Denon DVD-3910 Universal Disc Player 
Home Theater Video Players DVD Players
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Tuesday, 01 November 2005

My audio/video system has changed dramatically over past couple years. A while back, my rack consisted of a CD player, SACD player, DVD player, VHS deck, preamplifier, surround sound processor and several power amplifiers. Of course, then there were the miles of cable it took to hook the endless string of components together. Not to mention the remotes. But that was then, and this is now. Today’s modern audio/video enthusiast has options, like receivers and universal disc players, which over the years have made huge strides in quality and performance, leaving a lot of the “traditional” solutions in the dust.

Enter Denon’s 3910 single-disc, DVD-A/SACD Progressive Scan Universal Disc player, a source component that literally plays everything. One player, multiple formats: what could be better? I have been on the lookout for a good universal player for several months, because I’ve just had it with maintaining multiple players. Luckily Denon, as well as other manufacturers, has stepped up to the plate by creating (the once mythical) universal disc player. Out of the box, the Denon 3910 is large by anyone’s standards for a CD/DVD player. It measures 17 inches wide by five inches high, 13 inches deep and tips the scales at a little over 17 pounds. It’s attractive aluminum casing comes in black or silver and is available in either finish for a retail price of $1,499.00.

My review sample sported a black façade, which is still my preference for any audio equipment that finds its way into my rack. The front panel has the usual array of buttons and controls: power, eject, play, stop, track skip, pause, forward, reverse, HDMI/DVI select, a video mode shuttle dial, SACD select and a Denon staple, Pure Direct Select. The 3910 also has quite a comprehensive LCD screen that is large enough to be read from a few feet away and is also defeatable, so you don’t have to deal with any electronic glow while watching a movie.

Moving on to the rear of the 3910, you’re treated to enough connection options to keep even Sybil happy. Starting from the top, there is a 5.1-channel set of RCA outputs flanked by a pair of traditional gold-plated two-channel outputs. The 3910 also features two IEEE 1394 digital audio outputs, as well as Denon’s own iLink interface which, when used, drastically cuts down the number of cables running to your receiver. The 3910 also has both optical and coaxial outputs rounding out its audio selection. Moving on to the video side of things, the 3910 comes equipped with both HDMI and DVI outputs. HDMI and DVI are capable of passing a pure digital signal to your video display, provided it too has HDMI or a DVI input. It should also be noted that HDMI can pass both audio and video through a single cable, whereas DVI cannot. Lastly, on the topic of HDMI and DVI, the 3910’s up-sampling capabilities (480p, 720p and 1080i) can only be utilized through either of the digital video outs. On the analog side of things, there is a single component video out, as well as a standard composite and S-video out. For your custom installation needs, the 3910 has a RS-232C port for third-party controllers, as well as remote I/O ports and a detachable power cord.

In the performance category, the 3910 reads more like a state of the art receiver than a disc spinner. Starting off, the 3910 will play CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-A, DVD-R, DVD-RW, SACD, Kodak Picture CD, HDCD, Windows Media and MP3-encoded discs. Denon makes no promises when it comes to DualDisc playback, due to the format’s somewhat inconsistent playability. Also, the 3910 will not play VCDs, which has risen as a quasi-format seemingly for movie pirating purposes. Personally, I don’t fault Denon for this, nor do I think it changes its “universal” status. It’s not Denon’s problem if after more than 20 years of compact disc, some idiot from on high decides to throw the standard out the window. As for VCD, no, you don’t need to see the final installment of “Star Wars” on your computer before it hits theaters. The solution is to pony up the 12 bucks and buy a ticket. The 3910 features both Dolby Digital and DTS decoding capabilities, as well as HDCD. As for video, the 3910 features Faroudja’s DCDi processing, which works hand in hand with its progressive scan to ensure the clearest, sharpest picture, devoid of typical digital video artifacts and “jaggies.” Along with DCDi, the 3910 offers 3:2 pull-down detection, as well as NSV, or Noise Shaped Video Precision Video, for reducing noise levels in the video frequencies.

Lastly, there’s the remote. Well, it’s a remote, all right – a large, awkward and impossible to use in the dark remote. Sure, it has backlighting, but it only illuminates the basic functions like play and stop. With the lights up, it truly gives you control over all of the 3910’s numerous functions, but I like to work in dim (or no) light when doing reviews or watching movies.

