SMR logoTheta Digital DaViD CD/DVD Transport Review
"It's DVD Jim, but not as we know it..."  Nigel R. Pond discovers that the world of DVD extends far beyond mainstream players and into a larger universe where higher performance (and higher price-tags) can be discovered.  Join him as he journeys towards planet Theta.

Theta Digital DaViD CD/DVD Transport Specifications
Outputs:
Video
1 × component video (Y-Cr-Cb) on BNC jacks;
2 × S-Video on standard mini DIN
1 × composite video on BNC jack
1 × composite video on RCA jack

Audio (digital)
1 × PCM only on co-ax RCA jack
1 × PCM/Dolby Digital/DTS on co-ax RCA jack
1 × PCM/Dolby Digital/DTS on co-ax BNC jack
1 × PCM/Dolby Digital/DTS on AES/EBU
1 × multi-mode AT&T ST glass (optional) or single mode laserlinque glass (optional)

Audio (analogue)
None (no internal DAC stage)

Power supply (on unit reviewed):
120v AC, 60 Hz, detachable IEC power cord
System Control Input:
RS232 (optional)

Formats Supported:
DVD, CD, Video CD, CD-RW (not CD-R)

Dimensions (w x l x h):
19" × 15½" × 3¾"

Manufacturer:
Theta Digital Corporation

Address:
5330 Derry Avenue, Suite "R"
Agoura Hills, CA 91301, USA

(All specifications as per manufacturer)

Theta DaViD DVD/CD Transport - A Review

Introduction

OK before I begin lets deal with 2 questions that everyone asks: "Why would anyone want to spend $4,500 on a DVD player?" and "Whats with the goofy name?"  I hope the answer to the first question will be clear by the end of this review, the answer to the second is simple: the name is an odd one for a DVD player but, I am reliably informed, er& Theta DaViD CD/DVD Transportthe guy who did much of the engineering work on the DaViD is called& er &David.   I wonder if Theta realised that DaViD is also the name of a company that distributes XXX adult DVDs, not that I have any first hand knowledge of them myself, you understand, just seen them advertised.  So henceforth in this review it will be referred to as "the Theta".

The first thing that should be pointed out is that the Theta should be properly called a transport because it has no internal audio DACs of its own and must rely on the DACs in the users processor/receiver.  I do not foresee this as a problem as I suspect that the market at which this machine is aimed would already be equipped with a more than adequate DAC stage.

When I first decided to take the plunge into DVD early in January 1998, my local dealer had the Sony DVP-S7000 on order for me.   Then some time just before Easter, I was invited by the owner to come into the store and meet Neil Sinclair, Thetas founder, who would be demonstrating the first of these transports and Thetas new Casanova preamp/processor.  The moment I sat down in front of the front projection screen I knew it was something special.  Front projection systems of this quality (high end Runco) are very revealing of flaws in video reproduction and none of the other DVD players that I had seen demonstrated on the same set up had looked this good - including the Sony DVP-S7000 and Pioneer higher-end models.   I also heard the Theta set up in a music only system, playing through Thetas own 96/24 DAC, and Spectral pre-amp and power amp driving Avalon Eidolon speakers.  I had brought a couple of my own CDs with me and they had never sounded better.   As I was also in the market for a new CD transport (I am afraid that the CD playing abilities of my Pioneer CLD-2950 laser disc player were just not up to the job) the Theta seemed the obvious choice to serve double duty.  So, after some negotiations back at home, I changed my order to the Theta.

 

Construction

The first thing I noticed when I picked it up a few weeks later was just how well built this thing is.  This will come as no surprise to owners of other Theta products, but compared to more mainstream gear it was a surprise.  In fact it is also 'Contact' and 'Tomorrow Never Dies' DVD discsa little wider than is usual so it will not fit easily into a standard 19" equipment rack but I managed to rig up a sturdy alternative.   It is available with brushed black or brushed silver finishes so it will fit in with almost all other gear.  I opted for the black and it looks tres chic.

Theta, in common with the other higher end companies like Faroudja, sources various bits of their DVD offering from other suppliers.   In the Thetas case (as with some of the internals of their previous LD and CD transports and the new Voyager LD, DVD and CD transport) the OEM supplier of the disc transport mechanism and basic MPEG board is Pioneer.  I took a quick look inside and the disc transport mechanism and display are standard Pioneer but thats where "standard" ends and Theta begins.  Theta have designed and built their own power supply board which provides isolated, dedicated power supply stages for each section of the unit.  This has hefty transformers and power supply capacitors on a very robust looking circuit board and accounts for most of the substantial extra weight of this transport.  Theta have also designed and built the digital output stage of this unit including their proprietary jitter-reduction technology (the "jitter jail").   Similarly, Theta have modified the Pioneer MPEG board with upgraded components.

