions. Suddenly, a whole group of people who used to shrug and go back to their business are showing interest in DVD-A and SACD. Welcome to the true birth of a new format. I hope.

Setting sail

The Pioneer DV-563A looks like a standard consumer-grade DVD player. Its attractive silver slimline styling should fit nicely into most entertainment centers and décors. While I wouldn’t call it rugged, it feels solid in the hands -- unlike some players, whose cases flex easily when handled. The remote is simple but effective, and reasonably well laid-out.

The features list is concise but complete. There are one each of component, S-video, composite, optical digital, coaxial digital, and analog audio outputs. The inclusion of both optical and coaxial digital outs is a nice touch in a market where most players include only one or the other. There’s also a 5.1-channel analog output for passing DVD-A and SACD signals along to a receiver equipped with matching inputs. Unfortunately, all of these connections are crammed into a narrow section of the rear panel; it’s difficult to tell if you’re plugging the right cord into the right jack. Make sure you have a clear view of the rear panel when you’re plugging everything in.

The formats played are SACD, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, Video CD, and MP3. The DV-563A also features Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, along with SRS surround. Rudimentary bass management is included for all formats, although you can choose only between Large and Small speakers, and whether or not there’s a subwoofer in the system. It’s not much, but it will do for most people. The DV-563A is what it was designed to be: simple but complete.

Setup was easy enough, but it took me a few tries and one or two four-letter words before I realized that pressing Enter while adjusting the speaker levels would throw me back to the main menu. (My habit is to press Enter to validate an input, but with the Pioneer, that’s a quick way to raise your blood pressure.) Channel-level adjustments are buried in the Initial Settings menu, under the Variable Channel Level setting. Selecting Variable and then pressing Enter brings up the level menu. This is far from intuitive -- I suspect many people will never know it’s there unless they stumble across it.

That settled, I went on to complete the basic setup. I had to hunt for a few things, such as where to turn on the progressive-scan output, but once these were found, completion of the setup was done quickly enough. Well, there was one little thing. When I switch between my Sony DVP-NS755V and Panasonic CP-72 DVD players, only minor tweaking of the video settings is required. But when I broke out the Avia test disc and did a full-blown recalibration, I found that the Pioneer DV-563A required vastly different settings. Part of this may have to do with the fact that Pioneer has three configurable picture parameters of its own, and its default settings seem to be a bit high in comparison to my other two players. That said, after a full calibration the picture looked fine.

One thing that has been an annoyance from day one with my Panasonic CP-72 changer is its slowness at recognizing and loading discs. I’m not patient when it comes to user interfaces, and response to input from the front panel is equally painful. Mold grows faster. Thankfully, the Pioneer responded quickly, loading most discs in a few seconds, though DVD-As seemed to take longer in general.

The journey

The DV-563A’s CD playback was about what I expected: decent, but the sound was a bit lackluster and two-dimensional from the analog outputs. This was evident on "Ain’t Misbehavin’," from Peter Cincotti’s self-titled debut album [Concord 2159] -- the horns lost a bit of their sparkle, and the sax was missing some of that airy quality. Imaging was good, but wasn’t locked down as tightly as the same material played in my reference Adcom GCD-600 CD player. The DV-563A fared much better when I fed its digital output to my Anthem AVM 20 processor for decoding. This is not at all uncommon among budget DVD players; in fact, my Panasonic CP-72 suffers from the same malady. I suspect most people will use the DV-563A’s digital output and will never notice that two-channel decoding is lacking in any way.

The DV-563A’s DVD-Audio playback was about on a par with the $279.95 Panasonic CP-72’s. The instruments and voices on "Never Going Back Again," from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours [Warner Bros. 48083-9], were properly placed in a large three-dimensional soundfield. Though I’m not crazy about hearing instruments all around me, the Pioneer faithfully reproduced what the producer intended. Extension at the frequency extremes was on a par with the Panasonic’s; i.e., excellent. Subwoofer integration using the marginal bass management of both players was acceptable, though the subwoofer was occasionally localizable with both players. Overall, there was little discernible difference between the Pioneer and the Panasonic when playing DVD-As.

SACDs were a slightly different story. The $249 DVP-NS755V is my multichannel SACD player of choice these days; while the Pioneer did a credible job, the Sony retained a slight lead in this area. The differences weren’t huge, but with the Sony there was a slight sense of increased space and tighter control over images. The difference between the two players could arguably be attributable to the fact that while the Sony processes the native DSD signal, the Pioneer converts DSD to PCM before processing. Pioneer does this to save the cost of making a player that includes two processors. While this may have a slight negative impact on performance, it’s one of the things that has allowed Pioneer to drive down the DV-563A’s cost to something the mass market can afford.

On the SACD version of Weather Report’s Mysterious Traveler [Columbia 65112], the image pans were nearly pinpoint through the Pioneer, but the cymbal ringing in the right surround seemed a bit harsh when compared directly against the Sony. However, without doing a direct comparison you’d never notice the difference -- this is a very minor issue for a universal audio/video player costing less than $200.

A successful voyage

If you’re looking for the Holy Grail of DVD players, look elsewhere -- that was never Pioneer’s goal for the DV-563A. This is a basically solid DVD-Video player with DVD-Audio and SACD capabilities added -- in other words, a DVD player for the masses. In that light, it’s an extremely successful player that hits the mark with good if not perfect picture quality and reasonably good performance with all three main audio formats. What it lacks in ultimate resolution and detail it makes up for in versatility. While a number of players offer comparable and sometimes better video and audio performance, none anywhere near this price offers the ability to play both DVD-A and SACD. And that, my friends, makes this a GoodSound! Great Buy.

...Jeff Van Dyne

Price of equipment reviewed

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