Rotel says the RSP-1069 is their most advanced home theater (and multi-zone audio) unit so far. It includes Texas Instruments' Aureus digital signal processor (for decoding the various "lossy" Dolby Digital and dts formats) and Burr Brown 24 bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converters (for DVD-Audio playback), as well as Faroudja DCDi video processing that'll scale up to 1080p resolution for "near HD" playback of video sources such as conventional (now "old tech") DVD's.
The 1069 accepts up to four HDMI inputs, which came in handy when I needed to switch between the Rotel RDV-1093 up converting DVD A/V player I use as a reference unit, a Sony PS3 Blu-ray player I also use for reference, an HD PVR and another Blu-ray player I was reviewing at the time.
If you haven't yet embraced HDMI you'll have to be content with a maximum resolution of 1080i, but the 1069 also includes three HD/1080i-capable component inputs (and two outputs), as well as the usual plethora of composite and S-Video connections for VCR's and other standard definition sources. There are also enough digital and analog audio I/O's to satisfy just about any needs.
With its three additional output zones and discrete infrared and RS-232 command sets you can also use the 1069 as the heart of a whole house audio system.
Speaking of independently assignable, the RSP-1069's inputs are wonderfully flexible, allowing you to allocate any audio input to any video input.
But this is nothing new for Rotel. What's new is the HDMI and up scaling.
I didn't spend a lot of time messing with the onboard video scaler, just enough to see that it worked – and it did. I read some online complaints from customers who said they'd had problems with the scaling, but I didn't experience them. This may have been because my unit includes a newer "bypass" feature that lets you run the pure HDMI video signal right through the 1069 and out to your monitor unfettered by any processing.
That was my preferred method of displaying video signals because it allowed me to test their "garbage in, garbage out" factor without the Rotel's influence, since I review a variety of video components that either up convert the signals themselves or which output in true 1080p (Blu-ray springs to mind).
The main, two line display on the 1069's front panel is big enough for my middle aged eyes to read from across the room – something I missed on the gorgeous, up market RSP-1098 preamp/processor, which has a lovely big LCD screen on its front panels, but which uses a tiny font size. The top line shows the source input you've selected on the left and, on the right, the volume setting. The bottom line displays the surround mode and/or settings such as Zone. Small icons along the bottom of the display show the digital input you're using and the channels that are being used.
There's also a selection of buttons and knobs, including power (what a surprise!), source and speaker selections, surround mode, tone/contour controls and volume. The remote's more convenient, though.
There's a series of easy to use on screen menus as well that let you control/assign inputs and speaker (including subwoofer) setups, contour, HDMI/scaler functions and zones. They also give you access to the test tones that let you balance the system.
Audio features include an analog bypass mode that lets you pass pure signals right through the unit without any digital processing (much like the video scaler bypass feature, but for sound), automatic detection of DVD-A multi channel audio, a subwoofer pass through or bass redirect and a set of 7.1 channel analog inputs that'll let you listen to the pure DVD-Audio, SACD or "HD" audio signals as decoded at their source. The RSP-1069 will also decode HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) CD's automatically.
Surround modes include Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1, EX, Pro Logic IIx (which can be optimized for either music, cinema or games), dts 5.1 channel, Matrix 6.1 channel, dts-ES Discrete 6.1 channel, dts 96/24, and dts-ES 96/24 digital recordings. The dts Neo:6 Surround mode will fudge surround channels from two channel stereo or matrix surround recordings and, like Dolby Pro-Logic IIx, can be optimized for music or cinema sources.
Rotel says its XS (eXtra Surround) feature ensures proper decoding of multi channel digital signals on 6.1 and 7.1 channel systems, even if the source disc isn't flagged as such and, as if that weren't enough, the RSP-1069 also offers "surround" modes for two and three channel systems. And finally, you also get four DSP Music modes to enhance regular audio recordings.
I can't be bothered with such stuff, other than to see if it works (and everything I tried did), preferring the "pure" signal, but if you're into such tweaks the Rotel has them.
My audio/video tests paired the RSP-1069 up with Rotel's RB-1092 and RB-1091 Class D amplifiers, which gave me a whopping 500 watts into five channels. Audio was fed to a 5.1 setup of Definitive Technology speakers augmented with an M&K subwoofer. Video was fed either to my reference Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 1080p LCD front projector or a Panasonic unit I was testing at the time. HD signals came from an HD PVR outputting in 1080i, and I passed 1080p signals through the RSP-1069 from a Sony PS3 and Panasonic's new DMP BD30 Blu-ray player.
Everything worked fine except for the Panasonic projector, which refused to interact with the Rotel. It was really annoying: when I plugged the HDMI cable between them, I'd either lose the sound or the picture would turn all green. Yet the Epson worked like a hot darn!
Changing HDMI cables didn't help, either, regardless of the length or price of the cable. I don't know whether the incompatibility was a Rotel, Panasonic or HDMI issue though, since everything worked fine when the Panasonic was out of the loop, I suspect the Panasonic was expressing its angst at not being hooked into Panasonic audio equipment.
Well too bad for it.
There are plenty of HDMI horror stories zipping around cyberspace. It's a shame the system seems problematic, because when it works it's terrific. I blame Hollywood and its demands for sophisticated copy protection that strips consumers of their rights, but that's just me.
The new "HD" audio formats sounded great when piped to the Rotel via HDMI or analog. When I compared them with the "old style" Dolby Digital and dts formats, the sound improved noticeably, as if I'd upgraded the system (which, I suppose, I had). It was more dynamic, with more presence and sounded more "live" overall. Music discs, from CD's to DVD-A and SACD all sounded very nice as played through the RSP-1069 as well, with excellent separation and tonal quality. And well-recorded concert DVD's such as the Cream reunion positively thundered.
In short (now that I'm about 1500 words in!), this is a very nice preamp/processor and I love using it. I'm glad Rotel has built in HDMI capability so the company's many fans can enjoy the new HD formats.
Some fans on a forum at which I lurk have wondered why the company only offers HDMI 1.1, under the impression that you need HDMI 1.3 (the current "spec") to be state-of-the-art, but from my research I've discovered this isn't true.
HDMI is "an evolving standard", as they say, but HDMI 1.1 gives everything you need from today's audio formats with the exception of SACD, which the RSP-1069 will handle just fine via its multi-channel analog inputs.
Such HDMI 1.3 tweaks as "Deep Color" are "vaporware," enhancements that may or may not appear down the road and which will probably require new equipment along the entire production chain, from the original recording to the final playback – including a new generation of Blu-ray players, since the Blu-ray standard doesn't do Deep Color.
Therefore, the RSP-1069 should do the job well for the foreseeable future.
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.