Ever since Pioneer's DV-578A-S universal player came out, it has been known as an outright bargain (see Shane Buettner's DVD player survey in The Perfect Vision Issue 60). But now the Pioneer folks seem to have one-upped themselves, releasing a successor to their already rock-solid universal player that offers arguably better performance and a slightly more expansive feature-set than its predecessor. The DV-588A-S is an affordable entry-level player that not only boasts expected CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, and DVD-Video capabilities, but can now handle DivX and VCD discs, too.
The DV-588A-S is similar in appearance to its predecessor, with a streamlined, matte silver-finished housing that offers a refreshing change from boxy designs of yesteryear. I was a little disappointed that the DV-588A-S didn't include hoped-for DVI/HDMI outputs since some other universal players at this price point include them, but I can say that the Pioneer's analog component outputs were plenty good. Pioneer's PureCinema technology provides a 12-bit/108MHz video DAC for breathtaking progressive scan output. Thanks to the PureCinema DAC, progressive video looks noticeably cleaner and more vivid as compared to standard 480i output. If your display doesn't support component video inputs, Pioneer also supplies one composite and one S-video output. Audio connections include 5.1-channel multichannel analog outputs, a stereo analog output, and two digital audio outputs (one coaxial and one optical). As you would expect, the DV-588AS supports the standard Dolby Digital and DTS formats, and, as mentioned above, DivX and VCD formats as well. The latter two are compressed video formats rapidly growing in popularity among tech-savvy enthusiasts for purposes of archiving video materials and files, making support for the two formats a welcome bonus. In a similar vein the player also handles MP3 and WMA format compressed music files, and supports JPEG playback for picture shows. The point, really, is that this is a remarkably versatile player whose functions are expanding to keep pace with the needs of computerand Internet-aware users.
Setup is simple thanks to the player's intuitive GUI, which makes it easy to set speaker distances and levels, configure bass management functions, and so on. The simple remote, which depending on your point of view either seems sparse-looking or uncluttered, provides just enough buttons to allow easy control of every function. The remote isn't backlit, and I found myself sitting in the dark with a flashlight, but once I got the most commonly- used functions memorized by touch, the annoyance of navigating in the dark mostly passed.
Progressive scan video output from the DV-588A-S connected to my LCD HDTV was better than expected and earned good performance marks when tested using HQV's Benchmark DVD. Image detail using the Color Bar/Vertical Detail screen was great, with no observable flicker or softness, scoring the highest mark of the test. Scan line artifacts were apparent in the Jaggies test pattern, although in actual video viewing, I noticed relatively few scan-line artifacts. I next tested motion adaptive de-interlacing and directional filtering using the Waving Flag test pattern and noticed blurred background detail with some jaggies in the flag and scan-line artifacts, but overall a good picture.
I next tested picture detail using the road and a bridge video loop. There appeared to be consistent brick detail from left to right across the bridge with increased detail in the grassy foreground. I was able to make out the horse statue, but little detail beyond the basic outline. Although 3:2 detection was fair, I noticed a strong moiré interference pattern in the grandstand seating area as the racecar sped by. The player exhibited good film cadence, and did not introduce scan-line artifacts or any strobing effects to the resultant video stream. Overall, the performance of the PureCinema Video processor in progressive scan mode was very good, equaling if not besting some DVD players at three times the price.
I wanted to listen to high-resolution audio (I use separate SACD and DVDAudio reference players) I had to hook up alternating players. So it came as a relief that I could get convenience and performance from the Pioneer universal player. I first listened to "52nd Street" from Body Acoustic [Chesky] in CD format. The Pioneer exhibited a forward-sounding character overall, but unlike other forward-sounding players that are lean in the bass and bright in the treble, the DV-588A-S doesn’t induce listener fatigue. Instead, bass response was fast and articulate, allowing the bass groove to flow through the song, providing a strong foundation that was rhythmically pleasing. I also noticed that the trumpet, although pushed forward, wasn't clinical or sterile, a problem that plagues most entry-level players. Listening to "Chan Chan" from the Buena Vista Social Club [Nonesuch] in DVD-Audio, I immediately noticed the openness of the recording. You could definitely tell the difference between a high-resolution track and CD recording using the Pioneer. The DVD-Audio track produced a deeper soundstage, and better left to right imaging than CD tracks. The only small criticism I would offer regarding the Pioneer's musicality is that I felt instruments were not as three-dimensional as they could have been. But in all fairness I haven't heard any entry-level player (i.e., one in the near $200 price ranges) that can sound as full-bodied as my reference players do. Nevertheless, the Pioneer's music playback capabilities rocked what I thought was possible at this price point.