Universal Audio/Video Player
Price: $1999 USD
Dimensions: 17"W x 3.25"H x 13.75"D
Weight: 11.5 pounds
Warranty: Two years parts and labor
- 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
- 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 Toshibas HD DVD for many of the reasons noted by my Home
Theater & Sound colleagues, and primarily for Sonys inability to deliver on
the promise of Blu-ray.
Unlike Sony or Toshiba, Arcam doesnt invest in
unproven formats. The audio manufacturer, based in Cambridge, England, specializes in
boutique electronics that appeal to audiophiles and music lovers. Arcams
reference-caliber products are based on stable technologies. The DiVA DV137 universal
audio/video player ($1999) is such a product. It doesnt 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 Arcams 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 DV137s 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 DV137s 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 DV137s 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 DV137s 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 didnt
help. Equally frustrating was the DV137s 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 DV137s 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
Even more aggravating was the DV137s tendency to lose
its HDMI handshake with my Mitsubishi WD-52528 rear-projection LCD TV. I believe the
problem was related to HDMIs HDCP copy management -- it occurred when I started
playing a DVD, but not when non-HDCP data, such as the DV137s 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 didnt
display its default blue screen. Restarting the TV or switching inputs didnt 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 DV137s 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 DV137s stunning color
balance and image quality made a visual feast of even the procedural bits of this flawed
but highly entertaining action flick.
The Arcams 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 DV137s playback.
The players Zoran motion-adaptive processing did a good job with pans and
notoriously flawed DVD transfers. The opening title sequence of James Camerons The
Abyss played smoothly and without apparent artifacts.
Writer-director Brad Birds The Incredibles
lived up to its title in regard to video quality -- the DV137 delivered every cell of
Pixars 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 Elastigirls motherly instincts struggled to protect her children.
Boom goes the audio!
Arcams engineering experience seems to pretty much
guarantee great sound from every one of the companys products, and the DV137s
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 Simons explosive devices, and the reverberant
quality of the Federal Reserves vast foyer echoed when Simon and his crew enter as
phony European businessmen.
The DV137s strengths lay in such aural flourishes.
The players 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 Arcams sound euphonic
would be a mistake. It wasnt 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 Bushs 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. Seals fabulously well-recorded IV
[DVD-A, Warner Bros. 47947] sounded smooth and effortless, while the percussion and bass
on Kodos Mondo Head [SACD, Red Ink/Sony 56111] had excellent pace, rhythm,
Ten times the price for ten times the performance?
I own Oppos 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 DV137s 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 Arcams colorful picture to the Oppos 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 Arcams natural, effortless sound bettered
the Oppos 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 Esoterics 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
Arcams AVR350 receiver, the DV137 would make a very good-looking and -sounding
home-theater stack indeed.
|Speakers - Axiom Audio
M22 v2 (mains), VP150 v2 (center), M2 v2 (surrounds), EP500 v2
- NAD T763
|Sources - NAD T562 CD
player, Oppo Digital OPDV971H DVD player
- Analysis Plus
|Power Conditioner - APC
Device - Mitsubishi WD-52528 rear-projection LCD TV