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Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 16
DIGITAL VIDEO DISC II
Article By Bill Gaw

 

Hello, fellow Audiolics...

Welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous,  our support group for the insatiably TWEAKED.  This month, I am again going to do an unpardonable sin for an audiolic, and become a videolic.

 

Way back in Chapter 7 I discussed  the RKR  CASSINI DVD PLAYER,  produced by  RKR VIDEO, of Huntington Beach, Ca., 714-594-0548.  http://www.rkrvideo.com,  owned by the DIGITAL CONNECTION CO.  of  the same address, at http://www.digitalconnection.com. This is still being sold as their low end HTPC (home theater personal computer), and has done so well, that they have added several high end machines. The one we will be discussing today is their MARQUEE unit.

What is an HTPC? It is an Intel-Microsoft based computer with a high speed DVD-ROM drive, high speed chip, special video and sound boards, and special software to control the above. While it can be used for all of those normal PC functions, such as word processing, Internet, etc., it is set up to be used primarily as a DVD player.

Where the CASSINI used  a Celeron 400 MHZ or Pentium II 500 MHZ chip, a 10 gig hard drive and a generic sound card, the Marquee has been built for the high end audio nut. The Cassini was great for what it did, but was borderline for processing speed for DVDís, and while the CD sound was very good, and the DTS and Dolby digital for movies was very good, it did not quite come up to the standards for the best CD playback, and could not decode 24/96 DVD discs. Enter Cliff Watson, a computer designer, and one of the gurus for Digital Connection, and one of the best of the best discussors on the AV Sciences web board, www.avsforum.com. Both a computer expert and an audiophile, he decided to try to build an HTPC with the best possible DVD, CD, and 24/96 playback, and I must say he has succeeded admirably.

First the unit comes in a new black case, which has sound deadening material and a special fan for very low noise. It uses a Pentium III 700-800 MHz chip which allows software rather than hardware decoding of the video. For a discussion of the advantages of this, please see Pat Megintyís articles in the July through November Stereophile Guide to Home Theater.

They put in a 30 gig IBM 7200 RPM Hard Drive, to allow recording  of large files ( read ability to store video and audio files), and 128 Mbits of SDRAM.  The audio side was improved with a special M-Audio Delta Dio 24/96 Pro sound board, controlled by a special Edition of Power DVD, a software program which will allow decoding of the 24-bit/96 kHz DVD video type audio discs already available, and decode 16-bit/44 kHz CDís with 24-bit/96 kHz accuracy, while being one of the best programs for passing through DVD audio, both Dolby Digital and DTS, and decoding DVD video. They claim specs of 104 dB dynamic range at the analog output, and 100dB for A/D conversion from the analog inputs, 36 bits resolution in the analog-digital mixer, and -130 dB jitter figure.

The video side is run through an Elsa Gladiac G-Force 2 GTS graphics card, with CDís and DVDís played on a Pioneer 16x DVD drive. Software includes the Power DVD V 3.0 and ASUS Win DVD programs. The unit also comes with 3Dglasses and multiple programs and 3D glasses  for those video game players. And all for $2395. Thatís cheaper than some speaker wire Iíve owned.

Does it live up to the Cassiniís reputation, and for that matter the best Iíve heard and seen in DVD and audio reproduction. In a word, YES. While I was thrilled with the Cassini, I cannot believe what I see and hear with the Marquee.

First, the unit does not upsample 16/44 to 24/96, but does use 24/96 DACs. But I must say that on every CD Iíve tried, I can hear more low level information, such as hall and audience sounds, whispers, moving air, etc., than I have heard with an upsampling D/A converter Iíve had in my listening room, the name of which will remain anonymous. Interestingly, in this monthís STEREOPHILE, there is an article and several letters discussing whether the upsampling or the 24/96 DACs are responsible for the difference. Personally, after listening to this unit, I think it is the DACs allowing greater than 16 bit resolution and signal processing without loss of bits that allows information, previously lost by lower bit and sampling rate DACs, to come through. Maybe those low bit dropoffs and silences are actually the inability of the DACs to decode the information.

The six 24-bit/96 kHz DVDís I have are wonderful. While all are from original analog masters, they do sound extremely close to first generation  tapes I have owned in the past. I have two of them on CDís mastered a couple of years ago, and while CD mastering has improved since then, and one cannot tell how much care, equalization, etc. has been done to each, there is a marked improvement in aliveness with the 24/96ís. While the pppís allow the hall to stand out in all its beauty, itís the fffís that will leave you gasping. The chest thrill from the percussion and brass remind me of the feeling I used to get playing in the French Horn section directly in front of the trumpets and bass drum.  I have only experienced that previously with first generation analog masters.

One other great thing is that Winamp, the software CD player with the machine will also do volume control and 12 band graphic equalization, all in the digital domain with 24-bit resolution. Thus, even dropping the volume by 6-8 dB still gives 16-bit resolution. Try that with most other CD players or D/A converters. And the graphic equalizer is wonderful. I can hear absolutely no degradation of the sound like one gets with equalization in the analog domain. In addition, the Dio program will allow  balance  control in the digital domain, and also center fill.