I connected the 3910 to the Denon 4806 THX Ultra2 7.1 receiver (review forthcoming) via its component, DVI, iLink and IEEE 1394 outputs. I did utilize all of the 3910’s connection options. However, I made my choices based primarily on ease of operation. For the video portion of this review, the duties fell to my trusty Panasonic PT-500U HD-LCD projector with my ever-ready Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 system taking care of the audio duties.

The 3910, like any good component, requires a few adjustments before maximum playback quality can be enjoyed. With what has to be one of the simplest onscreen displays I’ve ever seen, I was able to navigate and calibrate the 3910 with little to no need for the manual. This is not to say that the manual isn’t valuable: it is, and is very well written to boot, but if you’ve set up a DVD player before, you shouldn’t have a problem with the 3910. With the help of the iLink and IEEE 1394 connections (both of which are supplied with the 3910), I was up and running in less than 30 minutes.

Music and Movies
If you’re a fan of the recently departed HBO hit “Six Feet Under,” then you have probably heard of Sia. The one-time vocalist for the indie band Zero 7, Sia has a recent album, Colour the Small One (Universal UK), which contains some of her best work to date. On the track “Breathe Me,” Sia’s vocals reign supreme, floating nimbly in the center of my room with a hauntingly breathy realism I’d not experienced from this track or disc before. The 3910 struck a wonderful balance between Sia’s vocals and the subtle orchestral cues that made it all the easier to get drawn into the music. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, I was unable to really find anything objectionable. The 3910 never lost its composure and never once became harsh or tubby. The soundstage was deeper than I had experienced with previous players in this price range and the width was nothing to cry about, either. I wouldn’t classify the 3910’s presentation as razor sharp, but there was an appropriate amount of air and space between the performers that was quite alluring. The 3910 let the music simply unfold naturally; preferring to lure you in vs. reaching out and grabbing you by the throat. One thing that struck me was just how sure-footed the 3910 was. The 3910 proved its dynamic prowess during the orchestral bridge, providing an enveloping and explosive performance that in the hands of some of my other players had been a bit mushy and one-dimensional.

Wanting to test the 3910’s mettle a little bit, I threw on Eminem’s third album, The Eminem Show (Aftermath). During the track “Cleaning Out My Closet,” the 3910 treated me to all the spiteful, gritty, raw anger Eminem could muster, putting the rapper right square in the room with me, which is about as close as I ever want to be. It was clear that the 3910 wasn’t about smoothing over the rough parts and could get down and dirty with the best of them, if need be. The bass was tight and carried with it the appropriate scale and weight. Moving on to the track “Without Me,” the 3910 not only showcased its rhythmic speed, but managed to unveil a little something extra in the track that I can only refer to as “zing.” I’m not saying the 3910 added anything to the music; I just feel it has the resolving power to bring out more of the artist’s energy that some players might miss.

Moving on to multi-channel fare, I opted for the SACD version of John Mayer’s sophomore album Heavier Things (Columbia). During the track “Something’s Missing,” the 3910 proved just as adept at SACD as it was with standard two-channel fare. The 3910’s clarity is addicting and it managed to solve a lot of the edginess that once seemed synonymous with Mayer’s vocals. The highs once again were crystal clear and kept completely in check, a feat few digital players, even in this price bracket, can manage. The midrange was free of excessive warmth that often is associated with players trying to mask their digital pedigree. I would have to say (after some deliberation) that the 3910 tends to be on the lean side of neutral via its IEEE 1394 output. I found its RCA outputs to be a bit fuller-sounding, but not quite as refined. The bass was again spot-on, relying more on resolution than sheer gut-churning weight.

On the track “New Deep,” the bass plunged a little deeper, all the while remaining very musical, balancing very well with the drum kit’s shimmering cymbals. The bass guitar was beautifully detailed, once again showcasing the 3910’s ability to pull the innermost detail from every recording. Overall, I found the multi-channel performance of the 3910 to be exceptional. While it’s the recording that is responsible for getting the mix of multiple speakers right, the 3910 had no issues when it came to presenting me with one of the most enjoyable multi-channel experiences I’ve had in my room to date.

