Component for the cost-conscious
Video is where the DV-343 shines, offering the standard composite, S-Video, and component video outputs. The image quality on the DV-343 is fantastic, with very vibrant colors on standard test discs with digital prints, such as A Bug's Life, as well as on newer discs, such as Hannibal and Akira. There's no way to manually tweak the video settings for the picture. Rather than offering you the ability to manually adjust films on the fly to your liking, the DV-343 provides three video settings to simplify the process. Despite the lack of manual controls, the three preset settings--hold onto something now--can actually make a difference to improve your image. Most noticeable in the animated titles, the component video's Standard setting tends to wash out the contrast, but it heightens some secondary colors. The Animation setting tightens the contrast, sharpens some lines, and brings out the primary colors, while Cinema has the most contrast but the darkest colors. All three settings are exceptional--some settings make certain titles look better (especially Akira on the Animated setting). Most live-action video, on the other hand, sees little change in color. However, these picture settings do a fantastic job of improving line sharpness, most notably in the Cinema setting. Though you may get a crisp picture, is it progressive scan? No. Does it have 3:2 pulldown? Again, no. But those features only matter to those who own digital TVs. For the rest of us, this player delivers a solid picture to a standard TV.
With such excellent video quality, the audio is sure to jolt you back to the reality of the budget-priced DV-343. While this player does come with the standard 96KHz/24-bit digital-to-audio converter, the digital output is piped out via coax or optical. Even at that, the sound quality isn't far above par. Any spectacular results you achieve here will be thanks to your own home-theater receiver, not this player. The DV-343 handles CD-Rs and CD-RWs for CD and VideoCD formats. That's nice, but many newer players offer the same abilities and play MP3s.
The shape of things to come
While the audio is just about average for what you would expect for the money, there are some drawbacks. The DV-343's budget pricing reveals itself in the skimpy remote and way too much button congestion. The menu, subtitle, setup, and other function keys are crammed together at the top with no differentiation for the fleet of finger, forcing a hunt-and-peck approach.
In an effort to match its beefy video performance, the DV-343 could stand to lose a little around the middle. Perhaps the 17-inch-wide, 12-inch-deep frame is supposed to give the impression that there's a lot of work going on under the hood. But Toshiba and Sony have already proven that high-quality DVD can come in a small package. This pudgy six-pounder won't weigh you--or your home theater--down, but it might be a tight squeeze for your home-entertainment center.
Pioneer's DV-343 ends up with some sour notes due to the necessity of sticking to the bottom line. Despite that, Pioneer shows that quality video can come in at a reasonable price. We wish that this player had broader support for such things as MP3 playback and a remote that was better suited to the tasks at hand. However, sacrifices were made in the name of a $299 list price. If you want more out of your player and want to spend even less, we recommend taking at look at , which does a bang-up job and is enhanced with a Nuon chip.