Rotel Player Reincarnates Old DVD's
By Jim Bray
With Blu-ray looking as if it's going to win the high definition disc format war, the road toward the future of disc-based playback appears to be clearing. It's about time.
But even with the advent of a single high def format, it'll take years for the software titles to catch up to what's already available on DVD, and many people have spent the past few years building substantial DVD libraries they probably don't want to throw way.
This means the "old fashioned" DVD player may not be obsolete yet.
Or maybe it is. If you have a high definition TV, a conventional DVD player is incapable of outputting video that'll exploit your HDTV to its best capabilities. This is why the marketplace is becoming crowded with DVD players that can "up convert" a conventional DVD's picture to one that approaches high definition. Such players are priced all over the map, from entry level to high end, with performance that often (though not necessarily) matches the price.
Rotel's newest entry into this fray is the RDV-1093, a DVD Audio/Video player that, at $1500, is comparatively expensive, but which offers truly stunning video and audio quality and does an excellent job of breathing new life into those "old" DVD's.
$1500 is a lot of coin for a DVD player that doesn't even pretend to play either high definition disc format, and that will undoubtedly give pause to many potential customers. But if you have the disposable income and the "near HD" quality is important to you, you may find this an attractive unit.
I'd been using the RDV-1093's predecessor and was extremely happy with its audio and video performance. But it was frustrating as a player; occasionally, it would refuse to play a disc and it would insert an instant of silence between cuts on DVD-Audio discs, which was exasperating on albums that contained otherwise continuous cuts.
Does the RDV-1093 address these concerns? Yes and no.
But I can't fault the audio and video quality, which continue Rotel's tradition of excellence.
Pictures Worth 1000 words…
When using the player's HDMI connection and built in video scaler, the RDV-1093 will output at resolutions up to 1080p. Some discs will up convert to 1080i without HDMI but, thanks to copy protection, they're the exception rather than the rule. If you want the best performance, you'll need the HDMI. Other resolutions supported include 720p, 480p and 480i.
I hooked the Rotel into our Epson 1080p front projector and ran it side by side with an Oppo DVD player and a Sony PS3 Blu-ray player, both of which also up convert to 1080p. All three did a good job but, as output onto our 106 inch screen, the Rotel offered appreciably richer color and a cleaner image overall.
We used the Rotel as the platform for a Lord of the Rings marathon, running all three of Peter Jackson's epics on subsequent Sundays. These films aren't available on high definition disc yet, but thanks to the great job the RDV-1093 did of raising the DVD's to near HD we were blown away nonetheless. It made me pine for the eventual Blu-ray release, but in the meantime I'm very happy living with the "Rotelization" of the existing DVD's.
And that's the whole point behind such players.
Naturally, I also did some A/B comparisons between DVD's with Blu-rays and, all things being equal, the Blu-ray is better than the up converted DVD. This made me glad to have adopted Blu-ray, but it also made me grateful that the Rotel's excellent "fudging ability" will get me over the hump of minimal Blu-ray software for the foreseeable future.
The Superbit DVD of The Fifth Element provided an excellent side-by-side comparison. I ran it up converted by the Rotel to 1080p and in the true 1080p of the remastered Blu-ray version. I've used that particular title as a reference disc for years, and the Rotel did a beautiful job with its up conversion, providing excellent detail and beautiful color. If I hadn't run the Blu-ray version next to it I'd have been very happy with the Rotel's version.
Alas, I did run the Blu-ray next to it. Anybody want to buy a used Superbit DVD?
The RDV-1093 also comes with variable/slow search, zoom, strobe play and resume functions, and a "lip sync" feature helps you ensure the audio output matches the video at all times.
Sound and Fury….
The RDV-1093's audio performance is just as good. Sound is beautifully clean and clear, detailed and smooth. When listening to music the soundstage is wide and deep, even with stereo sources, and the player brings out nuances in your music that you may not have heard. I listened to a selection of DVD-A discs as well as conventional CD's and was very happy with the 1093's performance with all my music sources but one: SACD, which is still not handled by the RDV-1093.
If your CD player is getting long in the tooth, or your current DVD player isn't up to snuff when playing music, you can take heart.
Unfortunately, the player still puts that pause between DVD-A tracks. This won't affect most discs, but albums that have continuous cuts suffer from an annoying interruption in the flow of the music.
The player works beautifully with DVD soundtracks, filling the room with glorious sound and fury. It's sound befitting the picture – and the price.
Disc formats handled include DVD-Video for movies, DVD-Audio, DVD-R/RW, SVCD and JPEG photo discs. Audio discs supported include CD's and CD-R/RW discs, including those encoded with MP3 and WMA files.
The RDV-1093 should have enough outputs to satisfy nearly anyone. For video, you get HDMI and component, as well as S-Video and composite. Audio outputs include the HDMI (which is how I listened to DVD-A discs most of the time), a coaxial and an optical digital output, and two sets of analog outputs (one for stereo and one for 5.1 channel).
As much as I like the RDV-1093, it isn't perfect. While it has never refused to play a disc, a DVD will begin to play occasionally without any sound, or the audio will disappear if I skip ahead to a different chapter. Skipping backwards again usually fixes this, but sometimes I've had to eject the disc and start over. Fortunately, this is rare.
There's also a minor issue in the time display, whose "Chapter time remaining" readout appears to be out of whack – and when I play DVD's that are in the 4x3 aspect ratio, the player stretches them to fill the 16x9 screen whether I want it to or not. I'd like the choice here, please.
I'd also like the choice of playing SACD discs. It's admittedly a niche market – and Rotel has never supported it – but it would sure be nice if I didn't have to use a separate player when I want to hear Dark Side of the Moon in all its 5.1 channel glory.
Those are relatively small flies in an otherwise excellent ointment, though you'd think for $1500 they'd have caught the flies. Still, it's the audio and video quality that are the most important to me, and on those counts this player really delivers.
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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