Pioneer DV-370 DVD player

Pioneer UK, RRP £100, average street price £50 to £70

Pioneer have been well established in first laserdisc and then DVD players, with some of their decks being award-winning. My trusty three year old DV-646A, at the time one of the few that played DVD-Audio, has stood the test of time very well and is still my main deck in the AV rig I have. The DV-370 is very much one of the lower end Pioneers maybe, but nonetheless these days even the cheaper DVD players have a plethora of features and some have half decent picture performance. However, does the big name brand still buy you big reliability and quality, or are you better off going to say Asda and buying a Pacific one?

Well full kudos to Pioneer first of all for realising that some of still like black and don't just want silver, oh no. You can get the DV-370 in either colour, so if the rest of your rig is black, then have no fear because you should be able to find a black version without too much hassle. Apart from the colour choice, they look and behave exactly the same so no matter which you go for, it'll look the part. And here's what it looks like, along with the all-important remote control:

Pioneer DV370

Specifications and Outputs

The Pioneer DV-370 is more than adequate in terms of specification. It has a 24 bit/192 Khz audio DAC, coupled with a 12 bit/54Mhz video DAC, which is pretty good. It also has a good selection of outputs, namely four different choices of video output. There's the RGB SCART which will be enough for most people, the composite video out (the yellow cable is provided), the S-Video out, and what's also a nice touch, the component video out. This is particularly good if you've got a television with component video in, because you'll be able to use the Progressive Scan feature on this DVD player for even better picture quality. Nice, eh?

In terms of audio outputs, a little bit disappointing that there's only a coaxial digital output - an optical one would have been nice to give you a choice, but at this price range, I guess it had to be expected. There's also the 2-channel audio out and the normal red and white RCA audio cables are also included too. All the outputs are very nicely laid out though, for example the SCART socket is right in the middle of the back panel away from everything, thus ensuring no problems if you have an angled SCART lead. In terms of audio too, the usual Dolby Digital, DTS, PCM and MPEG sound outputs are all present and correct, nothing short of what you'd expect. There's also a "virtual surround" mode which simulates surround with just two speakers, too. I found it not that great, but your mileage might vary with this.

Setting Up

The front fascia is very neatly laid out with the basic functions on there for you. The remote is also a doddle to use, and is very clear and easy on the eye. A host of setup screens can be accessed by pressing the home menu button (why they couldn't call it setup is beyond me, but it does double as a home function for browsing CDs of MP3s and JPEG images, so I guess there was a meaning somewhere) and you can easily configure the player to your hearts content.

The Initial settings menus, on the whole, are easy to use and also, thankfully, most of the options are set as default so you won't have to change too many things around. One word of advice though: unless you're using the component video output, don't change the Component Out option to progressive. Thankfully, if you do this by mistake and stare at a blue screen all the time, there is a way of switching it back using the front panel controls - simply switch the player to standby, then using the front panel controls, press the standby button and the previous button and it'll switch back to interlace mode. Nice touch though nonetheless.

Nice and simple overall, and you can tweak if you need to. Easy! And now for the all important tests of the features of this player:

Test 1: Monsters Inc. (2 Disc Collectors Edition) (Region 2) and DVD/VCD/SVCDs

First off, one of my DVD favourites and one that many hi-fi places still use to show off their DVD players. And with good reason, I might add. As this is also a DTS enabled disc, it'd be interesting to see if the player could show you it was DTS-happy. And, once the movie was on, the picture quality was excellent as it should be. Everything was in a nice colour with good rates of hue and saturation that wasn't in your face, and the sound came across spot on too. Of course, with a high quality picture this has, it's nice to be able to spot holes in the transfer rate, but none seemed to be there at all. So that was most pleasing to the eye. Only minor minus point was that if you selected the DTS audio, there was no reassuring DTS logo on the display, but it did switch without any hassles as the onscreen display proved. Any excuse to watch this film again, of course :)

I also did a test with a few DVD-R discs of various makes, ideally to make sure that the player would be able to manage those, and it passed successfully. My transfer from video to DVD of some old camcorder footage from one of my relations played spot on without any hassle whatsoever, and certainly meant pleasant viewing all round. Certainly Datawrite, Fuji and Verbatim DVD-Rs all passed with flying colours. With VCDs and SVCDs it was a similar story, the latter being written on TDK, Verbatim and Maxell CD-Rs, all of which played with the right picture quality for each format, although VCD was a little blockier than my DV-646A in places. Still, all worked well though.

