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Rotel RDV-1092

Rotel's RDV-1092 Brings New Life to Old DVD's

By Jim Bray

Who'd have thought that, with the onset of high definition DVD's, you could find a way to ensure your existing DVD library doesn’t become obsolete.

Yet that's the case, and I give you as Exhibit "A" Rotel's new $1500 RDV-1092 DVD-Audio/Video player.

What? $1500 for a DVD player that's already obsolete?

You betcha – except this player isn't obsolete; it's a player that not only makes your current DVD's look and sound great, it lets you take your DVD library with you into the fabulous world of high definition television.

But let's get one thing straight up front: This is not a high definition DVD player, in that it doesn't play either of the two competing high definition DVD formats: HD DVD and Blu-ray. This is a bit of a shame; I'd have loved to see it play all formats, but as usual nobody asked me. On the other hand, jumping into the format war isn't this player's mandate.

Right now there are two competing high def DVD formats, so consumers are faced with another ridiculous VHS/beta-type war that none of us need. The two camps are facing off right now, and neither looks about to blink. This means that anyone investing in one camp or the other may end up holding a technological dinosaur like a betamax when one format inevitably wins the war for your wallet.

And of course, compared with the thousands of DVD titles now available and yet-to-be-released, HD DVD and Blu-ray offer a mere handful and it'll take years to catch up.

So here comes Rotel (and, to be fair, others), riding to the rescue with a DVD player that, in Rotel's case, not only offers the best picture and sound quality I've experienced from a DVD player, but which can raise your current DVD's magically to a high definition performance that'll stretch your HDTV to its limits.

Sounds like a winner, despite the potential for $1500 sticker shock.

High Performance DVD….

I've been using an older Rotel DVD player as my reference unit and have been extremely happy with its performance, but when I hooked the RDV-1092 into our reference home theater system and ran them side by side the difference was startling.

The new Rotel's a handsome unit, too, though that shouldn't be your number one reason for buying a player. My tester came in the silver color that's become popular over the past couple of years and it looks great.  The display is a tad hard for me to read from across the room, but the reason is that the new display gives you two lines of information, so the text is smaller.

But you'll probably appreciate the information, which includes the type of disc you're playing, its sampling rate, chapter, time (total or chapter elapsed, or remaining), which audio channels are working, etc..

The RDV-1092 has enough outputs to choke the proverbial horse. For video, you get HDMI (for the HD up scaling) and component, as well as S-Video and composite, though why you'd use either of these latter two outputs with a player of this caliber is beyond me, unless you're buying it in anticipation of upgrading your TV soon.

Audio outputs are equally flexible. There are two digital outputs (coaxial and optical) and two sets of analog jacks, one for the 5.1 channels used by DVD-Audio discs (whose bandwidth is too high for conventional digital outputs) and one set for stereo analog output. I was thrilled to see the stereo output, which let me hook the RDV-1092 into my reference Rotel RSP-1098 preamp/processor and use the bypass mode that ensures a straight path from player to amp, bypassing any bass management or digital filtering.

By exploiting this array of audio arrangements, I hooked the RDV-1092 into the preamp/processor via coaxial digital (for movies and dts audio discs), 5.1 channel analog (for DVD-A) and two channel stereo analog (for CD's).

Good thing I had plenty of patch cords!

Pictures Perfect…

The RDV-1092's built in scaler, combined with its HDMI output, really will take an ordinary DVD and output it to 480p, 720p, 1080i and even 1080p (you can output 480p without the HDMI, too, as with other DVD players). Rotel says the 1092 supports the full 1920 x 1080 pixels of the 1080 standards, which is about as good as it'll get for the foreseeable future.

Alas, my current reference HDTV only handles 480i, 480p and 1080i, which is really annoying. And since it's "first generation HDTV," it doesn't have the HDMI input required to exploit the RDV-1092 properly. This meant I had to haul the player around and hook it into a couple of native 720p TV's, one a flat panel LCD and the other a RPTV LCD to judge the player's performance at the proper resolutions and with the proper connection.

It was worth it.

