Lexicon RT-10 Universal Disc Player

One of the many reasons for home theaters' vexing complexity stems from the 5-inch discs that contain the vast majority of program material. Few players are made to handle the new, mutually incompatible formats of DVD-Audio and SACD along with DVD-Video and conventional CD. You can't expect an unsophisticated user to know what discs will and won't work in a particular player. The solution is simple: Short of a PB&J sandwich, a home-theater disc player should be able to handle anything loaded into its tray. A universal player is a necessary and fundamental building block of an ergonomically friendly home theater.

Until very recently, no universal players have been available from high-end manufacturers. Audiophiles have had to choose between DVD-A and SACD machines. The predictable results were that most buyers avoided the issue entirely. Lexicon's new RT-10 represents the first high-end player I've experienced that delivers premium performance and features without forcing the buyer to choose between DVD-A and SACD. Hallelujah.

All Discs Great and Small
The RT-10 is based on a Pioneer-Marantz disc platform, but Lexicon's many modifications begin with the circuit boards and proceed outward. The RT-10 includes several proprietary printed circuit boards. One handles the AES/EBU digital audio output, another the BNC component-video output and the IR and DC trigger inputs.

On the video side, the RT-10 uses 12-bit/108MHz D/A converters for all video signals. Lexicon also developed a new analog video filter, inserted in the circuit after the video DACs. This filter uses discrete inductor and capacitor elements and is designed to minimize phase errors at high frequencies. A special high-speed video amplifier drives the BNC component-video outputs. Finally, Lexicon's Pure Cinema function performs all 3:2 pulldown correction and deinterlacing.

Instead of more conventional, less expensive audio op-amps, Lexicon has developed a custom, high-speed line-driver audio amp built solely of discrete components. Lexicon also opted for an analog linear power supply for the audio circuits instead of a digital switching supply. According to Lexicon, the analog supply's lower noise level and lack of digital artifacts substantially improves the RT-10's sonic capabilities.

The RT-10 not only plays virtually every 5-inch optical disc format (see specifications), but it gives users a multiplicity of output choices. For video, there's composite, S-video, and component outputs, which include RCA, BNC, and mini-D connectors. The audio outputs include AES/EBU and S/PDIF (TosLink and coaxial) digital connections, as well as two pairs of analog stereo front-channel outputs along with two rear, one center, and one subwoofer connection. With a 1/2-inch-thick front panel of machined aluminum and a one-piece wraparound case secured by flush-mounted machine screws, the RT-10's appearance reinforces the impression of a high-end product.

The RT-10 bears a strong family resemblance to Lexicon's MC-12 digital controller and LX-7 power amp. Not as minimalist as some players or as crowded with buttons as others, the RT-10's front-panel controls permit the user to perform the fundamental operations; more esoteric adjustments require the remote control.

The RT-10's remote ranks well above average. Its shape makes it easy to tell which end is up, and the controls are laid out in a sensible manner. The disc navigation system has a centrally located Enter button surrounded by directional buttons; the oversized Play and Stop buttons sit right below these navigational controls. During the review, 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. Only the lack of illuminated buttons prevents me from giving the remote control two thumbs up.

Configuring the RT-10 can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. The built-in, expertly designed Setup Navigator walks you through the basic setup procedure, making it simple for a first-time user to confidently configure the RT-10 for their home theater. More experienced users can bypass the Navigator for greater control over fine-tuning the setup, but the Navigator will get you 90% of the way toward an optimum configuration.

The last 10% of setup will vary depending on your display device. Pushing the Video Adjust button on the RT-10's remote gives you control over the functions of 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, and Chroma Delay. The RT-10's three memory banks let you fine-tune these settings for three different display devices or levels of source quality (video-sourced DVDs will look better with different gamma and noise-reduction settings than film-sourced DVDs). You can then call up the correct setting with two button- pushes.

Some players, such as the Meridian 598, can initially read a disc more quickly than the RT-10, but after a disc's initial menu appeared, the Lexicon performed fast enough to content even a reviewer with a short attention span. Although the RT-10 lacks the confirmation beeps provided by the Toshiba SD-9200 and EAD DVDMaster 8000 Pro, its response to remote-control commands was so swift and sure that beeps would have been superfluous. The RT-10's instruction manual is a refreshing change from the obtuse tomes that are the dismal norm. It's complete and easy to understand, and it even includes a full index to further increase the likelihood that your questions will actually find answers.

Video Performance
Potential buyers of Lexicon's RT-10 may already have a video processor or a display with its own built-in scaler or deinterlacer, but some may want to use the RT-10's progressive-scan output. Its performance should not disappoint. While the RT-10 didn't produce the finest 480p image I've seen, it came remarkably close to the best standalone processors. Compared to the Silicon Image iScan Ultra, the RT-10 seemed slightly less filmlike, with a smidgen more noise and very occasional motion artifacts. To its credit, the RT-10 has greater adjustability; images from such problem discs as Xena: Warrior Princess could be massaged into more viewable form.

Putting the RT-10's 480p output through the battery of test patterns on the Video Essentials and Avia test DVDs showed that it could cut the mustard. On the Avia disc's pixel-cropping test, only four pixels were cut off at the bottom of the image; the three other sides extended out to 0. Y/C delay looked perfect. The RT-10 did a fine job on the moving zone-plate tests, with no sparkles at either high or low bit rates. On tests of its video frequency range, the RT-10 was sharp to the upper limits of the test patterns, and acquitted itself admirably on Video Essentials' montage of images. I saw only the slightest amount of sparkling during the stadium pan, and overall motion artifacts were minimal.

When I pitted the RT-10 against the Meridian 598, I was hard-pressed to discern which produced the better picture. The Lexicon does allow more precise video adjustments, and so could be made to look better with poor transfers; but playing a good transfer, the Meridian 598 was certainly its peer. The biggest differences were between the players' color palettes: the Lexicon seemed to have a slightly warmer overall balance.