CEDIA: Meridian, Denon and Pioneer Digital Interfaces

Minneapolis – At CEDIA Expo 2002, it was apparent that important progress has been made towards overcoming one of the major sticking points in the adoption of the DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD formats—the lack of digital connections between players and surround processors. The restriction, driven by content producers’ copyright infringement concerns, limits high-resolution to analog-only connections, preventing end users from being able to utilize their digital processors’ bass management and speaker time alignment capabilities. The analog-only barrier has now been breached, however, and digital connection technologies from Meridian Audio, Ltd., Denon Electronics, and Pioneer Electronics at CEDIA showed that.

Meridian Audio, Ltd.

Early this year, U.K.-based Meridian pioneered the digital transfer of DVD-Audio bitstreams in its top-of-the-line 800-series components, using the company’s encrypted MHR Smart Link connection to ensure secure communication. Meridian has now brought that same capability to a comparatively broader (though still high end) customer base with the release of new versions of its 500-series 598 DVD-Audio Player and 568.2 Surround Processor. The 568.2 sports a new DSP engine with five 48-bit precision processors, upsampling all sources to 96/24. An upgrade is available to owners of previous 568s, but a trip to a Meridian service center is required.

Replacing Meridian’s interlaced-only but highly-regarded 596 player, the progressive scan 598 implements Faroudja DCDi deinterlacing, and performs on-board format auto-detection, allowing the 568 processor to automatically load the appropriate surround mode. The company intends to offer an upgrade for the 596, but plans have not yet been finalized.



Denon Electronics

In a major development, Denon Electronics announced it has received authorization from the DVD-Audio 4C licensing group to transmit copy-protected digital DVD-Audio data through the company’s proprietary Denon Link digital interface, a one-wire connection which currently transfers linear PCM, packed PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS, MP3 and MPEG-1 digital audio data between the flagship DVD-9000 DVD Player ($3,500) and AVR-5803 receiver ($4,300). Until now, the Denon Link would shut down and the DVD-9000 revert to its analog outputs upon detection of DVD-Audio source material flagged for copy protection, which limited the feature’s use to a small fraction of DVD-Audio discs. With 4C approval, a new Denon Link version, implemented in a running production change to both units, will now transmit copy-protected digital DVD-Audio data. There’s also good news for owners of older units: an upgrade will be available, though it will require sending both boxes back to Denon for modification. However, the future is less certain for owners who received 5803 upgrades to the predecessor AVR-5800 models—Denon’s West Coast branch manager Toshi Deguchi says Denon engineers are still trying to determine if an upgrade can be accommodated within those unit’s more limited memory.

Back at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, Sony had made a point of including Denon in its list of SACD partner manufacturers, though it failed to provide Denon with the final decoding specifications in time to include SACD playback in the DVD-9000 feature set. At last week’s CEDIA, I asked Deguchi if an SACD upgrade was planned for the DVD-9000. His answer gave grounds for cautious optimism—any SACD playback capability will first appear in a new player, after which the company’s intent at this time is to implement it in the DVD-9000. But there is no commitment to that at this time.

Pioneer Electronics (USA)

Pioneer introduced its own digital connection capability in updated versions of its flagship VSX-49TXi receiver ($4,500) and its universal SACD/DVD-A DV-47Ai player. The two components are the first products to implement the new iceLynx Micro technology from Texas Instruments, which allows the transmission of high-resolution DVD-Audio and/or SACD audio data, as reported in a recent HFR news item [see link below]. Unlike the proprietary links implemented by Denon and Meridian, which lock consumers into pairing source and processor components from the same manufacturer, the IEEE-1394 (Firewire)-based iceLynx Micro interface is an open industry standard. An HFR inquiry into the implications for copyright protection is in progress; we’ll print our findings in a subsequent news item.

According to Pioneer representative John Bass, the new DV-47ai player is internally unchanged from its DV-47a predecessor, except for the new digital connection and a limited on-board bass management and time alignment capability. Intriguingly, the company claims that SACD bitstreams remain in their native DSD format, without conversion to PCM. Pioneer also announced that starting in November the VSX-49TXi receiver can be modified to include an I.Link firewire connection; the upgrade costs $500, and must be performed at an authorized service center. Unfortunately, no upgrade path was announced for the DV-47A player.