Equipment Review No. 1   June 2002

Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD-A & -V Player
$1800


Kenwood USA Corporation
2201 E. Dominguez St.
Long Beach, CA 90801
310-639-9000 (voice)
800-536-9663 (toll free)
310-604-4487 (fax)
http://www.kenwoodusa.com/product/product.jsp?productId=782&productLineId=2



Basic Description

Plays CDs, MP3s, or CD-R/CD-RW discs, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, VCD, and CDs with text; two-side playback; 10-bit Video DAC with Progressive scan using Faroudja DCDi; Title input capability or via connection with computer with Internet access; 400 discs + 3 for rental or quick changeout; built-in decoding for both DD and DTS; adjustable bass management for DVD-A, supports connection of up to three changers; comes with keyboard and remote control; 2-year parts and labor warranty; 17 5/16” W x 8” H x 21 20/17” D; 22.9 lbs.


Equipment

System 1- Video: Krell Theater Standard, Krell Amplifier Standard, B&W Nautilus 802, HTM1, SCM1 speakers, Sunfire Signature Subwoofer, Toshiba TW65X81 rear projection television, Marantz PD4293D plasma television, Panamax 5500 Power Conditioner, Audioquest cabling.

System 2- DVD-A: Rotel RSP-976 preamplifier, Rotel RB-1066 power amplifier, Paradigm Studio 20 speakers, NHT Audiocenter 1 center, NHT Superzero XU surrounds, B&W ASW650 Subwoofer, Toshiba 34HF81.


Setup
Connecting the unit up to System 1 took about two minutes. The DVD player is quite deep, so that should be taken into account if you plan to install in a cabinet or rack.

I used the small handheld remote control to make the initial adjustments. It takes a little getting used to, because the buttons are not in the locations you’d always expect, (ex. the enter button is below the four arrows, and not in the center). The keyboard will work for the same functions, but it is not really something you’d find convenient to use (due to the bulk), unless you planned to enter titles.

Like most DVD players, all the adjustments are made through a series of menus. Some of these are graphical, and the video/audio/main menu is accessed on a little cylinder that turns as you push the up and down arrows. It takes a minute or two to figure out the navigation, and then it is easy to operate. There is a whole section in the manual on the on-screen operation. Like most of the Kenwood manuals, this one is dense, but contains just about everything you could think of that you’d need to know to operate the unit.

First I checked the basic audio settings. You can set the player up to give audio during search or not, adjust the dynamic range (wide—the standard setting, normal, midnight), and select the level of a high bandwidth audio filter (60 kHz/ 110 kHz). There is a cinema voice option that boosts the center intelligibility (on material with discrete center information), when it needs it. There is a virtual surround setting (with 4 levels of adjustment and off) that I did not use during the testing. If you have a processor/receiver that does not have DTS decoding, then you can use the DV-5900 to decode this track. Since you probably already want to have the player connected in this manner (so you can take advantage of DVD-A discs), it would give you added capability in this circumstance. Strangely enough, the unit defaulted to French with subtitles with the first disc I put in. After I changed the subtitle setting, it never did that again.

For the main and visual options, I first changed the aspect ratio to the letterbox 16x9 setting. There is an option to select whether you want standard or expanded black level. Also, there is a front level display brightness adjustment. You can have the display shut off after a movie starts or have it slightly dimmed. There is an option to select what type of set you are using: standard, CRT projector, LCD projector, Projection TV, Plasma—it effects the placement of the OSD. I tried both the progressive and interlaced outputs. With the Toshiba (being an older set), the progressive outputs gave a clearly better picture. With the plasma it wasn’t as obvious. Clearly, this is something to try with each individual display device. My experience is that with newer televisions, especially TVs of smaller size, the difference is not as huge as the marketing departments would have you believe.

