Arcam DV27 DVD player
Killing time on an airplane is never an easy thing to do. Thankfully, over the past couple of years, I've developed an entertaining way to do just that on my return trips from our industry trade shows: reliving all of the bizarre things people have told me over the previous days. The source of these statements is broad-based: manufacturers, PR people, dealers, and even my fellow journalists (yours truly, of course, has never said anything dumb at a show—as far as you know). Maybe it's the long hours and lack of sleep or the rivers of free booze that wind their way through these events. At this year's CEDIA Expo, a representative from a large manufacturer (which will go unnamed) resolutely declared that, outside of the lowest price ranges, nobody is going to buy a DVD player that doesn't process DVD-Audio or SACD. Maybe he was trying to appeal to my well-documented affinity for these high-resolution formats, or maybe he hadn't quite sobered up yet. I imagine that my dumbfounded look made it clear that even a biased audio fellow like myself certainly couldn't agree at this stage in the game—if ever.
Naturally, the vast majority of manufacturers don't agree, either—especially in the high-end ranks, where specialization has always been a virtue. The DV27 ($2,500) makes it clear that Arcam still thinks there's a place for a DVD-Video-only player, even a relatively pricey one. I share their belief that there are still a lot of people who believe in the old high-end rule of simplicity and focus. This isn't to say that there aren't many excellent DVD-/high-resolution-audio players available today—we've got a couple in this issue. But there are certainly manufacturers who are still perfectly happy to delegate these responsibilities to two or more boxes, if for no other reason than to guarantee that each component is—and will remain—entirely committed to its primary mission.
The DV27's mission begins with its highly regarded Silicon Image video processor and continues with progressive scanning from its dedicated component video outputs or RGB output from either the SCART or component/RGB connections. S-video and composite video are along, as well. Initially forgoing SACD and DVD-Audio on this unit doesn't mean that Arcam elected to give audio short shrift. Instead, the DV27 sports HDCD decoding, 24-bit/192-kilohertz digital-to-analog converters (should you opt for either of its analog outputs), and completely separate circuit boards for the audio and video sections to minimize interference. The DV27's modular approach allows for future DVD-Audio upgrades. An optical and coaxial digital output are also supplied. Additional high-end touches include a chassis constructed of a laminated antivibration material called Acousteel, a supplemental toroidal transformer that supplies the audio-output circuitry, a primary e-core transformer for transport function and digital circuitry, and the ability to upgrade other elements of the DV27 (including the MPEG decoder) through card replacement. In addition to DVDs, CDs, and HDCDs, the DV27 will play CD-Rs, CD-RWs, videoCDs, and many MP3 discs.
You can set up the DV27 through the onscreen menu system, which isn't the best I've seen but gets the job done. It offers all of the basic DVD-player settings, as well as a couple of tricks like selectable black level (O or 7.5 IRE), a password-protected ratings setting, and a number of special playback modes like title or chapter sequencing and bookmarking. The DV27 is also one of the few players that optimizes lip-synching for both interlaced and progressive playback, which is especially key for the progressive images, since they take a little longer to paint.
A quick run through Video Essentials demonstrated that the DV27's 3:2-pulldown recognition is right on par with the best of the progressive-scan DVD players. It made a relatively quick recovery on the Snell & Wilcox chart's bouncing-ball centerpiece and would prove to be even more effective with real-world material. The DV27's resolution is razor-sharp, measuring at what is essentially the limit of the current DVD format. I did discover that the DV27 doesn't pass the blacker-than-black PLUGE pattern that helps considerably when you dial-in your monitor, but this has little effect otherwise and shouldn't be a real concern. The adjustable black-level setting appears to have little impact on the actual image, but this is a minor tweak, and its ineffectiveness should probably receive little consideration.
Test patterns aside, it was time to see what the DV27 could really do. To this end, I linked it up with our reference Princeton AF3.2HD monitor and my personal favorite in direct-view sets, the Sony KV-36XBR400. When I used the progressive component outputs (which is how I assume most people will use this player), the DV27 was rock-solid on both sets with a wide range of test material. I started with the unfortunately authored DTS test disc, which sounds good (after all, it's primarily an audio test disc) but never received the proper flags for 3:2 recognition. This presents a real problem for players that only read flags, as many early progressive-DVD models did. However, for an adaptive system like the DV27, this omission is of little concern. It was easy to see the DV27 going to work: When the clip starts, the player is obviously lost in terms of where the pattern currently is, evidenced most plainly by tearing and other motion anomalies around the edges. The DV27 picked up the pattern right away and, from then on, was virtually free of these distracting disruptions. Motion, even quick spurts, was cool and composed, which is something I've come to expect from progressive players but don't always receive. Whether it was displaying the heavy computer graphics of Antz or the swirling spooks of The Haunting, the DV27 was difficult to trip up. Whenever it did falter, recovery was quick and effective, making the entire process almost undetectable.