Pioneer 525 Codefree DVD Player (Modified Malaysian Model) - Mania.com



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  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: All Region DVD
  • Released By: Other
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Hardware Reviews

Pioneer 525 Codefree DVD Player (Modified Malaysian Model)

    April 04, 2002


Pioneer 525 Codefree DVD Player (Modified Malaysian Model)
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What They Say


The Review!
Pioneer 525 Codefree DVD Player (Modified Malaysian Model)

I picked up this unit on a recent trip to Japan, as my trusty Toshiba 2006 codefree DVD player (hand modified) was starting to get a bit too long in the tooth. Poor image quality and sluggish responsiveness were bearable back when I only had a dozen or so Region-2 DVDs on my shelf. But with over a hundred Region-2 discs at present, and more arriving every month, it became time to get a more serious player. The potential for reclaiming a component space in my rack by having a single player of high enough quality for both import and domestic discs was also a motivating factor in choosing this unit.



What's in the Box

Pretty much standard fare in the box. You get the player packed in 2 pieces of foam, a manual, remote, batteries, power cable, and a/v cables for composite and S-Video. Note that if you want to use component video or digital audio outs, you'll need additional cables beyond what's in the box. Also, if you're not using this player in a country with 220V power (the power cable in the box was for these markets), you'll need a simple passive plug adapter ($3 at the local Frys) to convert the cord into something you can plug into your wall.

The Player

Outwardly, this player is very similar to most other players on the market, except for the champagne gold finish that seems to be all the rage in Asia these days. On the front, there is the usual array of buttons for power on, play, stop, pause, next/previous chapter, and eject. A fluorescent display window is mounted above the disc tray, and in addition to digits for track/time, includes indicators for 96khz audio output, Dolby Digital audio output, and labels for track, chapter, total time, and remaining time. One item missing from the front panel is a headphone jack with the associated volume control, although this turns out to be useless when using this component in a traditional A/V rack.

On the back there are the usual array of ports including digital audio (coaxial and optical), L/R analog audio out, composite video, S-Video, and component (YrCbCr) video out. A normal 2-prong power plug will take anywhere from 100V to 240V AC, making it suitable for use worldwide with nothing more than a simple passive plug adapter for the power cable. Strangely, there is a switch on the back to select between the composite/S-Video and the component video outputs, restricting you to one or the other. There is also a jack to select the video system to be used, either PAL or NTSC.

One of the more interesting features that initially drew me to this player was it's dual NTSC/PAL capabilities. Many players have this feature due to the specific chipset used inside, but it is usually inaccessible due to region code issues. With the Pioneer 525, you can view DVDs and VideoCDs in either format, although with DVDs at least, you will need a video display that can display the format of the disc you're viewing. The manual mentions the capability to view a PAL VideoCD on NTSC displays, but I haven't managed to scrape up a PAL VideoCD yet to test this capability.

A few more notes on the features of the player. This particular unit does not do Karaoke (the 525K supports it though), but it does support 96khz audio and both Dolby Digital and DTS discs. As mentioned previously, it supports DVD, VideoCD, and normal audio CDs. What it does not appear to support is the upcoming DVD audio standard, now on it's third incarnation. But with no DVD audio discs available at this point, this was a non-issue in my case. If you need a Dolby Digital decoder built into your DVD player (if your receiver has 6 channel discrete analog inputs), then you'll want to consider the next model up, the 626. This unit has built in decoders for both Dolby Digital and DTS, and the 6 channel analog outputs you'll need to connect to your receiver.

The Remote

The remote is one of my few disappointments with this unit. It's small and stubby, covered in a simple grid of buttons, all of which are the same size. This alone makes this remote useless in the dark, and will most likely motivate me to replace it as soon as I find something workable. Once you get beyond the generic button layout, the remote itself contains all of the needed functions for start/stop/skip, jumping between tracks, and navigating menus. There is no special jog/shuttle wheel



How Does It Perform?

