CEDIA 2002: Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha Universal Players [HFR]

Minneapolis—Universal players introduced at CEDIA by several manufacturers could spell an early end to the confusing and ultimately self-defeating high-resolution format war. While the respective backers of DVD-Audio and SACD each have a vested financial interest in their format capturing the marketplace, consumers have nothing to look forward to but frustration at having to buy separate players if they want to choose freely from available high-resolution titles. For the consumer who simply wants to enjoy the music, the arrival of universal players capable of decoding both formats eliminates that limitation, and more importantly, renders the distinction between formats transparent and ultimately irrelevant—as it should be.

Currently, however, no all-in-one decoder chip exists for DVD-Audio and SACD. As illustrated in this cutaway view of the new Yamaha DVD-SL300, manufacturers are thus far forced to integrate separate decoders, which adds to the products’ complexity and cost. The result is that virtually all of the new universal players retail for $1,000 and up (not counting the problematic Apex AD-7701 budget player released earlier this year). But the good news is that those looking for a single player solution now have several options, with far fewer compromises in audio and video performance.

Yamaha DVD-SL300A cutaway view of the Yamaha DVD-SL300

Living up to its name, Pioneer Electronics introduced the first universal player offering from a major manufacturer at last January’s CES. As reported in our previous CEDIA report [link below], the Elite DV-47A has been superceded by the DV-47Ai ($1,200), equipped with a Texas Instruments iceLynx Micro-based i.Link connection allowing it to output both DVD-Audio and SACD signals in digital form. Per 4C approval requirements, the transmitted data is encrypted in the player to ensure copyright protection, and unencrypted by the Pioneer Elite VSX-49TXi receiver, which performs both PCM and DSD decoding, but will convert DSD to PCM for bass management and time alignment functions. The DV-47Ai also implements on-board bass management; otherwise, both its audio and video capabilities are unchanged from those of its predecessor.

Also new in upscale Pioneer’s Elite line is the company’s first complete home theater system, the ES-1000DV, which integrates its sleek, metallic universal player with matching speakers, powered subwoofer, and a separate low-power Organic Electroluminescent control panel. The entire package will be available in November for $2,000.

Pioneer ES-1000DVPioneer ES-1000DV home theatre system

Audiophiles with priorities on sonic performance may want to consider the Marantz DV8300. Essentially a Pioneer DV-47A (sans digital i.Link) with upgraded analog audio capability, this THX Select certified DVD-Video/DVD-Audio/SACD/CD/MP3 player sports Cirrus Logic 192kHz/24-bit audio D/A conversion, discrete multi-channel audio circuitry utilizing Marantz’s exclusive HDAM (High-Definition Amplifier Module) output stages, separate power transformer for the audio circuit, a zero-impedance copper grounding plate for the analog multi-channel output, double-layered chassis construction, and a “Video Off” function for maximum sonic purity. Now available for $1,600.

Marantz DV8300Marantz DV8300 universal player

Yamaha Electronics seems to have done its homework for the feature set of its new DVD-S2300. In addition to DVD-Audio and SACD playback with bass management and an Advanced Surround mode to “take full advantage of effects channels on DVD-Audio discs…” the $1,000-player offers Faroudja DCDi deinterlacing with its progressive scan video output. No one at the Yamaha booth could identify the MPEG decoder used in the player, but DCDi processing will mask much of the chroma bug, if present.

Yamaha DVD-S2300Yamaha DVD-S2300 universal player

As reported in a previous HFR report [see link below] Onkyo showcased its THX Ultra-certified DV-SP800 universal player ($1,000). Unfortunately, no one in the Onkyo booth had any information beyond the assurance that DSD decoding is done natively (without conversion to PCM). Details on bass management implementation were unavailable. Onkyo’s upscale Integra Research division was not exhibiting at CEDIA, so we ha d no opportunity to check out the Integra DPS-8.3 ($1,200).