Now aday,when the shelves of your supermarket are groaning under the weight of cheap DVD players, a machi ne wi th the chutzpah to cost needs to offer more than mere competence. Pioneer, DVD front-runner since day one, certainly has the track record to suggest it can pull that particular trick off. The DV-410-V looks and feels a cut above the no-name bargains. It's compact, nicely finished and supplied with a clear remote control. Specification is good, with video upscaling all the way to I080p and a USB port on the front fascia for enjoying a slideshow. Menus and set-up procedures are standard Pioneer: simple, logical and comprehensive.

It doesn't take long (the deliriously violent opening of No country for Old Men should do it) for the good first impressions to be forgotten. From the off, there are stability issues: motion is tracked without certainty, and the most vigorous movement leaves smears and traces behind. Testing patterns are fidgety, with many types of picture noise (dot crawl, edge shimmer, mosquito noise, blocking, you name it) represented. The same film's wide-open shots of sky and desert floor are restless too.

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Unfortunately, the bad news doesn't stop there. Dark scenes remain a mystery - no matter how you fiddle with the player's video adjustment, black tones are uniform and bereft of detail to the point that Javier Bardem's spectacular bowl-cut looks as if it was painted onto his head. There are positives: this Pioneer sounds quite full-bodied and distinct, and when it isn't struggling with dark tones the colour palette is convincing.