Multichannel Products Proliferate

As any SGHT reader knows, home theater is one of the electronic industry's growth areas. Related niches—DVD, HDTV, and multichannel audio—are equally hot and getting hotter. Cutting-edge manufacturers are pushing into the market like never before, with fascinating innovations.

Theta Digital is one company pushing the envelope. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the company introduced four new products intended to elevate the home entertainment experience. Among these is the Casablanca III music and cinema controller, a versatile surround sound processor that works equally well as an audiophile preamp. The Casablanca III features full support for output of up to 8.4 channels of audio; compatibility with DVD-Audio, SACD, and Dolby ProLogic II; and performance enhanced by a new high-speed operating system designed to be upgradeable and configurable for any new developments. Inputs include 18 for audio and 10 for video.

The processor's open architecture allows installers to configure and upgrade the Casablanca to meet the needs of each owner. An innovative addition to the Casablanca III is Theta's new Dolby Digital/DTS/Circle Surround II Combination Card, which incorporates all current Dolby and DTS processes—including Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS/96/24 and the new DTS Extended Surround (DTS-ES), in both Matrix and Discrete 6.1. versions—as well as Circle Surround II Multichannel Audio Decoding. Circle Surround II can decode up to 6.1 channels of audio from two-channel sources for a Home Theater experience from many formats, including mono, stereo, Dolby Surround, down-mixed Dolby Digital, and DTS. The Casablanca III uses Circle Surround II-based code to derive Theta's Center Surround channel, delivering what Theta claims is "true center-channel dialog isolation and outstanding separation among the rear channels." Price on the Casablanca III varies from $8000 to $20,000 depending on configuration.

Theta has also introduced a six-channel audiophile quality preamp, the $2000 "Six Shooter," intended for use with the Casablanca III. Equipped to receive six-channel analog signals from DVD-A and SACD sources via the Casablanca, the Six Shooter has volume controls made from individual high-quality metal-film resisters, and both differential balanced and single-ended connections for use with any amplifier. Also new from Theta this year is the "Compli" universal disc player, claimed compatible with all 5" optical disc formats, including DVD, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD-ROM, DVD-A, CD, SACD, Video CD, CD-R, CD-RW, Photo CD, and more. The $4500 player combines a high-quality DVD/CD transport with state-of-the-art processing, according to Theta President Neil Sinclair.

Options for the Compli include a Serial Digital Interface (SDI) and Theta's Ultra Sync II 480p-output board using Faroudja Labs' Directional Correlational Deinterlacing (DCDi) technology. The SDI keeps the signal in the digital domain, rather than subject it to further conversions to analog and back again. This avoids major sources of degradation, which can be noticeable in high-definition video systems. "With Compli, the long wait for a high-quality universal format player has finally ended," Sinclair said. "Its unique blend of uncompromised performance, flexibility and advanced technology make it ideal for any high-end home theater or home entertainment application."

Corte Madera, CA–based Marsh Sound Design (MSD) has introduced a new "Home Cinema" series multichannel preamp/processor and matching five-channel power amplifier. Created by legendary designer Richard Marsh, the $4495 HT4000 7.1 processor has all standard power-user functions like Dolby Digital 5.1 and 7.1, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic I & II, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS-Neo:6 and Matrix 6 - as well as proprietary features such as Marsh's own 7.1 Music Surround Matrix Modes, which generate seven-channel output from two-channel source material.

MSD's new HT750 Home Cinema Series five-channel amplifier delivers 200Wpc (all channels driven). Unlike many multichannel power amps, the HT750 has a separate transformer and power supply for each channel, eliminating distortions and dynamic limitations caused by current-limiting with shared single power supplies. The affordable ($3495) HT750 accepts balanced (XLR) or unbalanced (RCA) inputs. "The HT750 is a reliable, powerful, cost-effective, clean sounding amplifier to anchor any 5.1 surround system," stated a pre-CES announcement.

MSD products are designed according to Marsh's philosopy: "Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." Market translation: "great-sounding, easy to use, high-value electronics." Later this year, MSD plans to issue a seven-channel power amplifier that's soon to join the five-channel HT750, and a six-channel analog preamp for use with DVD-A or SACD players and analog-only outputs. Besides the usual Marsh circuit refinements, it will offer source selection and unity-gain for the six channel outputs.