Setup and Options
Set up with this DVD player was straightforward. The menu system was simple
and easy to navigate, and the only area for which I needed to consult the
manual was on the picture memory controls. I was hoping to use these
controls to match the video output to the other comparison player, but alas,
there wasn't a way to reduce the brightness — only to increase it. There
are five separate video memories, so if you feel like tweaking the player
for different material, you'll have some leeway to do it. This meant
changing the controls on the TV which had much finer adjustments anyway.
This is yet another reason not to use a receiver to switch video (because
you lose this adjustment ability in the TV per input).
I had never used a universal player that allowed a multichannel digital
output from the player, but I planned to investigate if this yielded an
improvement in sound or not. In my case, with the $1200 Denon AVR-3805
receiver (companion review), I figured that the analog audio out of the DVD
might be superior. With a more expensive model, this would not be the case,
and the savings on six good analog cables would be a worthwhile.
The player was fairly substantial (in terms of weight) given its price and
it seemed solid. The dedicated two-channel audio outputs offer slightly
better RCA jacks than the other jacks on the back panel (they are bigger,
heavier, and more spaced out for bigger audio cables).
The remote control seemed bulky and lightweight at first, but I soon
realized it was not only a good size for the hand (that made operation
easier), but it worked well, and offered a few options that are not on other
remotes. The first is the fact that the remote's main controls light up,
and the second is the easy access to some of the primary functions. Some who
listen to SACD are not big fans of the multichannel mixes and want a way to
be able to easily go back and forth from the remote. You can set the
priority to the CD layer, the multichannel SACD layer, or the stereo SACD
layer quickly and easily. You can get into the picture adjust menu with the
push of a button, dim (or turn off the display), and turn on the Pure Direct
The Pure Direct mode allows you to turn off video, the unit's display, and
the digital output circuitry if desired in order to provide better analog
audio. Another option that helps to improve sound is the bass management
offered by the DVD-3910. You have the choice between large and small
speakers (or none) and the subwoofer (if used) offers a crossover at
40/60/80/100/120 Hz. Channel levels and delay are all adjustable as well.
The manual is 81 pages long. If you are up for a good, long and detailed
read, you can download it off Denon's website.
Listening, Part I – CD Audio
First, I thought I'd try the DVD-3910 as a standard CD player, because I
think that most people who would purchase this unit intend to also play
conventional CDs through it. The player has an extra set of dedicated analog
stereo outputs so you can easily connect it directly to the CD input on your
surround processor or receiver. It was connected to the Arcam AVR-300
receiver for this part of the testing. Also, the Pure Direct feature on the
DVD player was engaged.
I had access to an Arcam DV79 DVD player that is well thought of for its CD
sound. It is slightly more expensive ($1,800) and does not offer SACD
capability. I began with track 2, "A Foggy Day (In London Town)," from
Michael Buble's It's Time CD. The Denon sounded a bit polite and toned
down, with less delicacy on its presentation of instruments in comparison to
the Arcam. It did an impressive job considering... The Arcam had slightly
better high frequency response, fuller bass, bigger soundstage, better
dynamics, and more air.
Next up was track 3, "Side," from Travis' The Invisible Band CD. The
Arcam had more top end and instruments had a more open sound giving the
presentation as a whole more realism. The Denon added a slight edginess to
the voice and tonal balance from top to bottom didn't sound like it was in
exactly the right proportion — almost as if tone controls were (subtly)
On the whole, I'd say that the Denon would give a dedicated player under
$1,000 a run for the money. You'd have to spend $1,500 or more on a good CD
player to significantly improve upon the sound of the DVD-3910. Some music
lovers with large CD collections may find this choice sensible, while others
will be more than happy with the performance offered by the Denon.
Listening, Part II — DVD-A and SACD
For the multichannel audio portion of the testing, I utilized the Denon
AVR-3805. Unlike many universal players, the DVD-3910 happens to offer a few
choices for audio connection. In addition to the audio side of the HDMI
output, there are 5.1 channel analog audio outputs, two IEEE 1394 Firewire
outputs, and a special Denon Link that works via a CAT5 cable. I tried both
the analog and Denon Link digital connection, but preferred the sound
through the analog cable with the AVR-3805. (Details are in the companion
One of my favorites on DVD-Audio is America's Homecoming. If the first track,
"Ventura Highway," doesn't convert you to DVD-Audio, then nothing will.
