Denon DVD-5910CI Universal Disc Player 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

The format war for high-definition discs wages on, but for now, DVD is still the reigning king of home video formats. We all have years of back catalogue DVDs in our collections, and a solid player is of paramount importance to any theater. High-resolution audio in the form of SACD and DVD-Audio are still prominent and Denon makes several levels of players capable of spinning CD, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and SACD discs, with their top of the line spinner being the DVD-5910CI priced at $3,800. The DVD-5910CI is designed to be the primary source for a high-end home theater or whole home distribution system and, as such, offers connectivity not often found on consumer level goods. The “CI” stands for Custom Integration. This is Denon’s way of identifying their products with connectivity and control features for home integration and theaters using advance control systems.

This flagship DVD player in the Denon line offers a vast array of video-enhancing technologies, including Denon’s proprietary Dual Discreet Video Circuitry with multi-directional diagonal filtering to reduce jaggies, Denon Pixel Image correction to make outlines appear more natural, 10-bit Precision Video Scaling™ by DVDO up to 1080p via HDMI or 1080i via DVI-D, and the Realta T2™ HQV chip to aid in smoothing out video artifacts. Video scaling can be set to 480p/576p, 720p, 1080i or 1080p, or to automatically set itself to your display’s resolution when using the HDMI connector. Advanced video set-up options abound to adjust the output to your tastes and display (or displays, as the case may be), allowing brightness, contrast, hue, sharpness and even advanced Gamma correction to be stored in any of five memories, in addition to the factory default. 14-bit/216 MHz video DACs handle the conversion to analog signals to maximize the quality of video from these outputs as well.

Denon didn’t go light on the audio side, either. For multi-channel audio, the DVD-5910CI employs five discrete Burr Brown PCM-1792 24-bit/192 MHz DACs, as well as Denon’s own Advanced AL24 processing, allowing up-sampling of CDs and DVDs via the analog outputs. Fully digital bass management, speaker configuration, level and delay controls are here for the analog outputs, but they can be bypassed to DTS default settings. The unit is HDCD-compatible, THX Ultra®-certified and has its own internal Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, as well as SRS TruSurround for a simulated surround field from the front left and right speakers for use in two-channel movie systems. Denon even offers a “Pure Direct Mode,” which allows you to turn off the digital output circuitry when using the analog outputs to maximize sound quality as well as an SACD filter to limit ultra-high-frequency output from the player.

  The DVD-5910CI comes with a pair of analog RCA cables, a composite video cable, a detachable two-prong power cord, a remote with batteries, a Denon Link cord and an IEEE 1394 cable, as well as the book-sized manual. Fortunately, the manual isn’t as bad as it seems. It is in three languages, so the English section is only 85 pages long. The remote is large and thick at the lower end, making it clunky to handle even for my hands. It is backlit, albeit by pressing a backlighting button, which is small, as are many of the buttons on this remote. The buttons were laid out pretty well, however, and once familiar with it, I easily identified frequently-used keys blindly. I was happy to see discrete power on and off buttons on the remote, something I often have to hunt for on other gear to program my universal remote macros.

The DVD-5910CI I received for review was a trade show sample and, as such, the packaging was quite different from that of a new one you would purchase at a retail venue. Denon is a strong company and always packs their products well, and I am sure you would be happy with their attention to detail and care in the packaging of this player. Unpacking the player from the box was no light task, as the unit weighed 42 pounds and measured six-point-seven inches tall and 17.1 inches deep and wide. It was the size of a receiver and weighed more than many of them. The build quality was excellent, all the connectors were high-quality machined RCA connectors and the buttons had an excellent feel to them. The disc tray rolled out smoothly and had a brown tray inside the otherwise entirely black finish. The player embodied the classic Denon look of a simply finished black metal face with a transverse line carved from side to side. A large display lay below the disc tray in the middle of the front panel and was covered with seemingly every trademark symbol associated with home theater. The hard power and standby buttons were on the left of the display and transport buttons lay to the right of the disc tray above the setup controls. Most of the key set-up buttons were located on the front of the player, yet Denon kept it all looking clean and neat.

On the rear of the unit, I found HDCP-compliant HDMI and DVI-D digital video outputs, as well as two sets of component video outs, one with RCA connectors, one with BNC style connectors, two S-Video and two composite video outputs. All the video outputs were active all the time, allowing video to be sent to a multitude of sites in several different formats from this single player. Stereo, 5.1 channel analog RCA outputs, optical and coaxial digital outputs, two IEEE 1394 audio outputs and Denon’s proprietary D-Link III connections were here, too. An RS-232 port and remote IR in and out ports finished off the connection options. All the connections were well-spaced across the back panel, making them easy to access.

