HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



December
2006

Reviewed by
Anthony Di Marco

 


Arcam
DiVA DV137
Universal Audio/Video Player

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: DiVA DV137

Price: $1999 USD
Dimensions: 17"W x 3.25"H x 13.75"D
Weight: 11.5 pounds

Warranty: Two years parts and labor


Features
  • Latest-generation Zoran Vaddis 888s core processing engine
  • DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, DiVX playback
  • Motion-adaptive progressive scan
  • HDMI V1.1 digital video/audio output
  • ABT1010 video scaler to 720p, 768p, 1080i, 1080p
  • Onboard video setup wizard for display calibration
  • Simultaneous interlaced analog and progressive digital video outputs
  • Aluminum front panel

HD DVD is starting to make a dent in consumer sales, while Blu-ray remains stuck in the mud. I have yet to make the leap because, so far, players for both formats are markedly more expensive than my Oppo Digital OPDV971H ($199). And neither high-definition format yet offers enough titles to justify the investment. Still, I lean toward Toshiba’s HD DVD for many of the reasons noted by my Home Theater & Sound colleagues, and primarily for Sony’s inability to deliver on the promise of Blu-ray.

Unlike Sony or Toshiba, Arcam doesn’t invest in unproven formats. The audio manufacturer, based in Cambridge, England, specializes in boutique electronics that appeal to audiophiles and music lovers. Arcam’s reference-caliber products are based on stable technologies. The DiVA DV137 universal audio/video player ($1999) is such a product. It doesn’t ask you to throw away your old DVDs. It bypasses HD DVD and Blu-ray by upconverting standard-definition DVDs to near high-definition resolution.

Understated elegance reprised

I never tire of Arcam’s aesthetic. Like its cousin, the AVR350 receiver, the DV137 graces the eye with a clean, enormously sexy industrial design. A gently curved front panel gives the player a handsome profile, while ten silver buttons spread across a sparse, well-finished faceplate provide intuitive operation while conveying a sense of class. The chassis feels substantial and tightly screwed together.

The DV137’s rear shows the same crisp, well-thought-out attention to detail. Well-spaced provisions for both digital (coax and fiber-optic) and 5.1-channel analog (gold-plated RCA sockets) audio take up the left section, while video connections sit just left of center: YRB and RGB component, S-video, and HDMI. Back on the right side are connectors for remote triggers and RS-232 ports for future software updates and home automation. It took me five minutes to integrate the DV137 into my system.

The DV137’s conservative looks belie the feature-rich electronics and technology found just beneath its well-managed exterior. Beyond its ability to play every conceivable format (other than the new HD video formats), including multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio, what makes the DV137 special is its video-processing power. A Zoran Vaddis 888s core processing engine capable of motion-adaptive deinterlacing is paired with an Anchor Bay Technologies 1010 scaler, which is capable of upconverting a 480p frame to 720p, 1080i, and 1080p HD resolutions. (ABT is the company behind the highly acclaimed line of DVDO video processors.)

Intuitive but absentminded

The DV137’s menu system is excellent -- navigating the intuitive arrangement of settings was lightning fast. The Arcam designers also were considerate enough to include controls for navigating the DV137’s menu tree from its front panel as well as via the included remote control.

Speaking of that CR515 remote, I found it difficult to manipulate its many similar-sized buttons, and the absence of backlighting didn’t help. Equally frustrating was the DV137’s vacuum-fluorescent display, which was hard to see at an acute angle. Positioning the player above my line of sight by about 30 degrees rendered the lower portion of the display unreadable. At first I thought this was a manufacturing defect, but two different review samples had this problem.

There were a few glitches in the DV137’s controls and HDMI interface. I sit about 12’ away from my equipment rack, and usually hit Eject on the remote as I approach the player. But instead of ejecting the disc, the command from the CR515 instead reloaded its table of contents. Hitting Eject a second time did the trick.

Even more aggravating was the DV137’s tendency to lose its HDMI handshake with my Mitsubishi WD-52528 rear-projection LCD TV. I believe the problem was related to HDMI’s HDCP copy management -- it occurred when I started playing a DVD, but not when non-HDCP data, such as the DV137’s screensaver or setup menu, were displayed. Switching my TV inputs would also cause the handshake to fail and the screen to go black. I knew there was a signal because the Mitsubishi didn’t display its default blue screen. Restarting the TV or switching inputs didn’t solve the issue, but restarting the DV137 did.

Pop goes the video!

Once the HDMI link began to behave itself, I was in awe of the DV137’s 1080i image: rich, colorful, deep, sharp, lifelike -- you name it. The opening scenes in Die Hard with a Vengeance include some reference-caliber shots. The weatherworn, bestubbled complexion of Bruce Willis’ hungover New York City cop, John McLain, is beautifully realized in chapters 2 and 3. The DV137’s stunning color balance and image quality made a visual feast of even the procedural bits of this flawed but highly entertaining action flick.

The Arcam’s dynamic range was impressive. Black detail in the highly original space opera Serenity can lean toward the muddy side on some DVD players. The DV137 reached deep into the dark scenes in chapters 1 and 15 to reveal more of the visual storytelling.