In the interlaced mode there are four picture settings: normal, fine, soft, and cinema. I found soft to be too soft with the material I viewed, fine added excessive edge enhancement (something that we try to eliminate at every turn!), normal or cinema tended to be the best options. In addition, there are contrast, color, sharpness, brightness, gamma, and noise reduction adjustments. Anyone who plans to keep this player should experiment with these settings as they had a huge effect on the overall picture. You probably don’t want to try to do this haphazardly, and it might be worth having an ISF professional adjust these settings at the same time he adjusts your television.

I spent the bulk of my time adjusting the player in the progressive mode. Like the interlaced setting, there are normal, fine, and cinema modes. In addition, there is an animation mode, for…you guessed it! Contrast, sharpness, color, brightness, and gamma, are the same as the interlaced mode. There are additional controls for turning the DCDi on and off, and adjusting the amount of enhancement of the image (or turning it completely off). I have no idea why you’d want to turn the DCDi off, as this is one of the benefits of this player. The Enhancer is an entirely different story, however. With the Enhancer off, the image was just too soft on the Toshiba. I played with this adjustment for several minutes, and discovered this control made a huge difference in the quality of the image. Anyone who has been ignoring this control needs to go into the menu and try moving the slider up and down! You will be greatly rewarded assuming that you’ve taken the time to optimize the basic adjustments like color, contrast, etc. I was less impressed with the changes made by changing the gamma, but with some DVDs it might help correct the picture in the direction towards a proper gray balance. Or, if you haven’t bitten the bullet and had your television properly adjusted, it would give you a chance to possibly correct an imbalance in the display.

The last thing I adjusted related to the DVD-A settings. This included the speaker sizes (off/normal/large), the levels for the various speakers, and the delay adjustments for the rear and center speakers. The center delay is adjustable for either 0/1.3/2.6/3.9/5.3 ms of delay, while the rear speakers are adjustable for either 0/5.3/10.6/15.9 ms of delay. There is a chart on page 81 of the manual to help you decide what the proper adjustment is based on speaker distance. It would have been much easier if you just entered what the distances were and the unit did all the calculations for you to leave out the chance of error.


Operation

I was anxious to get started and slipped a disc inside the DV-5900M. Immediately I became acquainted with one of the advantages of this machine—dual-sided play! I had inserted the disc in the wrong direction and it had started to play the Full-screen side. With the push of a button I was played the Widescreen side. I do have some older discs (like The Right Stuff) that are two-sided, and some discs have the features on the second side, so this is a big plus!

You have to be careful when inserting discs into the DV-5900. After opening the main door, I went to put another movie inside, but didn’t hold it while letting slip into the slot and it fell inside the machine. I just stuck my fingers in and pulled it out, but care should be taken when loading the player. After the door is closed and play is chosen, the machine can take up to 30 seconds to start playing. This is due to the fact that it tries to search for new discs that have been inserted. DVD players typically take longer to start up compared with CD players, and the Kenwood was no exception. When the machine is playing and you want to switch to a different disc, it took about the same amount of time—I learned to be patient. You don’t have to be that patient, as you can add discs while the machine is playing!

When you insert a disc that already has text information on it (like Charlie’s Angels), the player displays the information in the window. It’s too bad that all the discs aren’t like that, but you can still enter the titles yourself via the keyboard, or connect to a computer and access them via the Internet. Another method would involve the companion Entré component that accesses cover art through the Internet and displays it on the television or whatever video device you have connected to it.

One of the advantages of the titling is the ability to do a search by character, music type, or through the user file. The DV-5900M lets you categorize discs in a couple of different ways. One is by genre (26 preset types), and the other is in a user file (8 available) in whatever way makes logical sense (such as “favorites”). You can then do searches through the created groups easily.


DVD Changer Control Software

On Kenwood’s website there is a place for setting up a user profile and downloading the necessary software to control the DV-5900M. I was unable to get it to work, and was told by Kenwood that the site was temporarily down. Hopefully, this will soon be rectified. After contacting customer service, I talked to a gentleman named Nick. He emailed me the file I needed to control the DVD changer. I asked him a couple technical questions, and although he wasn’t completely sure of the answers on the phone, he emailed the answers within minutes. This kind of response is rare for any company, much less one as large as Kenwood—it was very refreshing!

