The Other Multiregion in My Life: Pioneer DVL-909

When I think about it I’m very much a multiregion kinda guy. I hail from humble NTSC Long Island roots (region 1) but find myself in the Italian Alps living a very PAL (region 2) existence. I mean even this beautiful has servers in two regions thanks to Reclaim’s multiregion prowess. So, given my ability to contain multiple regions, it would only follow that I’d acquire a multiregion Pioneer DVD/Laserdisc player in October to take make sure I can enjoy my multiregion media collection that arrived via a multiregion container from the US of A. Multiregion Man!

Image of Pulp Fiuction Meme "Say Multiregion Again, I dare You"

So, I got a gold player (literally) from Pioneer that was the earliest dual DVD/LD player (it also plays CDs) that came out in 1998, and this review from Home Cinema Choice back in the day sets the context nicely:

Only those living on the MIR space station have an excuse for not knowing about the DVL-909. It’s unique in being the only DVD player that also handles laser discs. As such, it’s an aspirational machine for home cinema enthusiasts from Hong Kong to Hounslow – especially as it can now be made to easily play all Regional Codes. More on this later.

The livery (in champagne gold) and styling are superb. Up front we see large and small loading trays (for CDs/DVDs and LDs) plus basic transport controls and a key for switching off the display.

State-of-the-art media in 1998 and I do love the way it is a kind of hybrid media that captures the shift from LD to DVD that would be an after thought in just a few short years given laserdisc collectors were already a small niche given the expense. VHS was still king in 1998 given DVD was only introduced market-wide in 1996. DVDs would not overtake VHS for market dominance until 2003, so this player sits firmly at the beginning of the rise of DVDs. Now if only it had a VHS multiregion player built into the unit somehow as well 🙂

Image of the European champagne edition of the Pioneer DVL-909

The European champagne edition of the Pioneer DVL-909

Image of Inputs for the European champagne edition of the Pioneer DVL-909

Inputs for the European champagne edition of the Pioneer DVL-909

And while a unique unit, as the review above notes later on, there were some sacrifices to make the combo possible:

With so much on offer, surely this player is the best to grace our lab? Curiously not. In this comparison it measures second worst for inherent noise, worst for averaged colour quality and worst for video jitter. As for chroma crosstalk, it’s almost on an equally low footing as the same-brand DVD-only DV-505.

Clearly, compromises have been made in accommodating both laser disc and DVD formats. However, DVD delivers such a giant step in image quality, even a machine with poor technical traits, subjectively looks good. Considering its positive points (the crisp resolution cannot be ignored) we see a player that is much sought-after.

If you’re a laser disc fan looking to embrace DVD, the DVL- 909 is the business – even though technically, it’s not the last word in DVD performance.

Perfect for me given I’m a laserdisc fan ready to finally embrace DVDs 30 years later, not to mention my 27″ PAL Sony Trinitron TV hides all imperfections! So I got the European champagne gold player shipped by a German seller on ebay. But I’m learning the issue with shipping a laserdisc player is even if it was working when you bought it, that will probably not be the case by the time it’s delivered—or soon after. And sadly, dear reader, that was true for me with another Sony laserdisc player I bought in October, as well as this one. The Pioneer was a bit more resistant in this case, it did last long enough for me to test at least one laserdisc and DVD before the power supply went, whereas the Sony has yet to play anything, but that’s fodder for another post.

Bad power supply you say? Am I bold enough to actually open up a DVD/Laserdisc player for repair surgery to take out the power supply and start looking for issues? Well, I have to admit, I was not looking forward to the prospect. Tim and I had a couple of laserdiscs for Reclaim Arcade’s living room and Tim, who is far better at repair than I am, was having no luck. In fact, we brought a unit that needed repair to a recommended person who took it apart, did nothing for months, and then returned it with a “sorry” still in pieces. That incident still pisses me off, completely unreliable assholes!

What’s more, I have the Sony laserdisc player that never worked in with the only person who does repairs like this on old units in Trento, and my wait time has literally been 4 months, so I decided I would open up the unit and try to figure out what’s what. This is where the arcade repair work has not only emboldened me a bit, but it has also helped me understand there are some basic troubleshooting skills that begin to work across electronics. Like, for example, does it won’t power on? If not, that’s a power issue. Sounds stupid and basic, I know, but when you come from the black box consumerism mentality where it won’t turn on means it’s broken, which translates into all is lost, you inherent a sense of helplessness. The arcade repair community has changed that for me with physical media, and I have begun to break things down like what causes a DVL-909 not to power on, and then I search the Laserdisc Database community forums, and lo and behold I find this response by framal to a post on the thread by yaffle2345 who was having the same issue back in 2019:

Ic311 which supplies 5v and Ic411 which supplies 3.3v each have a CT pin which require a 2v switching signal to switch from STANDBY to ON. That signal is controlled from the remote and is only operational when the power supply board is installed in the laser disc player.

