Product Review - Technics DVD-A10 DVD Player with DVD-Audio Capability - August, 2000
John E. Johnson, Jr.
Technics DVD-A10 DVD Player
Plays DVD-V (DVD-Video) and DVD-A (DVD-Audio)
DACs: 10 Bit Video; 192 kHz - 24 Bit Audio
MFR: 2 Hz - 88 kHz (DVD-A), 2 Hz - 44 kHz (DVD-V), 2 Hz - 20 kHz (CD)
Outputs: S-Video, RCA Coaxial Composite Video, Coaxial RCA Component Video (Y, PB, PR), Coaxial RCA Digital Audio, Optical Toslink Audio, Coaxial RCA Two-Channel Analog Audio, Coaxial RCA 5.1 Analog Audio
Size: 5" H x 17" W x 10 3/4" D
Weight: 19 Pounds
MSRP: $1,199 USA ($999 Street)
Well, DVD-Audio (DVD-A) is finally here . . . at least the players are. (We now have to differentiate between DVD-Video or DVD-V, which represents the DVD movies we have been watching for several years, and DVD-Audio or DVD-A, which represents DVDs with just music on them.) Several major companies have released their first models into what promises to be a new foray. Full range surround sound music, in the form of 5.1 audio, as well as 96/24 two-channel audio, have been around for more than a year. DTS has quite a catalog of 5.1 audio CDs already, and they work on any CD player or DVD player, as long as you have a DTS decoder in your receiver (or outboard decoder). DTS sound is 48 kHz - 20 bit. There are also some DVDs out there with two-channel 96 kHz - 24 bit music, marketed by Chesky Records. So, is DVD-A really new? Yes, it is.
Although DTS music on DVDs and 96/24 two-channel stereo on DVDs are both a form of DVD-Audio, the new "real" DVD-A consists of 96/24 signals in all 5.1 channels, with no compression (i.e., they are lossless rather than lossy). DTS and DD are lossy formats, in that the compression techniques cause some of the music info to be lost. This was necessary when they were used on laserdiscs and in the theater, where disc space was limited.
Now, with DVD having about 18 GB of space using both layers and both sides, space is not so much of an issue. Or is it? Well, to have 5.1 sound, there is only enough room, from an economical standpoint, to have 96/24. For two-channel stereo DVD-A, this is bumped up to 192/24. To do this, obviously the A10 has 192/24 DACs. Even some high-performance CD players out there still only have 96/24 DACs, so we are in for some interesting times ahead.
The Technics DVD-A10 is a very solid unit in construction, and has a sleek front panel. On the left is the power on/off push button, and underneath that is a headphone jack with volume control. The reason for the headphone jack prominence will be explained below.
To the right of the on/off button is the panel display, which consists of small LEDs that indicate activation of V.S.S. (Virtual Surround Sound), Re-Master (the instruction manual is not clear about this, but I think it activates up-sampling), Audio Only (turns off the video when playing DVDs with music only to minimize any noise that the video circuit might produce), and the Sound Track Channel Indicators (shows how many tracks of audio there are on the disc). To the right of the LED panel is the disc tray above and the main LCD panel below (indicates the usual info about track number, time, etc.). To the far right is the push button panel for open/close tray, selecting groups of tracks on a DVD (a DVD theoretically could hold several music albums), stop, pause, and play. Each panel set has a soft blue light above that reflects down onto the panel, creating one of the most attractive looks I have seen in players so far.
The rear panel looks pretty much like I have seen on other DVD players (no reason to put expense into making it look glamorous). Jacks for just about anything you would want are there, including component video out. However, the unit will not output progressive scan, and this is the only disappointment I found in the player. Progressive scan is now widely available on modest priced players, and with the release of affordable HDTVs and Digital TVs ($2,500), progressive scan will be more and more important. The 5.1 analog audio outputs carry both DD and DTS now, instead of having just the DD that previous DVD players had. So, if you have a receiver with 5.1 inputs but only DD decoding or even no decoding, you can get both DD and DTS by using the 5.1 outputs from the A10. Fortunately, every new receiver these days has both DD and DTS decoding built-in, so having it in the player is no longer important. However, the 5.1 analog outputs are necessary for DVD-A, since this format is not output as a bitstream, due to copyright issues. So, any way you look at it, you will need to connect the A10 to your receiver using a set of six RCA coaxial analog cables to make full use of the player. You should also use a digital cable, assuming your receiver has DD and DTS decoding, so that you can utilize the DSP modes in your receiver.