I experienced no glitches with the DV137’s playback. The player’s Zoran motion-adaptive processing did a good job with pans and notoriously flawed DVD transfers. The opening title sequence of James Cameron’s The Abyss played smoothly and without apparent artifacts.

Writer-director Brad Bird’s The Incredibles lived up to its title in regard to video quality -- the DV137 delivered every cell of Pixar’s award-winning CGI animation with stunning clarity and color saturation. Colorful explosions, ocean surf, and brilliant red costumes (chapter 17) were dimensional and tangible as Elastigirl’s motherly instincts struggled to protect her children.

Boom goes the audio!

Arcam’s engineering experience seems to pretty much guarantee great sound from every one of the company’s products, and the DV137’s audio was stellar. Surround sound, be it Dolby Digital or DTS, was delivered through an immersive soundstage. Foley and voices were anchored to specific regions of the 5.1-channel aural image, while ambient cues and environmental sounds enveloped my listening area. In Die Hard with a Vengeance, the sounds of New York surrounded me as McLain and Zeus raced to disarm Simon’s explosive devices, and the reverberant quality of the Federal Reserve’s vast foyer echoed when Simon and his crew enter as phony European businessmen.

The DV137’s strengths lay in such aural flourishes. The player’s low noise floor and wide dynamic range revealed the subtlest sounds, while being careful to keep them separate from the bombast and chaos of the action scenes. This combination of resolution and control created a very enjoyable experience.

Two-channel recordings had that trademark Arcam sound: honest and detailed, with just a hint of warmth. To call the Arcam’s sound euphonic would be a mistake. It wasn’t the kind of overly warm "tube" sound that betokens added colorations, but a naturalness that highlighted an absence of grain or electronic glare. This quality gave Kate Bush’s seductive voice, on Aerial [CD, Columbia 97772], an incisive yet angelic glow.

Audiophiles who have invested in SACD and DVD-A will find the Arcam equally adept with multichannel music. Seal’s fabulously well-recorded IV [DVD-A, Warner Bros. 47947] sounded smooth and effortless, while the percussion and bass on Kodo’s Mondo Head [SACD, Red Ink/Sony 56111] had excellent pace, rhythm, and timing.

Ten times the price for ten times the performance?

I own Oppo’s overachieving OPDV971H DVD player. At its price of $199, the Oppo amazes me with its filmlike output, rock-solid operation, and excellent build quality -- compared to other players at or near its price, the ’971 feels very substantial.

At $1999, the Arcam delivers a build quality that puts it in a different league. The DV137’s precisely assembled and well-finished chassis reminds me of why people pay a premium for European automobiles. European cars, too, are known for their operational glitches, and the Arcam had its share of issues. I expect a $2000 player to be free of basic workflow bugs; the small glitches I experienced took away from my enjoyment of the player. The Oppo, on the other hand, has run like the well-oiled machine it is from day one.

The Oppo and Arcam both deliver excellent pictures. I preferred the added punch of the Arcam’s colorful picture to the Oppo’s more subdued, filmlike images. The Arcam also produced more detail in the blacks than did the Oppo. The players’ digital audio was a wash -- both are excellent transports. The analog outputs were a different story: The Arcam’s natural, effortless sound bettered the Oppo’s thinner, more electronic output. The Oppo could stand to have a little more harmonic texture on its bones. Still, its sound was never harsh.

Pride of ownership has its price

$1999 is a lot to pay for a product type that has become a commodity. But, like Esoteric’s DV50S (now DV-60), the Arcam DiVA DV137 is a stunning universal player with cutting-edge performance that justifies its price, and will provide those considering buying a hi-def player a viable alternative to investing in unproven technology. Its combination of sound and picture quality makes the DV137 a contender for a very-high-end home-theater system. And the attention its designers have paid to its every detail has delivered a component that exudes quality and pride of ownership. Paired with Arcam’s AVR350 receiver, the DV137 would make a very good-looking and -sounding home-theater stack indeed.

Review System
Speakers - Axiom Audio M22 v2 (mains), VP150 v2 (center), M2 v2 (surrounds), EP500 v2 (subwoofer)
Receiver - NAD T763
Sources - NAD T562 CD player, Oppo Digital OPDV971H DVD player
Cables - Analysis Plus
Power Conditioner - APC S15BLK
Display Device - Mitsubishi WD-52528 rear-projection LCD TV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Arcam
Pembroke Avenue
Cambridge, England CB5 9PB
United Kingdon
Phone: (44) (0)1223-203203

E-mail: support@arcam.co.uk
Website: www.arcam.co.uk

North American distributors:

Audiophile Systems
P.O. Box 50710
Indianapolis, IN 46250-0710
Phone: (317) 841-4100
Fax: (317) 841-4107

E-mail: aslinfo@aslgroup.com
Website: www.aslgroup.com

Erikson Consumer
21000 TransCanada Highway
Baie D’Urfe, Quebec
H9X 4B7

Website: www.eriksonconsumer.com


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