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Pioneer CLD-1700

Pioneer CLD-1700 Review 

The PAL only CLD-1700 is based upon the Pioneer CLD1750. The major addition to CLD-1700 is that of a digital optical output which will please those who have a matching digital pre amp/amplifier (though one suspect this to be still a minority of the market). There is of course other differences, but in essence the 1700 is just a better 1400 rather than a major upgrade. (In saying that the new 16:9 function hasnít been overlooked but more on this later. Consequently it will not be an imperative upgrade for an existing 1400 owner.

The 1700 is a basic CD/LD combi also offering full compatibility with CD-V/VSD discs. It is capable of CAV operation. On the audio front the player will not decode the graphics on CD+G discs but hopefully the addition of an outboard box of electronics to the digital output will achieve full compatibility with both these species. Theoretically the new CD-I disc can be played with an outboard decoder fitted to the same output but so far there is no sign of such hardware and one is now wary of whether we well see any. At present then, these three formats are out of bounds to the 1700. 

External Features 

The design of the CLD-1700 is a straight cloning of last year's CLD-1600. In fact one now suspects that the 1700 is not an early debut of this year's model range but a tardy arrival of "the 1600". This year's Pioneer range should really have the more rounded drawer design exemplified by the wretched CLD-700 and as found on the current Japanese F-series and US CLD-D/S or M models. Though the 1700 design is obviously newer than the 1400 it is not the newest design Pioneer has on the blocks. Cosmetically there is no problem with that. The player looks neat and stands up to a reasonably close inspection without revealing any major shortcomings in the finish of its plastic facia. There is a rotary scan control on the front of the machine, which is duplicated on the remote. The remote also has conventional scan buttons. If you use the new remote with an older player without the rotary scan control it will not go into scan - you have to use the buttons in this situation. 

Permanent Power 

The eject button is no longer at the top left of the remote - it's been moved to the top fight position. That takes a bit of getting used to - particularly as its place has been taken by a power on/off switch. If you don't make a rapid adjustment to the new layout you'll be turning the player off all the time instead off ejecting a disc as intended.

Once the mains are connected to the 1700 it is permanently powered up. Pushing the power switch on the player (or remote) will only alternate the player between full operational mode or a resting, semi-inoperative position. If you want the power off completely you have to pull the mains plug out. Pioneer gives a reason for this method of powering. It enables the machine to be remote switched from the comfort of one's chair; logical but of dubious actual merit when one contem≠plates the typical playing situation. A laserdisc player - whether playing CDs or LDs - is useless without a disc loaded. If you're sitting in your chair and decide you want to watch or listen to something you still have to manually load the player. If you sit at arm's length from it (the recommended position for single-side play machines) you can obviously just lean across and plonk a disc on. But if you can do that you can also push the on/off switch on the player at the same time. If you site your player further away and have to get up to load a disc then you still end up in physical contact with it and can obviously just as easily hit the power switch at the same time. So what's the point of the remote switching?  The disadvantage is obvious - the player is on 24 hours a day, using up current for no practical purpose.

Audio Switching

The 1700 remote has a dedicated button for audio switching of laserdiscs so that you can now switch between the analogue and digital soundtracks. This was possible on the 1400 but only after a modification to the remote (call Videotec if you want it done). Apart from the merit of comparing analogue and digital versions of the same soundtrack (a margin≠al feature once the novelty has worn off) the switching is essential for the growing number of laserdiscs which carry discrete material on the pairs of tracks. The commentary discs are the best-known example where, for example, a movie director will speak about aspects of the production as the movie plays. There are also a few more conventional laserdiscs where the dynamic range of the digital track is intentionally extreme and is accompanied by a more compressed ver≠sion on the analogue. Examples of this are the widescreen versions of Days Of Thunder and Apocalypse Now. 

Digital Level Control 

Related to the dynamic range, there is a round button on the remote that Pioneer refers to as a Digital Level Control. The UK brochure for the 1700 offers this explanation: "... to adjust the audio output levels of digitally recorded sound from CDs, CD-Vs and LDs". The US brochure for a player with the same button says this:

 On-Screen Displays 

The on-screen displays on the 1700 are more comprehensive than before. Like last  year's PAL-only machines, the 1700 also has what Pioneer calls a multilingual informa≠tion display feature. The Language button on the front panel can be cycled through a range of language options to denote all the player functions seen on screen. Provided one speaks English, German, French or Italian one can have  the language of your choice. Once set up the player will always come on using that language set; it isnít necessary to reset it each time. 

The 16:9 Button 

So what does the 16:9 button do? Pioneer says it enables easy playback of wide aspect video on next generationís 16:9 aspect television. In the sales brochure Pioneer UK is vague about what all this means (we suspect because they donít know for sure rather than any desire to be secretive). There has been mention about the possibility of special anamorphic widescreen software but so far there is none and no news of any. (Update: 1999 - Anamorphic laserdiscs did start to appear in Japan around 1995 onwards but never made it to the US or Europe). At a guess if it materialises, it will do so in Japan first and find its way to the US and Europe a year or so later. But who really knows. If you can't wait that long and are tempted to push the 16:9 button now, most probably nothing will happen to the TV picture. At the moment it would seem unneces≠sary to get panicked by the appearance of the 16:9 button and start thinking your existing hardware is now horribly obsolete.

 Odds & Ends 

Given its budget origins the 1700 is quite a slick player in respect of operating smoothness and general feel. The external noise is OK though the player doesn't have enough bulk to fully absorb the vibrations and whirrings of certain laserdiscs (such as a CAV disc running full tilt). A few timings were taken of basic disc loading and search operations and these proved to be similar to those of the 1400.

One compatibility Pioneer appears to have ironed out with the 1700 is that the player now appears capable of reproducing the sound on the handful of faulty coded digital audio laserdiscs produced by PDO during the early days of the (SD Video promotion. If you remember, several of these would just go quiet a minute or so from the end of the side. 

Picture & Sound Quality 

For both picture and sound quality the news is mostly encouraging. Sound first. Though measuring (according to Pioneer's specs) almost exactly the same as the 1450 the new machine is a noticeably better sounding beast. The digital sound is richer and more full-bodied and direct compari≠son with discs played on the 1400 made that often sound strained by comparison. The 1400 always seemed an OK player - it was a significant improvement on the hard-sounding CLD-1200 - but three years has obviously enabled Pioneer to improve matters further. With PAL the improvement in colour seemed not so marked but, on the other hand, the clarity of the picture was increased. This was not so much from the point of view of absolute detail - as the 1700 appears to exhibit just about the same level of resolution - but it displays the picture more naturally. The 1400 looks more enhanced in comparison with accompanying texturing of the picture.