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Pioneer DVL-91 LaserDisc / DVD Player Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 August 1999
ImageAs largely evidenced by the huge selection of titles at retail mega-outlets such as Tower and Virgin, reports of the Laserdisc's death have been greatly exaggerated. According to Pioneer, who has invested heavily in both Laserdisc hardware and software for the past fifteen years, Laserdiscs will happily coexist with DVD for several more years (how many more is anyone's guess). To that end, Pioneer keeps the passion alive with products such as the Elite DVL-91, a combination LD, DVD and CD player.

The Laserdisc portion is essentially identical to Pioneer's Elite CLD-79, part of their current product line. However, the addition of a DVD player turns the DVL-91 into an all-purpose player that should satisfy your optical video playback needs for some time to come.

The unit, with its stylish rosewood side panels and elegant, shiny, black Urushi finish, is essentially the same height as any Laserdisc player, but contains a separate tray to accommodate CDs and DVDs. The DVL-91 provides 'both-sides play' for Laserdiscs and a dual focus laser pickup for playback of dual layer DVDs. The newly designed graphical user interface for setup and menu options is easier to read and navigate. It is possible to program the specific playback order by track or chapter on any medium. The slightly restyled remote is simple to operate and sports the familiar jog-shuttle wheel.
There are plenty of output connectors on the DVL-91. For video, there are two composite connectors, two S-Video connectors and a set of component outputs. Everyone by now knows that component outputs provide the absolute best DVD picture, but if you're between generations on your TV set, you may only have an S-Video (best choice for Laserdiscs) or composite input.

For audio, there are two sets of analog outputs, plus four digital outputs. There are both a coax and an optical output for PCM or a Dolby Digital (AC-3) bitstream. There's also an extra coax output for PCM plus a Dolby Digital (AC-3) RF coax output required for Dolby Digital-encoded Laserdiscs. All audio and video connectors (except optical) are gold plated for optimum conductivity.

The PCM outputs pass any DTS bitstream that is present. Like Dolby Digital, the DTS bitstream requires a decoder to ensure proper playback. Assuming you have all the proper decoders in your processor, the DVL-91 allows playback of Dolby Digital and DTS encoded CDs, DVDs and Laserdiscs as well as standard two-channel sources. (To playback Dolby Digital-encoded Laserdiscs, the DVL-91's RF output must be patched to the RF input of your processor.)

If your processor is equipped only for Dolby Digital, you can add a stand-alone DTS decoder such as the Millennium 2.4.6 by connecting the DVL-91's PCM output to the decoder's input to pass through the DTS bitstream.

The DVL-91 incorporates a 20-bit, 96 kHz digital to analog converter (DAC), though it is bypassed in favor of the processor's DAC when the digital outputs are employed. Of course, this is necessary for playback of 5.1 audio sources. In the event your processor allows a direct analog signal (no additional conversion) you can take advantage of Pioneer's DAC for a very pleasing and spacious sound, particularly on two-channel, 20 bit sources such as Jesse Cook's Vertigo (Narada) or any JVC XRCD compact disc. The video portion provides a 10-bit video DAC and a digital TBC (time base correction) to prevent video jitter. For superior Laserdisc performance, a three-line digital comb filter is incorporated plus adjustable digital NR (noise reduction) to control luminance (brightness) and chrominance (color), reducing noise inherent in Laserdiscs.

Laserdiscs will always be hampered by their analog NTSC picture, but performance can be tremendously improved when using the S-Video connection. The component outputs only improves performance for DVD. Unless you have a relatively new TV, chances are you don't have component inputs and will have to be satisfied with an S-Video connection for both mediums.

The Laserdisc picture quality is fantastic when using the S-Video connection. With the composite output, edges start to blur and bright colors tend to exhibit more blooming effects. However, when you pop in a DVD, you can immediately see the difference between the two formats.

With DVD, skin tones are more accurate and natural, where even wrinkles and pores become visible. The edges are far more exacting with a film-like sharpness. There is no blooming of any kind, not even in reds or yellows; in general, colors are far more vibrant. (It should be pointed out that, because my television configuration, this review was based only on the S-Video output so you can image how much I am looking forward to replacing my TV with a new digital ready set that incorporates component inputs.)

At first blush, it seems that the DVL-91 is the perfect product--personally, I fell in love with it. Not only did it solve the space limitations in my rack, it effortlessly played every type of optical software in my A/V library.

However, I'm obligated to evaluate products from all points of view and I realized that the DVL-91 might not be perfect for everyone. For instance, if you're ready to get into DVD but already have a relatively new Laserdisc player with all the proper outputs, the DVL-91 is probably more than you need. On the other hand, if you're new to the home theater world due to the emergence of DVD, you might not be interested in building a Laserdisc library.

So, who needs the DVL-91? Any Laserdisc buff that needs an upgrade machine for Dolby Digital/DTS playback and is also ready to join the DVD revolution will find the DVL-91 a 'must-have.' Not to mention that while more and more titles are being released on DVD, there are still some studio holdouts who are not releasing movies on DVD yet, leaving you no choice but to continue building your Laserdisc library. At $1800, you can't go wrong with a unit that will accommodate all your audio and video needs well into the new millennium.

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