The DVD-1800BD was Denon's attempt to bring its high-definition video expertise to a more affordable price point, but sadly a lack of features and misjudged pricing made it poor value for money. Now the company is back in familiar territory with an all-out high-end player that aims to deliver the very best performance, no matter what the cost.
Accordingly, the DVD-3800BD is a stunning piece of kit both in terms of build quality and looks. At 10.3kg it's muscle-pullingly heavy and better protected than a presidential limo, thanks to the dual-layer top cover and even thicker chassis. The black finish and brushed aluminium fascia gives it an elegance missing from many slimline budget decks.
SOLID BUILD: Denon's DVD-3800BD is as robust on the inside as it is on the exterior
Internally, Denon aims to keep the signals as clean as possible by separating the video and power circuits into independent blocks, and by using a specially designed Blu-ray drive mechanism that not only keeps magnetic forces and dust at bay, but also ensures stable disc rotation and accurate reading.
Although first impressions are good, we have to start the feature run-down with the bad news that, like its predecessor, the DVD-3800BD is only Profile 1.1, which means no BD Live access. This is a major disappointment since you can find Profile 2.0 decks with prices closer to £200.
Hardcore videophiles can console themselves, however, with the eye-watering array of video features inside. Taking centre stage is the Silicon Optix Realta chip, which is used for the first time inside a Blu-ray player. It takes care of all the complex video processing, such as detail enhancement, noise reduction, diagonal filtering, upscaling, deinterlacing and cadence detection, which is performed on a per-pixel basis. The Realta chip is joined by some of Denon's own video processing, such as its Pixel Image Correction (DPIC) and Noise Shaped Video (NSV), which aim to clean up the picture, plus the newly developed Dynamic Discrete Surround Circuit High Definition (DDSC-HD) that includes 192kHz/24-bit Burr Brown DACs for all channels, plus Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio decoders.
On the rear panel are 7.1-channel analogue outputs for feeding HD audio soundtracks to amplifiers without HDMI inputs, and of course, there's an HDMI output that sends 1080/24p pictures to a TV and audio bitstreams to a suitably equipped amplifier or receiver.
Unusually, you'll also find two sets of component video outputs, one RCA and the other BNC.
HEAVY OUTPUT: AV connections abound on the DVD-3800BD, but the lack of a network connection means no BD Live functionality
Finally the deck supports a healthy range of formats, including DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG, and the inclusion of an SD card slot means you don't have to burn them onto disc to access them.
Ease of use
After spending time with super-speedy decks from Samsung and LG, we found the Denon very slow. Discs take over a minute to play and there's a delay when you punch in commands from the remote.
But the look and layout of the setup menu is excellent, and it's been split into Quick and Custom modes so you don't have to wade through the entire menu to make basic changes. During playback you can call up a separate display to tweak the image to your liking and it goes into a lot of detail.
EASY LAYOUT: The DVD-3800BD's remote control
The remote's thoughtful layout and well proportioned buttons make it a doddle to find the correct function, without getting bogged down by excessive labelling.
Right from the opening moments of Hancock on Blu-ray, it's clear that we're dealing with a very special disc spinner. The intense crispness and lucidity of the picture as the movie's main character smashes up the Freeway is entrancing, with the Realta chip not letting any detail slip from its grasp. It results in some of the most impressive picture quality we've seen, only matched by Pioneer's BDP-LX71.
Edges are meticulously sharp, diagonals are free from jaggies and colour is utterly convincing. Skin tones and bold hues are conveyed at the same time without either looking too garish or undercooked.
Underpinning it all are fantastic blacks that boost the punchiness of fine detail and makes black objects look solid as a rock. Gloomy shots of Hancock inside the jail look clear and detailed too, as an example of the deck's excellent contrast and shadow detail capability.
The DVD-3800BD backs up its superb movie performance with near flawless handling of the Silicon Optix high-definition torture tests. Jaggies are completely absent from moving diagonals, noise is effectively removed, but not at the expense of detail, and it locks onto various film and video cadences without a trace of flickering or strobing. It's a similar story with the DVD version – the deck passes every test imperiously.
Sound quality is similarly sensational, no matter how it's connected to your receiver. Decoded analogue HD audio tracks are bursting with detail and depth, and the various effects are smoothly steered around the soundstage. Gunshots are fierce, dialogue enjoys a full-bodied tone and the bass channel lends Hancock's action scenes plenty of bottom-end beef.
The DVD-3800BD is dear, so the lack of BD Live support comes as a serious letdown. Before you sell an organ to get one, you must weigh up what's more important – killer pictures and sound or being able to download extras from the internet. If it's the latter, buy Panasonic's DMP-BD80. If it's the former, this is £1,600 that's definitely well spent.
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