The guitar is so natural and sweet and the Denon combo did a nice job of
conveying the details in the music—the harmonies, the multiple guitar
lines, the bass, etc. There wasn't quite as much air and the sound wasn't quite as smooth as
you'd hear on higher-end setups, but it was
Next, I popped in Jamie Cullen's fantastic jazz release Twentysomething. I
didn't have any comparably priced SACD player to compare performance, but
noise level was excellent and high quality multichannel audio is an
experience all its own. Voice was slightly congested (compared to what I
remember), but instrumentation was great, separation was superb, and I felt
like I was right in the middle of the music.
Just for the heck of it I thought I'd compare the CD layer on the Arcam to
the SACD layer played on the Denon. I used the Arcam AVR300 receiver for
this comparison and used The Police disc Every Breath You Take (a hits CD).
The sound of the Arcam was slightly brighter with more top end, but the
Denon beat the sound in just about every area. Bass was deeper and tighter,
the soundstage and images were bigger and deeper, and the sound was
smoother. Percussion was noticeably better as was voice.
The Denon player handled the high resolution formats well, and didn't take
a long time to cue up the disc either. I liked the ability to quickly switch
between Stereo SACD, Multichannel SACD, and the CD layer if I desired.
Many people rate the video quality of Denon machines up there with the
best — the DVD-2900 being a very popular player before it was discontinued.
Being one of the newer mid-level machines, the Denon is feature-rich in the
video department. The player offers both a DVI and HDMI output — the latter
offering audio on a single cable as well. Unfortunately, try as I might, I
was unable to get a picture via HDMI on the Fujitsu plasma that I was using
for the evaluation. Personally, I've had many problems using digital video
connections in the past and/or seeing big improvements in performance when
they were operational. It seems that certain products just don't work well
together and good ole analog component video works every time. If this
feature is important to you, I suggest that you make sure that the player
will work properly with the intended display AND at the proper cable length.
Long cables tend to be problematic as well.
The HDMI output has a resolution setting that can upsample the video image
to a higher resolution. The choices are: progressive 480, progressive 720,
and interlaced 1080. Theoretically, if you have the option to drive the TV
at panel resolution or at a comfortable scaled resolution that can be easily
downscaled, the video processing in the set will have to work less or not at
all yielding an improved image. The video processing in the Fujitsu sets is
quite good, and use of an external video processor might be even better. I
was unable to do this test due to a complete lack of image.
Instead, I used the component video outputs and again compared the quality
from both the Arcam and the Denon DVD-3910. I used the THX Optimizer on
Akira to match the levels from both players. Originally, I intended to use
the internal controls in the Denon, but there was no way to decrease the
brightness — it would only go up. The monitor had finer adjustments, so it
was just as well. Both players offer an outstanding picture.
I started testing with chapter 3 from Ghost World. This is a scene in the
market and has lots of colored items along with things in the background and
foreground of interest. It was in this area that the players differed. While
the Denon did a nice job delineating the foreground and background, there
was less uniformity to the entire image. The Arcam might have been slightly
less sharp/softer, but the image was ever so slightly more natural and
film-like. I could easily see someone preferring the look of the Denon over
the Arcam in this regard—in fact a friend who saw them both did.
One of the discs that shows off a player's ability or inability to process
moving images is a Kenwood test disc that contains a bevy of Faroudja test
patterns. On the waving flag and the pendulum, the Denon shined. I suppose
it is no surprise that a player that incorporates Faroudja's chipset
performs well on these patterns, but it clearly outclassed the Arcam on
these tests. To check how visible it is on real material I put on chapter 13
from The Bourne Supremacy. For some reason they decided to film this movie
in what I'll call "shaky" cam. The camera is bouncing around more than
an episode of Law and Order. Anyway, a friend and I both observed the
superiority of the circuitry in the Denon in comparison to the Arcam. When
things were moving around on-screen the image panned much smoother on the
The Denon truly excelled on the video portion of the testing. And, if you
are interested in a slightly more sharpened image, then it clearly beat the
Arcam — a more expensive, less feature-filled player.
Universal players used to be synonymous with compromise. These days,
companies like Denon have done their best to offer the best performance in a
variety of areas all in a single machine. The DVD-3910 is a perfect example
of how an excellent DVD video player can be combined to offer all the
benefits of a good CD player and include both high-resolution formats —
DVD-Audio and SACD. For those looking to go up to the next level and
purchase a statement piece, Denon offers the $3,500 DVD-5910. Although it is
hard to believe the video portion of the player could be significantly
better, my guess is that the audio quality is stepped up a few levels. For
those looking to keep their options open with the ability to play all the
formats, the Denon DVD-3910 is quite a value and a product worthy of serious