The $370 DVD-1940CI is the least expensive of the four single-disc universal players in Denon’s current product lineup, and it also enjoys the distinction of being the least expensive player in our survey. Despite its relatively low price, though, the DVD-1940CI never feels like a “stripped down” product, but rather appeals with its “no frills” simplicity and solid core performance. Like several other players in this class, the Denon provides Faroudja DCDi video processing, which helps ensure good video performance both on benchmark and real world DVD tests. In turn, Denon equipped the player with high quality Burr Brown DACs (digital to analog converters), which help give the DVD-1940CI pleasingly neutral tonal balance that serves all types of music well. Though the player does not offer the last word in sonic detail, tonal richness, or 3D soundstaging, its smooth, evenly balanced sound almost always carries the day.
- HDMI upscaling options: 480p/576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p.
- Video Processing: Faroudja DCDi.
- DACs: 192kHz/24-bit Burr Brown audio DACs, separate video DACs for interlace and progressive playback modes.
- DVD Formats: Can play both PAL (European format) and NTSC-format DVDs.
The DVD-SD1800 has a fairly straightforward user interface and remote control, and is for the most part easy to set up. Some elements we particularly liked included the following:
- A Pure Direct button that turns off video processing functions and the front panel display for superior sound quality during music playback. One quirk, however, is that the Pure Direct button is found on the faceplate of the player—not on the remote control, as you would expect.
- A Super Audio CD Set Up button on the remote lets you choose which “area” of SACD discs (CD, SACD stereo, or SACD multichannel) will be played.
We did identify several user interface shortcomings, as noted below:
- Channel level trim controls provide only a +0/- 12dB range of adjustment (+/- 10dB would be preferable).
- User interface does not allow on-the-fly adjustment of audio or video settings (a feature we wish all universal players provided).
- The onscreen display for this player presents significantly less disc/track information than is typical for players in this class.
Playback uses the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD Ver. 4 to conduct benchmark tests, and over time we’ve found that certain video processors tend to yield consistent, “signature” results on our tests. It came as no surprise, then, that the DVD-1940CI performed much like the other Faroudja DCDi processor-equipped players we tested, which is a good thing (remember, the DVD-1940CI is the least expensive of the DCDi-equipped players in our survey). The Denon showed solid performance on most tests, but exhibited minor shortcomings in the following areas:
- Color Bar (resolution) Tests: Minor “blurred” bands visible on the finest resolution test lines.
- Jaggies Tests: Minor “ripple” visible on worst-case tests.
- Film Detail Tests (scene of a racecar passing in front of empty grandstands): Momentary moiré pattern is visible in the grandstands before the processor intervenes and the image locks in.
- Cadence Tests: Performance is fine on the “big two” formats; namely 2-2 30fps Video and 3-2 24fps Film. However, some image “twitch” was observed on less commonly encountered DVCAM, Vari-Speed, and Animation cadences.
For purposes of watching DVDs under real-world conditions, the Denon produced smooth and generally glitch-free images that upscaled cleanly when the player was set for 1080i output (the setting that works best with our lab’s reference HDTV). I found it revealing to watch the opening scenes of Open Range, where Mose (Abraham Benrubi) labors in the late afternoon sun to erect a canvas shelter before a storm arrives. As the wind kicks up around Mose, you can actually see fine bits of dust and plant debris swirl up into the air as Mose hammers tent stakes into the ground. It’s small visual details such as these that make this player so rewarding.
That said, however, I should point out that when upscaling images the Denon captures just slightly less image detail and sharpness than the best players we’ve seen in this class. In the same scene from Open Range, Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) looks at the sky to check on storm clouds, but then quickly steps back under the shelter as raindrops begin to fall. When he does so we get an up close view of the surface textures of the canvas roof from the inside— textures that some players resolve so well you’d swear you could reach out and feel the warp and woof of the fabric, but that the Denon softens just a bit. It’s a case where the Denon does well (very well, actually), but where a few other affordable players can do even better.
Audio Performance/Sonic Character
The DVD-1940CI’s three greatest sonic strengths are smoothness, neutral tonal balance, and a good measure of natural clarity. While some players offer greater levels of detail, slightly more vibrant tonal colors, and can create more “holographic” soundstages, the little Denon holds its own, and does so at a very reasonable price. One appealing aspect of the player is that it seems to perform equally well when playing CD, SACD, and DVD-Audio material, whereas some competing players tend to favor one format or another at the expense of the others.
While conducting listening tests with the Denon, I took an opportunity to play the track “Country Roads” from Gary Burton’s Like Minds [Concord, multichannel SACD] for a colleague in the office. What’s special about the record is not only that it captures a stellar jazz ensemble (Gary Burton on vibes, Chick Corea on piano, Pat Metheny on guitar, Dave Holland on acoustic bass, and Roy Haynes on drums) playing great music, but also the fact that it captures an eerily realistic “stage mix.” As I played the track, the Denon did a beautiful job of reproducing the distinctive timbres of the individual instruments, and a quite respectable job of placing the musicians in front of, behind, and to the left and right sides of the listening area. As the track ended, my colleague looked up with a touch of wonder in his eyes and said, “I’ve rarely heard the Playback Audio Lab system sound this good,” and he was right. While you can find players that sound better than the Denon, at least in some respects, those that do tend to cost more—sometimes quite a lot more.
Denon’s DVD-1940CI is good video performer and a player that delivers smooth, evenly balanced sound on all audio material of all formats. Best of all, the Denon has a satisfyingly even-handed way of dealing with music, tending to draw out the strengths of recordings without belaboring their weaknesses.