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Introduction
The DV444, one of the newest Pioneer models, was bought as a replacement for my trusty old Toshiba SD100. While there was nothing particularly wrong with the Toshiba (in fact it is superior in some respects) its inability to handle RCE titles and general sluggishness when navigating menus prompted me to upgrade.

Pioneer DV444 DVD/CD/CD-R/MP3 player

Connections


The Pioneer comes with the standard array of connectors. On the video front the machine includes a SCART socket capable of composite, S-Video and RGB output, as well as separate composite and S-Video outs. For audio connectivity left and right audio out jacks are included, along with coaxial and optical digital audio outputs. The player also has a system control connector, which allows you to connect the machine to another bit of Pioneer kit and control it as if it were a component in a system.

Aesthetics


The DV444 comes with a choice of two colours, black or silver. I’m pleased that Pioneer have provided this choice as I have a predominantly black home entertainment set-up in an increasingly silver world. The machine itself is also incredibly slim, being only 55mm thick! The front panel of the player features a few cursory controls, with standby, open/close, play, stop, pause and skip buttons available. The disc tray is located in the middle of the machine, with the LCD display located to the right. The Pioneer carries the Dolby Digital and DTS markings. Unfortunately the player has a poor GUI, especially in comparison with the Toshiba, which very slightly detracts from the overall quality of the machine.

Remote


The remote control is on a par with most I’ve used. The main controls, such as play, pause and skip etc, are all located in the middle of the remote. The buttons themselves are a reasonable size, which makes it easy to find the control you’re after. The menu navigation buttons are nestled around the enter button, with most of the trick play options located at the top of the remote. All in all this is a competent if not outstanding controller.

Settings


The set-up button allows access the machine’s various settings. As stated before the GUI is unattractive compared to most machines, being a simple white on black affair. There are two set-up modes – basic and expert. The former is great for beginners as it asks the user a series of multiple-choice questions and then sets the player accordingly. The expert mode allows fine-tuning of the various settings, such as choosing to output video for 4:3 pan-and-scan, 4:3 letterbox, or 16:9 widescreen televisions. You can also set the digital out options for Dolby Digital DTS and MPEG. The player can output 96kHz digital signals, but the option to output 48kHz signals is included for those with amps that do not support the former of the two. You can also select the type of output from the SCART connector, be it composite, S-Video or RBG. The menu contains the usual parental lock controls, the option to have the on-screen graphics turned on or off (a useful feature if you don’t like obtrusive messages popping up on screen during a film), language and subtitle options and dynamic audio compression. The player can output PAL and NTSC signals, with the option to output the latter as PAL60 (pseudo PAL).

Build Quality


The DVD tray itself is solid and makes very little noise as it travels. The mechanism takes and identifies discs very quickly, ensuring that titles load speedily and menu navigation is swift. The drive is very quiet during playback and chapter skipping, a plus point during those quieter DVD moments.

Playback


Once everything is up and running playing a disc reveals an outstanding picture quality. The quality is even a match for the mighty Toshiba, which is one of the best around. The picture is very sharp and detailed when connected through a SCART lead using RGB or S-Video. I suffer from the horizontal shift effect associated with the RGB format, which is why I use the S-Video option and the quality is still very high. This is where the DV444’s PAL60 mode comes in useful, especially if you don’t own a TV that can handle pure NTSC. As mentioned earlier in the review, the DV444 is capable of PAL, NTSC and PAL60 playback. The player handles layer changes and track searches exceptionally well and I’ve only seen one noticeable glitch. This was on the R2 copy of The Fifth Element, a disc with a known layer change problem. This disc has tripped up every player I’ve had to some degree, so it was to be expected that the DV444 would have some niggles with it. On the plus side Criterion Robocop, another title with a tricky layer change, went smoothly.

The DV444 is available in both black and silver

Features


Now let’s move on to the special features. There are multiple levels of both fast forward/rewind speeds and slow advance/review. The player also features the usual pause/frame step, repeat playback and multi-angle options. The Pioneer can handle audio and video CDs, CD-R/RW and MP3 discs. The omission of a zoom facility is surprising, but doesn’t spoil things overall, although it would have been a welcome inclusion. One of the more interesting features is the ability to adjust the video quality, with several pre-set filters for cinema and animation already in place. This is an excellent feature, allowing you to select the appropriate filter for the type of movie you’re watching. The machine can even remember your preference for up to fifteen discs!

Overall


The Pioneer DV444 is an outstanding machine, one I would not hesitate to recommend. The picture quality is as good as good as anything I’ve yet seen, including my old Toshiba, and sound is equally impressive. The player’s excellent speed, combined with a nice range of features, makes it fantastic value for money. It has handled everything I’ve thrown at it so far, including CD-R/RW’s, MP3 and even RCE discs. It may lack a remote hack, but this will not be an issue when purchased pre-modified for multi region playback. Very highly recommended.

Additional Info


The review machine has been modified by Hi-Fi Store to allow multi-region playback and disable Macrovision. The modification is a software-based solution, in as much as the firmware of the player has been reprogrammed, rather than having a mod chip installed. The modification allows for automatic region selection, along with a manual backup for troublesome discs. Changing the player’s default region to R1 allowed RCE titles to play without user intervention. The great thing about the mod is that once in R1 mode you will probably never have to change the region setting again, unless RCE is implemented on R2 discs in the future.

Note: Since writing this review, it has come to my attention that the Pioneer DV444 is no longer available with Macrovision disabled.


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