I installed the software within minutes, and after changing the COM port it began to scan for disc information in the changer. The maximum time for retrieving this information is 90 minutes. I only inserted 4 discs to start and the whole process took about 2-3 minutes. The software has two sections: Edit and Control.

In the Edit section, you can name the user files, view disc title, artist name, and slot number. The software version I had was 1.31. Some of the graphics covered some of the other information, so although the interface was colorful and simple, it obviously needs some work. I couldn’t make the window any larger, and although text was cut off on the right side, I could still guess what it read.

The Control section allows you to view the discs by number or by name. It also lets you decide if you want to see all discs, DVDs only, or CDs only. You can select random, repeat, or continuous play modes. Once you activate the software and the titles and other information has been received, it is viewable in the window of the DVD changer.

Of the first four discs, the CDs were recognized no problem, but the DVD and DVD-A were not recognized. I believe this was because the two discs concerned were both in for review (pre-release) and may not be in the database just yet. I added Ali and Artificial Intelligence, and both of these titles were read with no trouble.


Auditioning--System 1

I started viewing with The Fifth Element. I ran this disc backwards and forwards while I tried to figure out most of the functions of the DV-5900M. The picture and sound was good, but not outstanding, and this result was a little disappointing. The picture was better on the plasma than on the rear projection, but I felt that it should look even better. That was when I began to play with the video controls. Sound was great, and I didn’t feel anything was lacking in this area—of course I was using a digital output to the Krell processor, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With Charlie’s Angels, I really got deep into the video adjustments. I was able to improve the picture to the degree that I would expect from a player that is selling for $1800. Tweaking the video enhancer one way or the other resulted in a marked change in the picture. It produced a fine picture that should satisfy all but the video elite who have the money to spend several thousand dollars on the super high end DVD players.

I also tried viewing Toy Story, and was very happy with the picture. It was detailed and colorful, and left very little to complain about. This disc isn’t as good as the second film in terms of video quality, but gave me an idea what you could expect with animated film.

No comparisons were made to similar products at the manufacturer’s request.


Listening to DVD-A--System 2


Most of the movie listening utilized a digital output. I wanted to hear how the internal audio outputs on the DV-5900M sounded. I thought that the best way to hear the capabilities of the player would be to check out a few DVD-A titles.

I listened to a few of the selections from the Big Phat Band DVD-A and was very excited about the sound. This happens to be a very good disc, and it was easy to hear that with the Kenwood player. The other discs I listened to were all reviews for this month’s music DVD-A reviews. I could plainly hear the differences between the Mofro DVD-A and the Dishwalla disc that I was working on. There is no doubt that it was very competent in this capacity. You’ll have to make a decision depending on whether the converters in the player are better or worse than what they are feeding, to decide whether to listen to CDs through the analog or digital outputs. In any case, the analog outputs seemed to be very good.


Conclusion

For those looking to start a DVD library and want to have access to all the titles without having to open box after box, I can’t think of an easier way. The DV-5900M gives you an extra three discs for rentals or borrowed discs, and plays both sides, has title and recognition capability, and plays MP3 discs, VCD, CD-R, CD-RW, and even DVD-A discs. Bass management is included for the DVD-A and for the built-in DTS and DD decoders. On the video side you get the benefit of the Faroudja DCDi processing. All of this, and you get computer control as well as direct keyboard or simple remote interface.

Overall, I don’t think you could be disappointed with the audio or video quality in this machine given its price and features. If you are okay with the speed of operation and the physical size of the unit, then you should be pretty happy with the Kenwood DV-5900M. In a later review I will be using the player along with the Kenwood Entré. The Entré allows the cover art to be viewable on the TV screen and offers unified control of the DVD player. The more Kenwood Sovereign components you add to your system, the more control you have coupled with increased ease of operation. This is a sophisticated piece of equipment, but with study and practice you should be able to operate it with aplomb, and truly enjoy all its wonderful performance and control capabilities.

- Brian Bloom          big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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