 

Front and Back

Theta DaViD Remote ControlLets take a look at the rear of the Theta.  It has a plethora of outputs which will ease its integration into any system.   On the video side there are a set of component video outputs using BNC connectors (extra points there for using the superior connector); 2 s-video outputs on standard configuration, 4 pin mini-din sockets; and 2 composite video outputs, one on an RCA jack, the second on a BNC jack.  So all possible video connections in common use at the moment are covered.  On the audio side there are 4 digital outputs: 1 PCM digital only on an RCA jack; and 3 PCM/Dolby Digital®/DTS® outputs: an RCA, a BNC and a balanced AES/EBU output (again extra points for the superior connections).  All connectors appear to be high quality, robustly attached to the rear panel, and directly soldered to the digital output board.  In addition there is the option for a glass optical output, either multi-mode ST glass or single-mode laserlinque (I think Theta is the only manufacturer using the latter type in consumer gear), and for RS232 remote control.  The power cord is a reasonable quality, detachable, IEC type.

From the front we see a brushed aluminium face plate, predominantly green display and the small style buttons common to most recent Theta equipment.  The display can be switched off to avoid it distracting the viewer from the main on-screen action.  The remote control is the standard Pioneer re-badged with the Theta name, but the only use I have found for it is to teach commands to my RC2000 mark II.

 

'Tomorrow Never Dies' DVDSet-up

Set up is pretty straightforward using the Pioneer standard menu system.  There are options for initial set up- such as display type (widescreen, letterbox and standard); onscreen display colour; and language selections - and output set up: component or composite/S-Video; PCM only or PCM/Dolby Digital/DTS (affecting only the PCM/Dolby Digital/DTS output jacks).

 

Performance

I have the Theta set up in my system as follows: S-Video connection to my Lexicon DC-1, BNC or RCA to RCA cable (I swap cables in and out a lot) for digital audio to DC-1.  The DC-1 feeds my Sunfire Cinema Grand and Von Schweikert speakers for audio and Philips 16:9 32" TV for video.  Before settling down to watch real movies I made sure that my video and audio sections were as correctly calibrated as I could get them using Joe Kanes Video Essentials.   In "cinema" mode the Theta will display "blacker than black" so that is the mode I used for calibration and have used exclusively since.  On all fronts this transport is a flawless performer.  Video reproduction is crisp and clear.  I have yet to see any of the digital artefacts that other DVD viewers have reported.  Contrasts in dark scenes, eg parts of G.I. Jane, are well defined.  Other video demo pieces, such as the demo material from Video Essentials, the outdoor scenes of Savannah, Georgia from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the Titanic trailer from the DTS demo DVD #3 were crystal clear and sharply defined.  On anamorphic format discs the picture quality is superb and makes it hard to go back and watch the laser disc version of the same title (for example, Star Trek: First Contact).  In fact the overall superior quality of DVD made it very hard for me to go back to watching laser disc at all, until I found a good deal on a Crystal Vision VPS-1, which has gone some way to making the switch back to laser disc bearable.

On the audio side, whether you believe in meaningful variations between output stages or not, performance is first class.  On classic demo pieces like T2, Tomorrow Never Dies, Contact, Starship Troopers, and DTS demo DVD #3 the audio performance was outstanding.  On CDs, the audio performance through the DC-1 and though an outboard DAC, Headroom Cosmic headphone amp and Sennheiser HD-600 headphones was the best I have heard from CD - in 'Contact' DVDfact I am rediscovering my entire 300+ CD collection.  Regular readers of the SMR Forums will be aware of my penchant for pre and early Renaissance polyphony, particularly recordings by the Tallis Scholars (directed by Peter Phillips) on the Gimell label. I know very well 2 of the venues where this ensemble does most of its recordings (the chapel of Merton College, Oxford and the church of Sts Pete and Paul, in Sall in Norfolk).  I have also seen the Tallis Scholars in concert many times (at St Johns, Smith Square, London) and, with my eyes shut, it felt like I could be back in any of these venues.  Some of my favourite pieces by this ensemble are Thomas Tallis 40 part motet Spem in Alium, Allegris Miserere; and a CD of plainsong entitled Sarum Chant and they all sounded wonderful.  More modern test material included Peter Gabriels Secret World live album, Chumawambas Tubthumper, and Mobile Fidelitys remastered CD of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  Again all sounded wonderful.

Just a couple of points in closing.   This transport for whatever reason (and we will not reopen the recent debate of the SMR Forums as to why) will output a 24-bit/96kHz digital stream on all its digital outputs (or downcovert it to 24/48) although this is apparently in breach of the official DVD specification (recent Pioneer players will also do the same).  Theta are also offering a "technology guarantee" which Neil Sinclair has explained to me personally.  In essence Theta will provide at-factory-cost upgrades to the DaViD (and its big brother, the Voyager) as the DVD medium develops.  Compatibility with the DVD Audio specification, progressive scan outputs and, horror of horrors, DIVX compatibility, have all been mentioned as possibilities.

In summary for those with the budget for it and looking for an audiophile/videophile quality DVD transport, the DaViD fits the bill perfectly and, with some audiophile CD only transports costing as much if not several times more, it has to be seen as good value for money in this respect.

 

© 1999.

 

More information about Theta Digital products can be found within the Official Theta Digital Web Site.

Text © Nigel R. Pond; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © Theta Digital & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission. Dolby Digital is a registered trademark of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation, DTS is a registered trademark of Digital Theater Systems. The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 10 February, 1999

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