I started with this player in my bedroom system, comprised of a Denon AVR-4306 receiver, powering the KEF KHT 5005.2 speaker system, and my Panasonic TH-42PX60U plasma. Connecting this player to its sibling receiver was, quite simply, as easy as it gets. I connected the D-Link III cable between the two of them, ran an HDMI cable from the DVD player to the receiver and plugged it in. After a quick trip through the setup menus of both the receiver and DVD player, I was up and running in minutes with any disc I wanted to play. When using the D-Link III connector, the player communicates directly to your receiver and the receiver does the speaker timing and distance settings. This was, bar none, the easiest set-up of a component I can remember. The player had excellent musicality and wondrous video performance in this system, but after a while, I felt a player of this caliber should be assessed in my reference system to allow it to show off its 1080p video scaling, as well as audio on a more revealing system, so off it went to the main rig for some serious critiquing.

I connected the DVD-5910CI to my Meridian 861v4 AV preamp, both via the 5.1 analog outputs and the coaxial digital output. Video was run with a Monster M1000 HDMI cable to a Meridian HDMax 421 HDMI switcher that fed my Sony KDS-R70XBR2 rear-projection display. I used my Proceed HPA 2 and HPA 3 amplifiers for the Paradigm Reference Studio 100v4s, ADP 590 surrounds, CC-690 center channel and a Paradigm Servo 15v2 subwoofer (review pending) and wired them with Transparent Reference balanced interconnects and speaker wire. Electricity was filtered through Chang Lightspeed HT 1000 and CLS 9900 amp power conditioners. Once all the connections were made, I fired up a movie to test it out and ran into an all too common problem: the DVD-5910CI wouldn’t pass a video signal to my TV through the HDMax 421 switcher. I tried several different HDMI cables and a Geffen HDMI 341 switcher in series, as well as on its own, but finally connected the player directly to my TV’s HDMI input. I tried using all video output options, including the Auto setting, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get the player and display to make the required HDCP handshake through either of my HDMI switchers. When the player was connected directly to the display, it worked perfectly and the auto setting immediately recognized my display’s 1080p potential. While the HDMI output worked easily in one system, I had troubles with it in another. This is not the fault of Denon, but rather of the HDCP copy-protection scheme and its inherent problems; this player is not immune to them.

For multi-channel audio, I bypassed the Denon’s internal speaker set-up, as my AV preamp handles that. I went through the menus, though, and they were clear and easily followed. They allow you to adjust each speaker independently in one-foot and one-decibel increments, with crossover frequencies adjustable from 40 to 120 Hz in 20 Hz increments. While I didn’t require this feature for either of my systems, they are crucial in many, and Denon has done it right on this player, offering plenty of flexibility and ease of use.

Music And Movies
John Woo’s Face/Off (Paramount Home Entertainment) is a classic film with a great blend of video and audio, showing everything from dimly-lit and misty sequences to crystal-clear daylight scenes with plenty of fast action and intense surround effects. I started with the Denon outputting 480p and, while it offered a good picture, each increase in resolution up to and including 1080p offered more smoothness and less grain, while at the max resolution, the DVD-5910CI seemed to improve depth significantly and gave a more three-dimensional appearance to the film. Skins tones had a natural softness to them. Edge detail was exceptional, though a step less than Blu-ray or HD DVD, giving sharp edges to high-contrast areas without halos. During the fastest motion scenes, some grain became apparent, but it was very brief, and on facial close-ups, the skin blurred slightly with motion, but these problems were minor compared to the overall improvement in video that the scaling offered. Audio was superb during the mirror scene in the taking of Dietrich’s place; gunshots came from the center of the soundstage, while the ricochets of bullets flew from all around the room. Voices were clear and well-balanced and the DVD-5910CI easily reproduced the intensity of explosions, as well as the subtlety of birds in the background.

For something a little different on DVD, I chose Team America: World Police (Paramount Home Entertainment). The Denon clearly displayed the strings used to control the puppets, as well as the hairs on the puppets’ heads. During the initial fight scene between Team America and the terrorists, fast motion was accurately displayed, while allowing the detailed texture in the cobblestone to remain. Audio was amazing. The background music filled the room, conversations were well-placed and surround effects followed the screen perfectly, with a pleasant smoothness to them.

For some two-channel listening, I cued up a standard test disc of mine, Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele (Atlanic Records). I’ve seen Tori many times, so I’m quite familiar with her sound. “Blood Roses” started off with the delicacy of a harpsichord and each tinny note seemed to float on air. As the song progressed, so did the intensity of the harpsichord. The Denon kept each note separate and distinct, while giving a musicality to the instrument not often heard even in high-end players. Tori’s voice and breath were wonderful and lifelike. Moving to “Muhammad My Friend,” I was treated by this player’s ability to powerfully reproduce the deep bass of a piano, as well as the delicacy of its high notes. The complexity of musical passages wasn’t a problem for the Denon, which kept each note clear and independent of the rest of the happenings in the music. Tori’s voice maintained a great ease and smoothness to it that made this player so enjoyable to hear.

