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.