Published On: January 11, 2009

Theta DaViD DVD-Player Reviewed

Published On: January 11, 2009

Theta DaViD DVD-Player Reviewed

It plays CDs as well as DVDs and does it in a special solid way that Theta has been known for. A buffered and re-clocked digital data stream benefits from special low-flux transformers and high-isolation power supplies. Used as a transport the DaViD will keep up with almost anything out there.

Theta_DaVID_DVD_Player.gifConsidering the utter mess which is the Region 2 launch of DVD, it's amazing that some of us still live in hope. While I would love to castrate the Hollywood execu- no, make that the slime-sucking, low-life, bottom-feeder, pond-scum lawyer who cooked up regional coding, I've gotta admit: every time I see a film via DVD, I forget all about it. Quite simply, the myriad negatives of Region 2 are outweighed by the benefits of DVD in general. And I don't mean the difference between handling a 5in disc instead of a 12in laser disc, nor the frills, nor the cinephile extras, nor even the humane elements like foreign language subtitles. Quite clearly, DVD is more fun than any previous video format.

But DVD has already suffered the sort of polarisation which is inevitable when a new technology is the product of multinationals with absolutely no concept of quality, homogeneity, design potential or anything above the bottom line. A backlash has already appeared through laserdisc supporters* who - even if they grant the edge on visuals to second-generation-plus DVD - will argue convincingly that laserdisc offers better sound. DVD packaging sucks almost as badly as the CD jewel box. There's no consistent use of the promised facilities or options, e.g. widescreen vs 4:3 on the same disc. All in all, DVD was launched before it was perfected. Surprise, surprise.

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Specifically for Zone 2, the catalogue is embarrassingly tiny and the presentation an afterthought. I mean: what complete asshole thought it was OK, let alone even releasing a major new film like in 4:3 format? Why does every Region 1 CD go straight to its correct audio mode, while nearly every Region 2 disc seems to require delving into sub-menus to get the right sound or screen layout? And why do we get swill like when the Yanks get ?

But that's beyond the hardware makers. What Theta's DaViD addresses is the need, even this early in the game, for a no-compromise device rather than the lowest-common-denominator standard which hamstrings the vast majority of players. Price dictates that they remain unconscionably low-end because DVD (the eventual high-end audio-only variant aside) has been treated by its makers as an appliance which must appeal to trailer-park trash and Essex girls. Which tells you that corporate heads don't read Ruskin. What Theta tells you is that the standards of the high-end guys, the taste-makers and trendsetters, have to be invoked from the outset. It parallels exactly the creation of 'audiophile' CD players early on, when a handful of manufacturers responded to the mouthy anti-CD brigade with actions rather than mere words.

I suspect that Theta is using the DVD transport from Pioneer, as good a base as any from which to mount a high-end assault. Its action is smooth, silky and rapid as DVD gets. (Score '1' for laser disc's faster scanning.) DaViD, therefore, can exploit every form of DVD and every function so far developed, though I wasn't able to test its 96kHz/24-bit capability; my Pro Gen Va DAC was away being updated. DaViD's remote control is as comprehensive as, if less elegant than the Pioneer's and you need never touch the player save for inserting a disc. It has enough sub-menus to make you think that you're looking at Windows '98. It can be tweaked and tuned to one's heart's delight. But, when necessary, it's still as straightforward as a toaster.

Given that, like all high-end transports, DaViD is lamb dressed as gourmet lamb, Theta engaged in normal high-end practice by making everything attached to the OEM core element a no-compromise alternative. It's how one justifies a price tag of £4650 over, say, £599. It has to mean more than a sexy front panel. And, as Theta is primarily an audio company rather than a video company, you can rest assured that sound quality - one of the most controversial DVD issues - has been shown as much attention as the video output.

A brief aside: Paul Miller has likened the inside of a DVD player to the hostile environment inside of a PC, so opting for a separate transport like DaViD might be the only way that you can enjoy DVDs and audio CDs in the same transport mechanism without suffering the compromises experienced in single-box DVD players. It would be interesting, then, to learn what a DaViD player would sound like, compared to the DaViD transport. Enough idle musing.

Continue reading about the DaViD on Page 2.

Theta_DaVID_DVD_Player.gif

Theta attacked jitter problems by buffering and re-clocking digital
data, in effect making the buffer, rather than 'flawed discs', the
source. A custom-made low-jitter crystal oscillator enables the master
clock to store the signal long enough to realign data, correcting it as
it comes from the disc. High-speed CMOS logic gates are used in the
re-clocking, while audiophilic levels of attention have been paid to
earthing to prevent digital noise and hash from corrupting the pure
clock signal in the audio section. Theta designed the low-flux
transformers and high-isolation power supplies used to supply each
section of the audio circuit, isolating clocks and DSP sections. The
resultant signal is fed via extremely high frequency pulse transformers
to a comprehensive selection of output terminals providing PCM, AC-3 and
DTS output through RCA, BNC and AES/EBU connectors.