With the music over, I moved onto movies. I began with the Superbit version of the Mel Gibson blockbuster “The Patriot” (Columbia). Through its component outputs, I was treated to a bevy of rich vibrant colors, good black levels and crisp whites. The 3910 was also a natural with skin tones and depicting fine gradations in hues and saturations. However, I was able to detect some slight jaggedess and pixilation during long pans across the numerous corn and wheat fields. It didn’t call attention to itself the way I’ve noticed in other players, but to say it’s free from typical digital video compression and artifacts would be false. Compared to other DVD players in and around the 3910’s performance bracket, it did give me one of the better component pictures I’ve seen in a while. Switching to the 3910’s DVI output and setting the internal up sampling to 1080i was an experience I wasn’t prepared for. Gone were the before-mentioned compression issues. In their place was a crisp, focused, endless picture that, while not as saturated as its component counterpart, felt much truer to the original film itself. Through the DVI output, I could not only see further into the image more clearly but in low light scenes, such as the one where Mel’s son returns home from battle, I was able to make out more detail previously hidden in the shadows. I’m a sucker for close-ups, and again through the DVI output, I was able to see every subtle detail down to Mel’s sweat-soaked pores. I’d go so far as to say the 3910 might be the closest one can get to high-definition DVD performance without having to sell the children into slavery.

A direct comparison between the DVI output on the 3910 and my JVC D-VHS deck proved quite eye-opening. Yes, HD still has the upper hand in absolute terms, but with HD-DVD or Blue-ray still a way off, the 3910 gets you closer to the mountaintop than ever before. On the audio side of things, the 3910’s way with both Dolby Digital and DTS was breathtaking. A battle scene featuring hundreds of soldiers, countless firearms and cannons, all surrounded by lush landscapes and gentle winds, must be nerve-wracking for a sound designer. Yet, when presented with the challenge, the 3910 produced a true to life battlefield, complete with crackling gunfire and rumbling cannon shots, all the while managing to resolve even the tiniest of birds still chirping in the trees. It’s been said that you can lose sight of the big picture by focusing too heavily on the details, and while this may hold true for you and I, this is not the case for the Denon 3910.

I ended my review period with the action film “Spy Game” (Universal Studios Home Vido) from director Tony Scott. Scott, once steadfast with the camera, now moves and shakes the viewfinder like a man on his umpteenth cup of coffee. With enough wild pans to give any progressive scan DVD player a headache, the 3910, with its DCDi processing, kept the film from becoming nauseating. During the scene on the rooftop between Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, the motion was smooth as butter, with nary a sign of breakup or artifacting. The steely blues and grays that make up much of the scene’s color pallet were rendered wonderfully, without the image seeming at all washed out. The 3910 also made quick work of the film’s driving techno score, providing a nice blend between the elements throughout a film I can only describe as a sonic train wreck. It was during this film that I also experienced the 3910’s true bass capabilities. While the 3910 never failed to amaze me with its high-frequency and mid-band response, it wasn’t until I neared the end of my review that I finally unlocked the 3910’s full bass potential. I guess patience is a virtue after all.

The Downside
I’m a freak when it comes to remotes. I have a projection system, so the need to operate a remote in total darkness is not a perk; it’s a necessity for me. The backlighting on the remote falls short of effective, only illuminating simple functions, while leaving items such as HDMI/DVI select completely in the dark. No doubt Denon is banking on the hope that once set up, you’ll discard the 3910’s remote for something more upscale, like Denon’s own Glow Key Remote, as I did.

Also, the 3910 has some of the slowest loading times I’ve ever encountered. On something as simple as a standard Redbook CD, the 3910 takes an inordinate amount of time getting to the music. This leaves even the most patient users twiddling their thumbs.

At $1,499, the Denon 3910 is a substantial investment for any sort of disc player. However, when you consider the fact that you’re essentially getting up to four different players in one, the 3910 is without question a bargain. Many universal players claim to be truly universal, and while they will play most formats out there today, very few demonstrate the panache with both music and movies that the 3910 possesses. Be prepared to tell your old DVD and CD players they are the weakest link, goodbye. With a barrage of features and connection options at your fingertips, the Denon 3910 will keep you in movie and music nirvana for quite some time. With new formats like HD-DVD just around the corner some might be compelled to hold off, but when you factor in the sheer performance the 3910 brings to the table, you might reconsider. I know I did. I think I’ll figure out how to hang onto this one.
Manufacturer Denon
Model DVD-3910 Universal Disc Player
Reviewer Andrew Robinson

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