DVD's I thought I knew took on new life! Not only is the color spectacular, but there's so much detail it's almost as if you're seeing a disc for the first time.  I kid you not.

To put it succinctly, the picture quality obtained from the RDV-1092 was stunning.  

I didn't spend much time ogling its 480i performance because there was so much better to see at 480p, 720p and 1080i. And I never had a chance to try it with a true 1080p TV; they're scarcer than hen's teeth in my neck of the woods. It isn't hard to find a TV that upconverts signals to 1080p, but not one that takes the true 1080p signal on its own, which was the point of the test, so I'll have to leave any comments on that "ultimate" resolution for another time.

But I can only imagine how it'll look.

I tried a wide variety of "classic" discs I use for reference viewing, from Superbit versions of "The Fifth Element" and "Spider man" to "LOTR, Return of the King," "The Incredibles" various "Star Wars" and just about anything else I could think of.

It was amazing. Even at 480p the RDV-1092 outputs a picture of such quality and apparent depth that it almost looks 3D, something I haven't experienced since I saw Star Wars Episode II in Imax. Sure, you still get the pixelization from only having 480 pixels from top to bottom on the screen, but other than that – wow!

And it up converts to high definition flawlessly. I never saw any artifacts or other sign that what I was watching wasn't originally created for whatever resolution I was using – right up to 1080i. Perhaps if I watched the 1092 over a period of months I might see the odd artifact, but then this review would never get written….

The best results came at 720p, the player's "default" output resolution. This surprised me because, like many people, I thought that 1080i would be better. After all, the more pixels the better, right? And how can fewer pixels give a better picture?

Well it turns out that pixel count only tells part of the story, and that progressive scanning is equally or more important. That "depth" of which I spoke when watching at 480p is there at 720p as well (only better!), but at 1080i – while the picture is extremely sharp and clean and clear – it also appears flat and kind of lifeless compared to the progressively scanned picture.

I was gob smacked.

An interesting sidebar is that, despite needing an HDMI connection to exploit the RDV-1092 properly, a surprising number of discs play in 1080i on my TV via the old fashioned component outputs. But despite the lure of high definition, I eventually realized that I preferred the 480p picture to the 1080i and I've gone back to using that until I can swing a proper 720p or 1080p compliant TV.

And may I be struck by lightning for admitting that I like 480p better than 1080i – at least as presented via this spectacular DVD player!

Oh yeah, Rotel also throws in features such as variable/slow search, zoom and resume functions, and a lip sync feature helps you adjust the audio output to ensure it matches the video at all times. I missed the RDV-1050's capability of scanning with sound, but gladly give that up to get the other benefits.

Sound Investment….

Likewise the RDV-1092's audio performance is first rate. Using my reference Definitive Technology speakers and some fine Klipschs I'm testing (fed by our reference Rotel RSP-1098 preamp/processor and RMB-1095 power amp), I could hear nuance I never heard before, even from albums I've been listening to for 30 years!

One example: there's a baritone part on the DVD-Audio version of the Doobie Brothers' "The Captain and Me" that I never knew existed since I first bought the vinyl version in 1973!

The 1092's sound is beautifully clean and clear, detailed and smooth. The soundstage is wide and deep, even with stereo sources. I listened to an abundance of DVD-A discs as well as conventional CD's and was pleased with the 1092's performance with music sources.

Naturally, it performs just as well with movie soundtracks, filling the room with glorious noises.

But as much as I love this player, all is not perfect. For one thing, it doesn't handle SACD discs, which is a shame – though it isn't surprising since Rotel hasn't offered SACD capability before anyway. And the drawer mechanism is a bit noisy and slow – though not as slow as the one on an HD DVD player I tried.  

I had a few other problems, too, which I assume were due to my test unit being an early sample. It refused to play one DVD movie (perhaps it has a built in "critic" circuit) and it would sometimes go into fast scan or exhibit some other weird playback anomaly that would cause me to eject the disc, shut down the unit, and start again (like rebooting a computer).

These were by far the exceptions rather than the rule, fortunately, and when I mentioned it to Rotel they told me of a pending software upgrade that should help.

I look forward to that; it should fix what's really the only fly in an otherwise superb ointment.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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