The darkening, on the pc board, around R105,R106 & R109 is not uncommon. These resistors, all 68k, form a voltage divider across the rectified mains DC. They, along with C116, provide the KICK START for the SMPS. Please check C116, 1mfd/400v, for both ESR and capacitance. The ESR reading should be a low value, approximately 7-8, and the capacitance should be approximately 1mfd. If in doubt change it.

I recommend that you also check the filtering capacitors, C211, C611, C311, C312, C511 & C512 on the power supply secondary. If any are faulty they can affect the supply’s operation. Q101, Q150 & Q151 are all N channel mosfets, Shin Dengen 2SK2333.

Two or three years ago this would have been Greek to me. And there is still a lot of Greek to be fair, but I have a better sense of how circuit boards work, in particular resistors and capacitors, which are denoted as C### for capacitor or R### for resistor, and often the board labels them so you can start to orientate. The next trick would be finding a schematic for the power supply, but I’m still a fish out of water with testing traces and values for resistors and capacitors, not to mention chips. But that is something I really want to work on this year given it is the gateway to more sophisticated arcade board repair, which remains an aspiration.

The key in the post above that helped me figure it out was framal’s ability to encourage yaffle2345 to think through the diagnosis logically. Ruling out integrated chips IC311 and IC411 given they will not function without adequate power regardless. Then rule out the assumption that the resistors blew given the darkness is normal for shielding resistors (I love how much experience plays into knowing what to look for), and finally the breakthrough for me was framal’s linking C116 to kick starting the power supply. That seemed logical to me, and I know how to replace a bad capacitor, so if this was it, then I was golden. I was further encouraged to try it when yaffle2345 came back and noted they did as much and it worked:

Just to follow up, I removed C116 and replaced it (not having the equipment to check it as indicated), and that fixed the problem – thanks, very happy :-)

That was enough to at least try, but turns out the hardest part of this repair was not replacing the capacitor with some basic soldering, but actually getting the power supply board out of the unit to do the work. This is when I had flashbacks of the laserdisc we brought in for repair coming back in pieces. There were some nerves, but documenting with images and being deliberate solves a lot of those issues, not to mention more forum posts and Youtube videos 🙂

Image of the laserdisc player without casing

Laserdisc with casing off, at the bottom of this image you can just make out the power supply board beneath the power arm shaft.

As a result of the power not working, the tray needed to be manually opened. There is a mechanism within the unit you can access after the cover is removed that allows for doing this pretty easily. The rub in this instance was that the last piece of media I had in the player before it powered down was a DVD and the player mechanically adjusts to open only the DVD door to unload media. This means the larger lasersdisc tray was blocking access to remove the power supply, annoying. So, back to the forums to figure how to make the unit open the entire tray, not just the DVD slot. Turns out my friend yaffle2345 had the same exact conundrum as me–their problems are my problems!—and not only articulated the issue better than me, but also found the solution which I used in this thread:

I’ve tried winding the laser (I think it’s the DVD one) both half way back, and right back into its ‘cage’, but this doesn’t seem to affect anything – turning the belt pulley at the front still only moves the DVD tray.

I’m wondering if it’s the position of the yellowy-white plastic piece in this picture (not my picture):

Image of Piece that controls which tray door opens in DVL-909

Piece that controls which tray door opens in DVL-909

Mine seems to be in the opposite position to this picture – ie to the left – but I cannot work out what else needs to be pushed, pulled, or turned in order to allow it to move to the right.

Any help would be gratefully received :)

That post got no responses, so Yaffle2345 took matters into their own hands:

For what it’s worth, I did find out how to slide out the big tray on a powerless machine, which I’ll share here for posterity…

Wind in the small tray using your finger on the white pulley with the belt around it, then keep on winding.

Very slowly this will start raising up the whole laser assembly. Keep going and when this is fully raised, the white plastic item pictured in my previous post is then free to move from side to side. Push it towards the centre of the player (actually the spring may pull it that way, I can’t recall now), then begin winding the pulley back in the other direction.

The laser assembly will drop, and after that keep on winding and the big tray will come sliding out.

Hey presto, I have access to the power supply board. I might be asking a question or two about that later once I’ve done some tests 🙂

Thank you Yaffle2345 for thinking of posterity, because in this case it was me and it bailed me out majorly.

