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Lexicon RT-20 Universal Disc Player

When you own a component, discovering it has been replaced by a newer version is always distressing. Suddenly, overnight, you've been saddled with obsolete gear. I've owned a Lexicon RT-10 universal DVD player since fall of 2004 when I bought my review sample. When Lexicon announced the RT-20, a month before the 2005 CEDIA show, I was bummed. The RT-10 had been on the market for slightly over a year when, WHAMMO, it was history. This is not typical Lexicon behavior. Usually they keep a product in their line for several years before they give it the old heave-ho.

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When I looked at the RT-20 spec sheet the only difference I could discern was the addition of HDMI with video upconversion. Is that really worth an extra $1500? I was skeptical. Naturally I wanted to review the RT-20 so I could show Lexicon the error of their wicked ways. Agenda? Moi? Non, pas de tout.

Cha-cha-changes, Yeah
According to Lexicon's Andrew Clark, the differences between the RT-10 and the RT-20 are much greater than a mere expanded feature set. The RT-20 is built with completely different internal parts. According to Lexicon, the only things the two players have in common are the nearly identical front panels and remote controls. Actually, Lexicon's designers wanted to change the front panel as well, but due to time constraints they decided to make do with what they had. The RT-10 was based on a Pioneer platform, while the RT-20 employs a Matsushita drive mechanism coupled to Lexicon's own proprietary circuit boards. On these boards Lexicon utilized parts from several well-known suppliers including DVD and DSD processors from Sony, a Mitsubishi MPEG decoder, and a Pioneer video scaler. The HDMI output relies on Silicon Image's latest 9190 chip. The user interface software on the RT-20 appears to be similar to the RT-10, but with so many new parts, it too had to be completely rewritten.

Spiders from Mars?
When Lexicon designed the software for the RT-20, they retained most of the setup menus of the RT-10. So installing the new player in my system took no time at all. Except for the configuration of the new HDMI setup menu, which can only be accessed by holding down the setup buttons on the remote for at least two full seconds, the RT-20's settings were clones of what I've been using with the RT-10. Of course, your own setup will vary depending on your display.

During my time with the RT-10 I'd come to really appreciate its adjustability and fine-tuning features. All these attributes were retained on the RT-20. Pushing the video adjust button gives you control over YNR (luminance noise reduction), CNR (chrominance noise reduction), MNR (mosquito noise reduction), BNR (black noise reduction), high sharpness, mid sharpness, detail, white level, black level, black setup, gamma, hue, chroma level, chroma delay, and memory save functions. You can fine-tune these video settings and then save them to three separate memory banks for different displays or source quality levels (DVD's from video sources might look better with different gamma and noise reduction settings than film-based DVDs, for example), and then call up the correct one with two button pushes.

While I've used some players, like the Meridian 598, which can initially read a disc more quickly than the RT-20, after the initial menu appears the RT-20 performs fast enough to keep even a reviewer with a short attention span content. For those who seek assistance from instruction books, the RT-20's user guide will come as a refreshing change from the obtuse tomes that are the dismal norm. Not only complete and easy to understand, the guide includes a full index to further increase the likelihood that your questions may actually find answers.

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The RT-20's remote control ranks well above average. Its shape makes it easy to tell which side should be up, and the controls are laid out in a sensible manner. Important controls, such as the video adjustments, can be accessed by a single button push rather than wading through layers of menus. The jog/shuttle system has a centrally located Enter button surrounded by directional buttons. The oversized play and stop buttons sit right below these navigational controls. I never had to push a button more than once to get the desired effect even when I bounced the signal off the screen or a wall. Although its buttons don't light up, the important ones do glow in the dark. That's better than nothing. Only the lack of illuminated buttons prevents me from giving the remote control an unqualified three thumbs up.

Station to Station
The point of including an HDMI video output with upconversion is so you can attach a DVD player directly to your display sans external video processors, and perhaps so you can see better image quality than you get from the upconversion processing that's included in your display. I'll admit that at first I was not enamored with the whole DVI and HDMI connector deal. Reports from early adopters revealed that players and displays often didn't interface smoothly and many had issues with aspect ratios. Conservative videophiles and reviewers were quite content with component outputs, which had been around for several years and were capable of producing some damn fine images through 9" CRTs. Call me a late-adopter, but it took the RT-20 to finally make me a hardcore HDMI evangelist.

The Optoma H-79 was the first projector I tried with DVI (but not HDMI) inputs. When I reviewed the Oppo DV971H DVD player I saw first hand how much better an upsampled 720P HDMI signal directly from the player can look compared to a 480i component signal from the same player upsampled to 720p component by an external processor.

Once again, when I compared the Lexicon's component output (internally limited to 480p but upsampled via a Faroudja Native rate scaler to 720p component) to an all-digital 720p HDMI video tether directly from the player, the HDMI connection delivered substantially higher performance levels than the component connection.

The Lexicon via HDMI 720p revealed that many DVDs that I had assumed were only fair-to middling transfers were much better than I realized. Not only do the Lexicon's HDMI connections contain far lower amounts of video noise than I've seen before, but also have more complex and accurate colors. Most of the highlight and edge halos and noise that were so bothersome through the Optoma H-79's component connections vanished with an HDMI connection! After seeing how much better every title can look through HDMI outputs, I can't see why anyone would ever use component connections if they had a choice.

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