The remote control is easy to use, in that most of the controls are covered by a lid. Only the ones you are likely to use most often are exposed all the time, such as power, open/close tray, stop, pause, and play. Remotes continue to improve, but the problem is that more functions appear with new models and they have to decide where to put them. This causes an occasional remote to be terrible. Not so with the Technics. All of the functions are available On Screen as well. The player LCD panel indicates every function, including Group Number, Track Number, Chapter Number, Time, Audio Signal Type (LPCM, PCM/PPCM, Sampling Rate, Bits per Channel, and Language Code), Page Number (for still pictures), Subtitles, Angle, Cinema Voice Mode, Picture Modes (sharp or soft), V.S.S., and Master Volume (analog only).
Video quality on the A-10 is about the same as previous DVD players. It is excellent, but again, it sure would be nice to have progressive scan as part of the component video capability. This could hurt sales of the DVD-A10. Lots of people I know are planning to get an HDTV this Fall.
Although the DVD-A music available right now is mostly elevator music, I was immediately struck with the amazing quality. It sounds smoother than conventional 44/16 CDs, and you get nearly three times as many channels (the 0.1 is not full range). Even with just a mass market receiver and modest speakers, the sound quality approaches high-performance CD equipment. The attacks on steel string guitar are crisp and clean. Voices are smooth. I could not hear any harshness. Piano is very lifelike, perhaps because there is so much more recording signal there.
Moving between audio tracks using the A-10 felt like a very expensive CD player. It seemed to take a bit longer moving between DVD-A tracks than moving between CD tracks, but I can put up with that. The front panel indicates when you have a multi-channel disc playing, compared to two-channel stereo. The reason for this is that many receivers will take two-channel stereo and automatically decode it with Pro Logic to give surround sound. The indicator thus lets you know you have native 5.1 or two-channel coming from the disc.
The V.S.S. (Virtual Surround Sound) is a feature that will become more and more popular I think. It is DSP that takes the 5.1 sound and attempts to create the surround sound sensation from just two speakers or even with headphones. Although I can't imagine anyone having a player like this and only two speakers in their system, I can see how it might be used with headphones, say late at night when you want to watch Stallone. In any case, it is only an interesting approximation, and will never really compete with a set of 5.1 speakers. Maybe headphones with two drivers in each ear would be useful, one driver in the front of the headphone facing back towards the ear, and the other driver in the rear of the headphone facing forward, but this would not need V.S.S. DSP.
Two-Channel 96/24 continues to sound terrific on DVDs, but this is not something new to players such as the DVD-A10. What is new though is the presence of 192/24 DACs for decoding 192/24 two-channel DVD-As. It is the 192/24 PCM on the A-10 and other such players that will compete with Sony's SACD (Super Audio CD) since SACD also has a very high bit rate. Although 192/24 discs will have slightly clearer sound than 96/24 discs (Marantz showed some years ago that you can detect improvements up to 500 kHz sampling), 5.1 discs will be limited to 96/24 (for now) because of space limitations on DVD (I guess they don't want to make music discs that you have to turn over and play the other side to listen to the album). However, I suspect improvements in the audio begin to flatten out so that the difference between 44/16 and 96/24 is greater than between 96/24 and 192/24.
The real problem at this point is the software (availability of the discs). SACD is suffering the same difficulty. Sony has the better situation, because they have Sony Music as an arm and could have released lots and lots of SACDs with their player. Where are they? I suspect politics is at work here, because they could easily just take some master tapes from excellent previous recordings and remix them for 5.1 (studio tapes have many, many audio tracks). In any case, even though the discs are not taking up any space in the music stores right now, they should be relatively soon, because there is just too much money at stake not to. And besides, the A-10 and other DVD-A players will still play all the other discs, including the existing library of thousands of DVD movies.
The A-10, like most other players, down-converts 96/24 and 192/24, before sending it out as a bitstream, due to copyright issues. If you want to get the most out of the high bitrate, you have to use the analog output jacks on the player. This means having six coaxial cables going from the player to the 5.1 analog input jacks on your receiver. I don't see this changing in the near future, so I hope the players adopt something like the DB-25 connector like we have on our computers. This would mean only one cable, although the connector itself is large. The problem also means lots of choices in the DVD-A player, deciding on what you want and don't want down-converted. I hope the next generation of players make all of this easier, but I am not holding my breath.
The DVD-A10 is an excellent DVD player as well as first shot at DVD-A. I am very enthusiastic about the future of 5.1 music. The sound quality is superb, easily surpassing 44/16 CDs. I just hope the software starts coming soon. For one, I would be willing to pay a premium for 5.1 discs made from some of my favorite old CDs, and even from some really old stereo LPs that have master performances. Come on guys. Get with it!
- John E. Johnson, Jr.
© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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