After unpacking the unit and sliding it into my rack, it was time to road test this puppy. Using S-Video and Coaxial digital audio connections, I proceeded to pick out a half dozen DVDs at random from my Region 1 & 2 collections and plant myself on the sofa for a few hours.

The image quality from this unit is beautiful. With 10-bit DACs and what looks to be a fourth or fifth generation chipset, this is exactly what I would expect. A quick test with Video Essentials showed that this unit does pass black below black (superblack), and shows no degradation in picture detail beyond what is dictated by NTSC. Scaling of anamorphic DVDs showed none of the artifacts I'm accustomed to on earlier units, like my old Toshiba 2006. Configuration options for the video out include the usual aspect ratio setting (16:9 or 4:3), along with options for how still frames are displayed and On Screen indicator Displays are sized and positioned.

Audio quality using the digital outputs was flawless as well. Both Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks are passed through, and there is an option to pass though raw MPEG audio data (used on European DVDs) as well. This unit does not include a full 5.1 Dolby Digital decoder onboard. But if you lack an external decoder, it will generate a Dolby Surround signal for the L/R analog outputs. Owing to the numerous standards supported by the player, the audio configuration options allow for full control over how various formats are processed and output. Dolby Digital, MPEG, and 96khz PCM audio can all be passed through or mapped down to standard 48khz PCM it your digital decoder does not support a particular format. Only the option to completely disable output is provided for DTS audio however.

Using the interactive menus on various DVDs was snappy and quick. Much quicker in fact than the Toshiba player this unit replaced. Subtitles and menu graphics are rendered competently and correctly, although without some of the smoothing and anti-aliasing that I notice on higher-end Sony players. Jumping between chapters was instantaneous, with none of that annoying pause time. Scanning material at 2x, 4x, etc. was competent, if a little chunky. Basically, you get a full frame from the material every half second or so, instead of the complete video stream, playing at the faster speed. At least there wasn't any of the random blockiness that I have seen other players exhibit when scanning a disc.

The codefree features of this player simply work. No fiddling with menus like some modified players I test drove last year, no extra spinup time while some hacked in circuit fools the chipset. All of the region 1 and region 2 discs that I put in the machine worked flawlessly and the very first time. I didn't encounter any compatibility issues on the half dozen or so discs that I tested the player with. A few discs (Armageddon, Criterion edition of Robocop) showed none of the problems displayed by older DVD players I have owned from Sony and Toshiba. One feature that I would have liked to see, would have been the ability to view PAL DVDs on an NTSC display (similar to the VideoCD capability mentioned earlier). However, there is a fair amount of extra guts that the player would need to have to make this possible, and with this model already on the edge of what the DVD licensors are likely to allow, it is understandable why it's not here.

Conclusions

In short, this player rocks.

I paid about $550 for this player in Akihabara on a recent trip to Tokyo, but a little research turns up that DVD City (I have never ordered from them, but other reviewers seem to like them a lot) is currently offering this player for $450. My only caution here is that it is unclear from DVD City's webpage if their modified version of the 525/626 requires you to manually reset the region code from the remote like the older Pioneer codefree players, something that I do not have to do with my particular unit.

Even $450 may seem a little pricey, considering that you can pickup up a very competent Region-1 player at retail for $250. But that being said, if you're looking for a single player to view your entire DVD collection on, the cost is worth it. Audio/Video quality is the equal of any other mid to high end DVD player on the market today, and the flexible configuration options for audio formats ensure you can use it with any digital audio decoder you might have laying around. My one disappointment with this player is the remote (come on guys, for $600 you can do better than this), which will simply be replaced at the first convenient opportunity.

Video: A, Audio: A+, Remote: D, Value: A-

Testing Setup:
Sony 32" Trinitron XBR Television (calibrated to standard NTSC)
Sony STR-DA50ES receiver
Pioneer 525 Codefree (Malaysian Modified Model) DVD Player
Atlantic Technology Compact Theater 2 5.1 Surround Speakers

Video Connection: S-Video analog, routed through receiver to television.
Audio Connection: Coaxial digital, decoded by receiver.

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