Image of laserdisc with casing off and power supply removed

Image of the laserdisc with power supply, arm shaft and sundry other pieces out of the machine so work cna be done

People sharing how they figured out how something worked for others to benefit from is my favorite face of the web. I found pushing the white piece referenced a bit harder than suggested, and I was afraid I would break it, but thanks to the following video from Multiwizard I got a couple of additional tips for not only opening the tray but also removing the power supply:

That video was a break through, and I was able to get the board out, desolder the capacitor at C116 and replace it with a new 1mfd/400v capacitor I bought off ebay. One of the Youtubers I exchanged comments with recommended I change all the capacitors on the board while I had it out, and he was probably right, but I only had the one, so waiting for all the others to arrive was a non-starter. I finally did the work after the holidays because I didn’t want a failure to cast a cloud on the break (that’s how personally I take this work) and on Wednesday I re-assembled the unit and tested power and wouldn’t you know it, IT POWERS ON!!!

Narrating the fix in a short-ish video
I was fired up. My first successful laserdisc fix, and it was getting late so I waited until the next morning before slipping in the laserdisc Night Hawks (1981) to celebrate the victory. It played beautifully until the disc automatically  switched from side A -> B upon reaching the end of side A. It made the switch cleanly, but after about a minute the disc was consistently skipping. It was weird because after taking the disc out and cleaning it it still skipped, but in a different place just a few seconds later. That made me suspicious that it was a disc issue, so I put in the Warriors (1979) and the same thing happened after a minute into side B. You can see the issue in the video below:

That is more than a coincidence, looks like a bigger problem with the player, so back to the forums. And once again the Laserdisc Database forums giveth in this thread on “Issues with first minute of side b,” turns out this is a common issue with this series of Pioneer players. And while time consuming, fortunately the fix was pretty easy with minimal dismantling of the unit. There are two screws on the laser casing (one black and metal, the other white and plastic) and one (or both?) control the centering, and many folks suggested adjust these very finely (small turns that you test while running the disc and restarting side B again and again).

Image of the white and black screw used to adjust centering to avoid side B skipping

The white and black screw used to adjust centering to avoid side B skipping

I fiddled with both, and for me it was the slight adjustment to the metal screw that seemed to do the trick after an hour of trying various combinations. I started with the white screw that seemed to be moved in transit, but after nothing happened I tried the metal screw and got almost immediate results. After testing it worked on several discs I cemented the positions of both screws with some nail polish, a method several on the forum thread recommended. This issue will only effect laserdiscs given DVDs do not switch sides in the same way, so unless you watch a laserdisc through side A it might be a hard issue to detect.

And with that I have the DVL-909 multiregion player back up and running. It’s hard to fully communicate how good this fix made me feel. It’s super cool to be able to apply some of what I learned with the video game work over the last several years to other vintage technology, and it makes me want to do a lot more of this. Multiregion Man!

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6 Responses to The Other Multiregion in My Life: Pioneer DVL-909

  1. > I love how much experience plays into knowing what to look for

    Two people with different experiences look at the same thing and see two different things.


    > People sharing how they figured out how something worked for others to benefit from is my favorite face of the web.

    Mine too.

    Nice post. I didn’t really learn a lot about laser disc players, but I did learn a little more about learning.

    • Jim Groom says:

      Thanks for the comment, Stephen, and to be fair my understanding of the deeper working of laserdisc players is still fuzzy at best. It’s the magic of being able to piece together an otherwise unthinkable fix from the the shared learning of strangers that gets me most excited. It’s really hopeful for me, not to mention deeply satisfying to have a peek into how things work.

      The laserdisc apparatus is quite complex given the lens unit moves on a rail to play both side a from above then side b from below, making it twice as likely for it to break. A lens moving along rails that has to do a summersault between sides is my favorite kind of technology 🙂

  2. Tim Owens says:

    Holy hat you’re fixing LD players now?! I’m at a loss for words. This post is absolutely epic and you’ve clearly surpassed me when it comes to technical repair prowess. If shipping to Italy wasn’t so crazy I’d start sending out all my stuff to you for repair. Haha

    • Reverend says:

      Maybe fixing is overstated—though I have never been one for the opposite—but it was not working and now is working. The folks in the laserdisc forum did all the heavy lifting, but some of the basic skills I learned in the Owens School of Arcade Repair are paying dividends, so I’m quite stoked about that.

      I am hoping 2023 is the year I start digging in on full on board work. From what Mike told me when I asked where to start, the following guide from Atari in 1980 is ground zero for a comprehensive video game work, and there is some advice on working on PCBs:

      Will be working through it, and if I gain a working knowledge of how the logic of integrated chips on these boards work I will be more than happy.

  3. Pingback: Hacking the Pioneer DVL-909 for Multi-Region | bavatuesdays

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