Until now, 1080p upscaling has been reserved for expensive high-end DVD decks, but it's just become a lot more affordable. The Pioneer DV-600AV costs just £150 but comes with full 1080p, 1080i and 720p upscaling, and more besides.
It boasts DVD-Audio and SACD playback, plus a USB port on the front that allows you to play music and photos.
Miles of files
It's also compatible with all versions of DiVX, Windows Media Video (WMV) and Audio (WMA) files, MP3 and even MPEG-4 AAC files, the audio format used by iTunes.
The unit is slim and stylish, wearing its myriad logos like badges of honour. Around the back is a generous set of connections including the all-important HDMI socket, which can also be used to pipe DVD-Audio and SACD signals to an amplifier instead of the 5.1-channel analogue outs.
The Video Adjust menu offers a comprehensive set of picture tweaks and there are other neat features like a two-stage zoom and an excellent Disc Navigator mode, which lets you view the first few seconds of every chapter or title.
The deck uses the excellent 'Home Menu' operating system from previous Pioneer players, which is responsive, attractive and works wonderfully with the intuitive remote.
And the praise doesn't stop there. Picture quality is out of this world, particularly with the HDMI set to 1080p and viewed on a TV with 1920 x 1080 resolution. The overall picture is dense and cinematic thanks to the impressive black levels, while its excellent contrast capabilities prevent the dark scenes of The Departed from turning into murky black holes.
This strong black level also makes detail look punchy and gives the picture a tremendous sense of depth. Fine detail handling is also superb, lending aerial shots of Boston an astonishing level of clarity. It's backed up by powerful yet well-balanced colour saturation and spot-on skin tone reproduction.
Despite the Pioneer's seemingly superior list of supported media formats, it would only play the sound of our test WMV files and it won't play protected AAC files, which rules out everything purchased on iTunes. However, DiVX and a selection of other MPEG-4 files played back with no problems.
Book of revelations
Sonically, the deck is a revelation. DVD-Audio and SACD playback is crisp and polished, while stereo CDs sound clean and well-balanced.
It might cost around £50 more than the Panasonic DVD-S53, but it is worth paying a bit more for the Pioneer's extra features and superior operating system. The DV-600AV is the most complete sub-£150 deck we've encountered and should be at the top of your shopping list.