CrunchReview: Pioneer DV-400V Upconverting DVD Player

I came home from my week in Washington, DC to find a new DVD player waiting for me, a Pioneer DV-400V. DVD players usually aren’t the kinds of things that we jump up and down about, but the DV-400V features the ability to upconvert your regular DVDs to HD resolutions. We’ve heard of this before, it’s nothing new, and I’ve been actually avoiding the upconverting world because I sort of thought it cheating. It’s not, the video off this thing looks great.

While it’s not true HD, the 720p output of the DVD player looks much better on my HDTV than the 480p my old progressive scan put out. I don’t notice any flutter in pans, which can happen with some upconverting players. What’s more, the DVD player has extenstive controls for customizing itself to look great with your TV. Right now, I’m watching Ghostbusters, and it’s never looked better.

But as they say, video is only half the picture. The Dolby decoder works much better than the former player’s, and the audio settings are totally customizable, with a feature that favors dialogue over sound effects. When Venkman is making fun Eagan, I can hear everything going on, and pick up on jokes that got lost before.

One cool feature is an active USB port on the front of the device. Coupled with the player’s built-in DivX decoder, my friends can bring over videos they’ve downloaded and play them back. The AVIs look as good as on a computer screen.

The USB port is also great for browsing photos from thumb drives or any other mass-storage device. I can actually plug my Helio Ocean into the port and view photos I’d taken earlier in the day.

I haven’t tried using my iPod with it yet, but I hear it works (provided your iPod is formatted in FAT32). That’s for later on in the week.

The only real problems I’m having with the device aren’t really the player’s fault. The upconverting only works via the HDMI port. My HDTV only has one of those, so I had to borrow the one I’d been using for my Apple TV. A switcher is in my future.

If you’re one of the many with an HDTV and no surround sound system, you’re in luck here, too. When I switched my surround sound system to stereo, the virtual surround worked great. While it wasn’t as good as standard 5.1 Dolby Surround, it still sounded far better than standard stereo.

In all, if you’re wanting HD movies on your HDTV and don’t want to deal with the Blu-ray/HD-DVD pissing match, an upconverting DVD player isn’t something to overlook, and of the ones I’ve seen, the DV-400V is the best bet.