Indeed, the back is rather cluttered for a transport, especially if
you're coming from minimalist CD-only transports; forget a choice of
just one or two sockets. As standard, the DaVid provides two S-Video,
one component (BNC) and two composite video outputs, the latter in phono
and BNC form. As I don't yet own a monitor which accepts component
video, I stuck with S-Video. Digital audio outputs include PCM-only
phono and PCM/AC-3/DTS via phono, BNC and AES/EBU. Optical is an option
not present on the review sample, and there's also a blanked-off slot
for a computer-style output for remote system control. The back also
features the main on/off rocker switch and an IEC mains input.

Given that DVD is, at present, primarily an A/V medium (will those
idiots ever finalise the audio-only spec?), the video sections, too,
feature multiple transformers and high-isolation power supplies
separately feeding the various elements of the video section, including
the clocks, output circuits and main DVD decoder circuits; the motor
controller and display are isolated from the rest of the circuits. All
together, DaViD has six transformers and fourteen highly regulated power
supplies, which explains why a unit measuring only 482x90x420mm (WHD)
weighs 11.3kg.

DaViD's DVD decoder power section is filtered again at key points to
further minimise noise. After the digital video signals are converted to
analogue, they pass through Theta-designed video filters and extremely
high-speed output buffers to the aforementioned S Video, composite video
and component video socketry. All sockets, of course, are gold-plated
and robust.

While the front panel of the DaViD (available in black or silver)
features enough of the basic controls and enough information in its
display to prevent a crisis should the dog walk off with the remote
control, the only way to use - and enjoy - DaViD is with the remote and
with the plethora of on-screen info. The hand-held controller sports a
sobering 43 buttons, although that does include a numerical keypad for
direct track entry. But don't even think of rushing into set-up without
devouring the comprehensive owner's manual, especially the flow chart of
sub-menus.

Once set up and matched to whatever Region 2 discs you managed to
find, the DaViD treats you to visuals which it's getting harder and
harder to resist. I was able to compare a dozen DVDs with their laser
disc equivalents, Lexicon's DC-1 serving as my home cinema A/V hub, and
it's no longer a matter of even momentary doubt. Quite categorically,
DaViD's video playback exceeds the laser disc in detail, colour, clarity
and nearly ever other parameter, with one allowance: many DVDs still
exhibit the visual jerkiness and 'trails' which marred first-generation
playback. But note: this seems to be a software rather than hardware
problem, and it was possible to move from one DVD to another from the
same label, with one betraying faults, the other fault-free. As I had
access to both Region 1 and 2, I was able to sample enough discs to make
a review worthwhile. And before you ask, there were NO performance
differences between the two regions - only the size of the catalogues.

Where DaViD struck me as better than any other DVD player I've seen
was in its rendition of image depth, its smooth transitions from light
to dark and its closeness to 'true' black within the images - not just
in the bands above and below a widescreen image. Particularly revealing
were the night scenes in and ,
where patchy shading - what I suppose is the visual equivalent of
dynamic range - renders a scene impossible to follow. It didn't tell who
Keyser Soze was, but you get the drift: undeniably, DaViD did a great
job preserving fine visual details under all conditions. Colours were
vivid, most movement fluid and it suffered less than I expected from
artificial 'halo' effects or other sorts of colour bleeding.

Sonically, well, it sounded so 'Theta' that I had to make sure I
wasn't playing the trusty old Data III. Dolby Digital playback was
convincingly enveloping and gap-free, but I detected an inkling of what
the laser disc supporters find better about the ol' 12-inchers. LDs
produce a warmer, smoother sound, in many ways more convincing. But
there are trade-offs: in visual terms, the laserdisc of
is an almost unwatchable shambles, while the new DVD is so good that
you wonder if they found an unused print from which to master it.
Conversely, the aural element of the laser disc was more convincing and
natural than the DVD's. Not that 'natural' is a word I use to describe
anything about that film.

But it was, unexpectedly, plain CD playback which added new optimism
to my otherwise wholly defeatist view of DVD in the UK: this transport
eluded all of the criticism aimed at single-box DVD players. It
unashamedly played CDs with the authority of its Data III forebear, with
the richness, impact and transparency that keeps me from letting go of
the now-obsolete combo unit. Maybe Theta's overkill approach to jitter
did it, maybe it was the extra love'n'care shown to the audio output
stages. Whatever, the DaViD sounded like what it is: an extremely
covetable, high-end transport, and I'd gladly use it as my reference
player.

Right now, for those of you with sufficient funds and DVD leanings,
Theta has produced something to tempt you. The only downside to the new
format is the Region 2 imbecility. Whatever else I think about DVD,
Theta's DaViD demonstrated categorically that the new format is worthy
of inclusion in any high-end system. It's just painfully ironic that,
for the near future, a Region 2 DaViD will be used more for playing back
CDs than DVDs.

Kinda makes you want to get inside and fiddle with the coding...

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