I have also used the SPDIF output from the HTPC into my top of the line EAD Signature preamp-D/A converter with 20-bit DACs, and the Marquee definitely preserves more information. The ideal setup I have found is to let the Marquee do the front channel D/A conversion, passing the analog signal to my front speakers, and pass the SPDIF stream to the EAD for  decoding into the surround channels. You will be in the concert hall with this setup.

The unit will also do 24-bit/96 kHz A/D conversion in two channel directly onto the Hard disc drive, and will allow mixing of up to two analog and two digital  channels into two digital or analog outputs, with full control of volume, pans, etc. While I havenít tried this yet with my unit, I can certainly see the unit doing a wonderful job at recording and storage of audio info. May even replace my DAT machine. Remember, the DIO is a pro board, not some consumer kludge.

Video from DVDís is phenomenal, far superior  to the best consumer units. Why? Because at the minimum, it will do 480 line progressive scan at 24 FPS for Film, and 30 FPS for video, and in addition will act as a scaler with RGB output up to a maximum of 1080 line progressive and 120 FPS, the wonderful effect of which can only be seen on the best projectors, and puts the best Faroudja units to the test. In addition to the scaling , it also allows for control of brightness, contrast, hue and saturation or color, none of which are available with most stand alone line doublers, quadruplers, scalers, etc., with their RGB inputs. Thus, the unit can be perfectly matched to your projector or monitor to completely erase the line structure one can usually see, and with the high refresh rate lose motion artifacts that can be seen even in the best film projection.

In addition, they offer a CD-RAM recorder for burning CDís. And since whole CDís can be recorded and retrieved from the hard drive, and the inexpensive computer CD-RAM instead of the much more expensive audio discs may be used, one can save big bucks on recording copies (for personal use of course).

Quibbles. First, like the Cassini, there are almost no directions and no setup booklet, so unless you know your way around computers, forget it. On the other hand the Digital Connection and AV Sciences web sites are chock full of helpful info on setup and running of the units, and after all, this is a great Internet machine. Second, it is difficult to contact the company, as they take a while to answer their e-mail, and one can phone their engineers for directions only at certain times of the day. Third, unless one is very good at computers, it is very easy to do changes in the setup that will screw up the system. Finally, in order to run CDís, one must either leave a TV monitor on or have a programmable remote that will accept the commands from the remote keyboard.

 

                Thus letís sum up. The unit is a :

1. Pentium III 800 MHz. computer with all of those capabilities. COMPUTER

2. DVD progressive video playback machine. DVD PLAYER

3. Video Scaler with up to 1920x1080P output at a max 120 Hz. refresh rate. LINE QUADRUPLER PLUS.

4. 16/44  CD player at 24/96 bit accuracy CD PLAYER

5. 24/96 D/A CONVERTER

6. 24/96 two channel DIGITAL AUDIO RECORDER

7. 24/96 DIGITAL and AUDIO MIXER

8. 3D VIDEO GAME PLAYER with 3D GLASSES

9. MP-3 RECORDER AND PLAYER

10 CD-RAM RECORDER OPTIONAL.

11 DIGITAL GRAPHIC EQUALIZER AND VOLUME CONTROL

12 DIGITAL AUDIO AND VIDEO STORAGE

 

NEWS  FLASH.  There has been one major future upgrade just announced that will add again to the quality of this system. Two high definition television boards for the computer have been announced by Hauppage and Telemann that will allow the same computer to be used as a HIGH DEFINITION TELEVISION receiver for off the air broadcasts. And the Telemann will allow recording of the high definition programming to hard disc or tape. They will also act as a scaler for off the air, laser discs, VCRís, etc. While there are already stand alone units out there that will receive HDTV, they are much more expensive, and there is no way of recording the programs in HDTV. The closest is a set from Toshiba that cost $2000 plus, has now been discontinued, and only worked as a combo unit. This will be about a $400 add-on.

 

SECOND NEWS FLASH.   Cliff Watson suggested today that I purchase, through the Internet, a copy of Sonic Foundryís Siren CD player software, www.sonicfoundry.com. This replaces the Winamp and Windows Media player that comes with the computer, and costs $33. Unbeliever that I was, I first downloaded their free trial software, and listened last night. Result? No comparison. There does appear to be  more information coming through, and I donít know why. It also has a digital volume control and 10 band graphic equalizer, and in addition, a reverb program which I didnít try, and the ability to download music from the web, store CDís or MP 3ís on the computer, and burn CDís if one has the CD-RAM drive. Well worth the additional cost. And with DVD recording drives on the way, you may be the first in your neighborhood to be able to record HDTV DVDís.

There you have it. All of the above for $2400 to $2800. Easily matching the strengths of equipment which could total $25000. In addition, I have heard from the grapevine that a famous high end audio company is planning on selling a similar computer, with half of the capabilities of this unit, for $5000 plus. Thus, this unit is a tremendous bargain.  Gee, maybe I should take over Sam Telligís place as the Cheapskate.

Thatís it for this month. Next month my column may be a little later, as I am  going to attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Iíve also just purchased a digital camera, so hopefully Iíll also be adding some pretty pictures to my columns.

 

Good listening (and seeing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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