September 13, 2009: Part 2
All prices in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

It wasn't that long ago that the majority of video enthusiasts were shunning Blu-ray players and buying Sony PlayStation3 consoles and using them to play Blu-rays. Why? They were better than the players back then. Now, there might be more reasons to buy a standalone Blu-ray player. Sony introduced two new 400-disc Blu-ray players that also play DVD-Vs and CDs and act as a media server, complete with onscreen display. Above is the BDP-CX960 that sells for $899 and comes with a one-year warranty. But we were more impressed with . . .

 . . . the $1799 BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray player that has more or less the same features (1080P output, 24fps playback, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, etc.), but is much better built and comes with a five-year parts-and-labor warranty that we feel might come in handy given the complexity of the disc-changing mechanism inside. Better safe than sorry. The ES version also has custom-install features such as an RS-232 port and an IR input. One nice feature both units have is the Rental Slot button. When you press it, the player loads the disc into slot 1, which makes it much easier to find when it comes time to return it.

JBL's $16,500 SDEC-4500P processor and SDEC-4500DX expander has up to "12 channels of input and 20 channels of output with more than 256 bands of parametric EQ." The system digitizes all incoming signals to 24-bit/96kHz and does all signal processing in the digital domain before converting the signals to analog for the output stage. More important, these devices are the heart of a sophisticated room-correction system that a Harman International team has developed called Sound Field Management that is being marketed under the JBL Synthesis name (Harman International is the parent company of JBL). The system uses an eight-microphone in-room measurement technique in conjunction with a Harman International-developed software application that allows custom-installers to accurately correct for response anomalies in most rooms. What we liked about the system is that Harman recognizes that in order for room correction to work well, the speakers and subwoofers must first be properly designed and placed in the room. They also recommend four subwoofers, one in each corner, to get the smoothest bass response. After that setup work is done, the room is measured and DSP is applied. According to Kevin Voecks, the chief speaker designer at Harman International, the work in developing this system will be presented in a white paper to the AES this fall.

This elegant-looking $219 iPod dock from YBA Design is made from aluminum, has gold-plated RCA output jacks, an IR input for custom installation, and comes with a remote that can work with certain iPod models to control the playback functions. More important, it's part of an impressive new series of components from YBA Design that includes a receiver, CD player and DAC that we featured as a ShowStopper.

Theta Digital was one of the pioneers of high-end surround-sound preamplifier-processors. In fact, their Casablanca processor (top) debuted 13 years ago! In 2007, Amplifier Technologies, Inc. bought Theta Digital and has ensured that products are updated and new ones get created. The Casablanca III can now be outfitted with HDMI 1.3b with deep-color support. The upgraded Casablanca III supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround. The price of the Casablanca III ranges from $12,000 to $24,000, depending mostly on the DAC options (quantity and quality). Below the Casablanca III is the new $4995 Compi Blu Blu-ray player that will also play DVD-V, DVD-A, SACD, and CD. The transport and video section is said to be based on Oppo parts, but the audio section and power supply are Theta Digital designed.

Theta's Dreadnaught III power amplifier is also upgradeable and expandable. The price ranges from $8000 to $11,000 depending on the number of channels (from two to ten), as well as the power output per channel (100 or 250 watts) -- decisions. The latest update involves self-biasing output devices so the unit runs cooler.