To test the Denon’s performance on SACD, I dropped in Pink Floyd’s all-time classic Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol). The laughter at the beginning of “Speak to Me” seemed to come from inside my head, while the drums stayed tight. The clocks at the start of “Time” ticked away, then exploded with power and clarity. Each chiming clock was precisely locatable in the sound field, and the bass of the big grandfather clock came through without fazing the complexity of the rest of the song. As the drums ramped up, each rap on their heads was clear and the surround was perfect. The Denon displayed a mellow ease with this album, never being harsh or forward, just pleasant and warm, overall making its presentation friendly. I think it made for one of my favorite sessions with this album. The delicacy of the piano at the start of “The Great Gig in the Sky” was simply incredible.

Another SACD I had to try was Elton John’s Madman Across the Water (Universal). “Tiny Dancer” starts off with a lone piano and Elton’s vocals, which were done with a wonderful smoothness. The song builds quickly with the addition of bass and drums and they were clean and full. As the strings came in, they filled the room with their added warmth. “Levon” impressed me with the lush nature of this player’s sound and I found myself lost in the music.

Moving on to DVD-Audio, I chose Steely Dan’s Gaucho (Universal) and was treated to even better bass than from SACD. Bass was more defined from DVD-Audio on this player, and the opening song “Babylon Sisters” clearly showed me bass and great surround effects. The horn was brassy as I’d expected, but not harsh. Vocals were clear and well-placed; the lead came from up front, while the background singers seemed to be everywhere. “Gaucho” filled the room with rich horns and bass, while the snare was sharp though never edgy. For comparison, I played this disc in my Meridian G98 DH through the same set-up. The Meridian had slightly more control of the bass and a little more air around the instruments, but the DVD-5910CI was a close second, being very musical in its presentation and costing just over half what the Meridian does.

The Doors’ L.A. Woman (Elektra) is a classic worthy of DVD-Audio. “Love Her Madly” gave an immersive experience with solid drums, Jim Morrison’s vocals came from everywhere and keyboards filled the room, with smooth mids and highs and wondrous depth of bass. “Been Down So Long” really demonstrated the bass this player can produce, while allowing the guitar and vocals to be unaffected. The various instruments flew around my room independently of each other’s actions. The deepest of bass never affected the subtlest of guitar riffs. I aired out the system to the title track and was impressed with the clarity as well as accuracy of the guitar riffs and keyboards. The rain and thunder on “Riders on the Storm” were amazing, while the keyboards came in with a richness that was so welcome. Jim’s voice was up front while the subtle echoes came from everywhere.

The Downside
While difficult to fault anything in this player’s performance, I have some minor issues. First, to me, the remote is a little clunky and the buttons could be larger, which would make the backlighting easier to read at night. I suspect most people buying this player have other remotes or systems to control it, so this isn’t a big issue, but I want a cool remote for this price, even if it is going to be hidden in the closet somewhere. This is also a large and heavy player, and will need appropriate shelf space and breathing room. Sonically, the bass could have been better defined on SACD playback, but overall, the output was musical and pleasant. The fact that these are the only things I found to fault this player for speaks volumes to just how good it is.

The Denon DVD-5910CI is an exceptional universal player, capable of spinning any silver disc you can throw at it, except for Blu-ray and HD DVD. It offers remarkable bass management and speaker set-up, as well as an unheard-of array of video outputs (which are all active), multiple options in video scaling, Gamma correction and other variables that can be assigned to any of five preset video outputs’ memories, allowing this player to truly live up to Denon’s “CI” status. All the advance control options you could want are here, as well as Denon’s own proprietary link to mate to their receivers. This link and HDMI connection literally made this the simplest component I’ve connected to any system in years.

The DVD-5910CI is not inexpensive, but no matter who you are, you still need a good DVD player for several more years. Factor in the exceptional performance of this player, not only on DVD-Video but also on CD, SACD and DVD-Audio, and the over-the-top build quality it exhibits, and I think the Denon DVD-5910CI is very reasonably priced. The DVD-5910CI impressed me with its uncanny ability to handle musically complicated passages with ease, distinction and smoothness, without ever sounding soft or thin. Nothing stood out about this player; everything just sounded and looked great with it. This player’s wonderfully musical and downright pleasant nature made it an absolute joy to hear. Some people will consider me insane for considering a $3,800 dollar player “reasonable,” but given all the Denon’s attributes, I challenge them to find better for the price.
Manufacturer Denon
Model DVD-5910CI Universal Disc Player
Reviewer Ken Taraszka, M.D

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