Test 2: Finding Nemo (2 Disc Collectors' Edition) (Region 1)

Of course, I went for the multiregion version of this player, and so I was able to give an R1 disc a spin. And what better than another Pixar classic? I tested it out on a widescreen television (my own) with disc 1, the 16:9 version, and that was pretty much spot on, again with lots of good colour and not too saturated at all. Crisp and clean - as so it proved when I tested it with a 21" 4:3 television set and disc 2, the fullscreen version. No difference, the picture was nice and stable and flicker-free, as you'd expect, and also what was nice was that there was lots of clarity in the picture - it almost came across to you through the screen. No complaints here whatsoever. Incidentally, if the drawer spits out a Region 1 disc, then you know it's not multiregion. In other words, make sure that you buy it from a proper hi-fi shop where it'll have been hardware chipped.

Test 3: Audio CD, MP3, WMA and DVD-Audio disc playback

Now realistically at this price point you can't expect CD playback to be as good as a separates CD player or a high end DVD player, and expecting that would be just plain daft. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised with what I did hear - the bass was a bit thin, but certainly the sound was more than passable. It even successfully detected Johnny Cash's "American IV: The Man Comes Around" as a CD Extra disc and displayed the CD-Extra logo when playing the audio tracks. I fed the player an MP3 disc and the disc navigator (press the home menu button and then select the disc navigator) made it easy to select the folder and MP3 file I wanted - and it also supports the Joliet ISO9660 file system, so long file names come up no problem (my DV-646A only likes the first 8 characters). It would have been nice for the player display to scroll the title, but that'd be asking for too much. Nonetheless MP3 playback was pretty good, and the same with WMA, although I'd hardly use this format to be honest. One minor point: you may get some problems with variable bit rate MP3s playing, so I'd try and avoid them on discs on this player if possible.

I also really went for it and tried out my DVD-Audio disc of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours". Theoretically, it should play the video content and any 5.1 content, just not the DVD-Audio high resolution stuff. And it did, pretty flawlessly as well with a nice quick track skip between tracks which made for easy selection of the tracks. Visual and audio quality was good here, too. Of course, it's only 5,1 output, but it's still plenty enough for most people. That said, my well trained ears can tell the difference in advanced resolution, but it still works very nicely.

Test 4: Picture CD playback

One other nice feature is the fact you can also play JPEG images with a .jpg file extension. I really went hell for leather and inserted a CD-R disc choc full of folders of images, and lo and behold off it went and located the first folder, the first file, and proceeded to open it. Now it wasn't very quick at changing images, but nonetheless if doing a slideshow presentation of your images for people, it'd work not too bad. Image clarity was not bad, although sometimes it'd take quite long to open some of the larger JPEG images I had stored. Nonetheless all the folders and files on my test disc did the business. Nice extra feature, although I'm not sure if everyone would get use out of this one.

Instructions and Remote

Now, a player is fine, but unless the instructions actually help people get off and running, that'd put people off. No need to worry here, the manual is well thought out, laid out so that you can get going within minutes, and all the diagrams for setup and such like are really well laid out, simple but effective. Also, the explanation of the initial settings menu is in nice clear English, telling you exactly what the function does. Plenty of kudos for that.

And as I said, the remote is really easy to use. All nicely laid out, buttons marked clearly, and the menu cursor and enter buttons right slap bang in the centre so you can hold the remote comfortably while operating the player without any problems. Good, eh?

Overall Impression

Well, what can I say? It does pretty much everything it says on the tin, and does it with a good quality throughout. Sure, you can spend more and get a high end player to really show your discs off to the best of its ability, however, for the price range it's really up there with the best of them. Attention's been paid to the features users need the most and been set default so you can get going. Build quality is spot on, despite the mere 2.1Kg in weight, and it actually looks nice and attractive, a darn sight better than some of the cheapo players you can get for £25.

So would I buy this over a cheaper player? The answer is a unreserved yes. For the money (and if you shop around you can find it multiregion for £50) it's a steal, outperforming the budget players by a fair margin and it's really between this and the Toshiba SD340E for your best DVD player in this price range - that's how good it is. If you get one, you won't be disappointed at all - a perfect player for anywhere in the house no matter what telly you hook up to it. No matter what you might think, you'll get what you pay for, and with this you get rock solid reliability and good quality. Simple as that. Give it a test for yourself and see what you think.

Warren's rating: 87%