Hello, fellow Audiolics, welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous,† our support group for the insatiably TWEAKED.† This month, I am going to do an unpardonable sin for an audiolic, and become a videolic. Thatís right, weíre going to talk about a video product, and, whatís worse, a computer product to boot ( thatís not the computer type boot, just the regular old fashioned boot.)† This is actually not far off topic, because the product we are going to evaluate may be the best CD transport for under $10,000, and in addition is a Pentium computer. The product is the RKR CASSINI DVD PLAYER, †produced by† RKR VIDEO, of Huntington Beach, Ca., 714-594-0548. www.rkrvideo.com, owned by the DIGITAL CONNECTION CO. of the same address, at www.digitalconnection.com.
The company began a couple of years ago selling a combo of a DVD drive with the 3D Fusion MPACT2 decoding card for computers. This card takes the DVD signal, which is actually two frames of 240 lines each per image, plus the audio signals, and converts it to a 480 line progressive scan image. In addition, the card has the ability to then scale this from a 480P 60 Hz. refresh rate, up to a maximum of 1600x1200, 85 Hz. with 18 bits color resolution, or 1280x1024, 85Hz., 24 bits color. It can also output a true 720x480/576 pixel DVD native resolution image, but with only 16 bits of color. This system can be placed in any Pentium computer and costs only $309. In addition, it can output AC-3, DTS and PCM audio digitally, directly from the board without the signal passing through the noisy computer to an outside D/A converter,† but will not pass an† HDCD signal. It also will decode at 18 bits, 48kHz. to analog for output from the computer to a stereo system, and also has a built in SRS Trusound decoder for the analog output. While still available, there is the problem that unless one is a computer geek, it is somewhat difficult to get the system up and running without bugs.
They have overcome this problem by now selling† complete computers with built-in DVD drive and board, ready to go as a DVD player, at very reasonable rates. I got mine from Joel Cohen, at http://www.hi-rez.com. They have four levels of units, the two low priced CASSINIís, and two more expensive units, the TITAN and CALLISTO. Each is an INTEL based computer with built in hard drive, floppy drive, 56K modem., remote key board, with typical ports, and vary by price based on the differences in the above. The lower priced CASSINI uses a Celeron 400 MHz. chip with a 10 gig hard drive, while the more expensive CASSINI, the one I am reviewing, comes with a Pentium II 500 MHz. chip and 15 gig drive. The TITAN and CALLISTO have fancier cabinets, with the TITAN rack mountable,† and more memory and higher speed Pentium II chips, and are better able to work with video games and MP-3 and PCM A/D conversion. As I didnít need these functions, I stuck with the higher priced CASSINI, which by the way only costs $1495, with the less expensive unit at $995, probably what you would pay for the regular computer. They all come with Windows 98, and the software for playback of DVDís and CDís. Audio output is analog stereo by RCAís, Digital by an RCA, and Video as RCA composite, S-video RCA, or 15 pin RGBVH. In order to get the full video effect, one has to use the 15 pin output and shut off by software the composite and S-video outputs, and for digital output, one has to turn on the digital output, a fact that was not mentioned in the booklet that was sent with the machine, but was gleaned from their web site.
Letís get over with the quibbles I have about the unit, before discussing the tremendous advantages it has over any other DVD player I have seen or used. 1. The instruction booklet is the biggest thing about this machine that needs improving. If one is going to use the unit without taking advantage of† its great image improving powers, then read only the manual provided, as the unit as shipped is set for the lowest common denominator RGB output set, with very little info on how to maximize it for your system. On the other hand, if you go to the RKR or Digital Connection site, or e-mail to Ms. Kei Clark , at RKR, you can get the info on how to maximize the video for your system, especially by reading the section called CLIFF NOTES. 2. There are no directions on how to use the keyboard as remote control for the CD or DVD functions without the monitor being on, so it would be very difficult to play CDís in the dark. 3. One can use the unit for Internet functions, but in order to load and run at least CompuServe, I ran into a problem with incompatibility until I removed some commands from the control panel, got it running nicely for the Internet, then found that the unit wouldnít recognize the DVD commands until I reloaded† Windows 98, and then found I couldnít output digital from CDís until I changed further software commands, which by the way, were forgotten in the instruction book, and were only mentioned briefly at the RKR web site. I know, that was a super long sentence, but the time taken to figure out and do the above was more. Typical for Windows based computers, but not for the standard DVD player. On the other hand, if you just use the unit for DVDís, which one reviewer in THE PERFECT VISION magazine has suggested, you wonít have these problems. So for those computer illiterate audiophiles out there, wait for one of the newer progressive scan DVD players. On the other hand, the only other unit that will come close to this oneís abilities, will be the Princeton Graphics, which will cost about $3000 more.
Now for the pluses. First, it puts out a true 480P RGBHV signal without the use of a line doubler. And, instead of just acting as a line doubler like other units, one can also change the refresh rate from the standard 30 per second of television or 24 frames per second of film,† to anywhere from 60 to 120 Hz. Thus with movies, which are usually shot at 24 frames per second, if one sets the rate at 72, a triple of 24, one loses the so-called juddering of the image, which makes the image appear smoother. At the same time, with so high a refresh rate, motion appears much cleaner. When panning or movement occurs, there is much less jerking and smearing of the image. I was using a Faroudja 250 line doubler with a Pioneer Elite DV-09 DVD player, both top of the line units, and can only say that the improvement over the combo is amazing. And the combo costs $9000 compared to the $998 for the Cassini. If one watches only DVDís and not broadcast TV or laser discs, and doesnít need a line doubler otherwise, then the Cassini could certainly replace both, and even if a line doubler is needed, the Cassini is still cheaper than the top of the line Sony or Pioneer DVD players, and also cheaper than any of the so-called line doubling DVD players that are planned for the near future. If one then sets the refresh rate at 60 Hz., then sources originally from video tape look better. If one can choose a refresh rate of 120 Hz, with the chosen monitor profile, then both film and video derived images look great. I have found that for anamorphic 16x9 DVDís, the 480P (720x480) setting is best, while for standard 4x3 or nonanamorphic DVDís, the 1024x760 is best with my projector (Electrohome 4500.) I will be getting an Electrohome 8500 in the near future, with 8Ē lenses with the ability to pass quadrupled images, and will let you know if other settings are better.
Now for the audio part. The unit is a phenomenal CD transport. I have compared it to the Pioneer Elite DV-09 as transport, and the Audio Alchemy transport, with I2S output to their Pro-32 anti-jitter unit, with all going into a 20 bit EAD Signature D/A converter,† and found the Cassini to present a more coherent soundstage, with much less blurring of images. With CDís, I can now see into the stage, and hear space that Iíve never heard before. In addition, the unit will also play those 24/96 DVDís put out by Classics, Chesky, etc., but I am not sure if the unit will actually output the 24/96 signal as† I only have a 20 bit decoder. The only drawback, is that the unit, for some reason, will not transmit the HDCD code, so the improvement wrought by HDCD is lost. On the other hand, I heard more from the HDCD discs played by the CASSINI than I got with the other two transports into a very good HDCD decoder.
So there you have it. A $1495(or $995) unit that will act as a great CD transport, a superb DVD player, up to a line quadrupler and refresh rate quintupler for DVD, act as a very good Windows based computer, with Internet connectivity, and for a little additional price with the addition of a CD burner, could even do CD and MP-3 production. How can you go wrong??? This tome is even being written on the unit, as I am waiting for a download from the Internet, and listening to a CD over headphones plugged into the back of the unit. For further info, go to the RKR and Digital Connection† sights.
Thatís it for this month. Good listening (and seeing).