Arcam DV137 Universal DVD player
Published on February 13, 2007
Composite, S-Video, Component, SCART (with RGB Video) & HDMI
HDMI from 480i to 1080p, audio to six-channel 96K/24-bit
Analog stereo and multichannel
Output level: 2.2V rms at 0dB, 4V rms with HDCD discs
Freq. response: 20Hz to 20kHz (+0.1dB, -0.5dB)
THD + N: <0.005% for 2kHz 0dB signal, unweighted
Signal-to-Noise: 105dB, unweighted
Digital audio output: PCM/Dolby digital/MPEG/DTS coax and TOSLINK optical
CR-515 or CR-415 remote control, batteries, AC lead
Power consumption: < 35 VA
Dimensions: 435mm x 80mm x 350mm
Weight: 5.1kg, net
Arcam is represented by
Indianapolis, IN 46250-0710
I was going to identify the classy-looking DV137 as Arcam’s top-of-line universal disc player, but while I’ve been breaking in the unit and evaluating it for this review, Arcam has come out with the DV139 at $1000 more and billed as their best-ever DVD player. Ah well, audio products seem to come on the scene nowadays at about the same rapid rate as computer products.
So what does the DV137 offer? I found the unit a bit lighter in weight than I expected, but it seems to respond well to accessory feet/cones underneath and weights on top. The layout of both the jacks on the rear and the buttons on the front is well done. I especially liked the convenience of the Pause button; many players only have that on the remote. I don’t know why there are two possibilities and not just one particular remote furnished with the player. My review unit came with the CR-515. It’s not my instant favorite. It’s not backlit and all 44 tiny buttons are exactly the same size. Those with four or five-letter words on them (“Audio,” for example) use extremely small type – requiring reading glasses in my case, and probably at least some squinting in most user’s cases. Also the chapter advance and fast speed buttons are located in an entirely different place on the remote from play and stop, and pause is even in a different row. It is a classy-looking remote, however.
Many DVD players, even some at the entry level, have been utilizing video scalers from specialists such as Anchor Bay Technologies and Faroudja for upconversion of standard DVDs to HD resolutions. The idea is to offer in a single-box player some of the video processing chops found in outboard processors such as DVDO’s iScan. In addition the DV137 uses the new Vaddis 888 MPEG chips from Zoran, handling decoding and de-interlacing. The combination results in some very detailed and hi-def-looking images from standard DVDs which already have high visual quality.
I used the HDMI output for video only, directly into my Samsung DLP display. I had two identical DVDs and put them on the chapter menu screen on both the DV137 and my Oppo 981 DVD player, both feeding into the display directly with HDMI cables. The vertical lettering which said “Chapter One” etc. was definitely cleaner and less fuzzy-looking than on the Oppo player, which also features a type of upscaler. On motion images the distinction was less noticeable, though there did seem to be a bit more depth and detail in the images from the DV137.
The player appears to be the first to offer one of those “Why didn’t anybody think of this before?” features: It’s a simple video calibration routine which covers the major items found in a special test DVD such as the Digital Video Essentials. Four simple steps calibrate any video display for Brightness, Contrast, Color and Sharpness. Brightness uses the familiar pair of dark bars against a dark background and Contrast does the same with two near-white-level bars at the bottom of the screen. The latter were difficult to adjust with the Samsung because its setup display appears on the bottom of the screen, covering up the white area with the two bars. The Color test involves a dark blue filter which comes with the DV137; you adjust the color level so that the checkerboard appearance onscreen goes away thru the blue filter and the pattern becomes continuous. I found this seemed to work even better than the similar calibration with the DVE disc, because I had the color up too high on the Samsung display. The test pattern for sharpness is also easy – you just reduce the sharpness control until the whitish borders around the black lines in the pattern go away.
The setup menu on the DV137 is quite straightforward. You employ the up and down buttons on the remote to cycle thru the various operational setup options. The Display Standard option has settings for either NTSC or PAL but if you set it on Auto it will automatically decode either type of DVD properly. It is also suggested you set the HDMI resolution to Auto if you are connecting to either a DVI or HDMI-compliant display. There is of course also a choice between interlaced and progressive display. The DV137 supports just about every type of DVD, including DVD-Audio, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Video CD, SVCD, DivX, and JPEG still image files on Picture CDs or DVD. Playback of CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW discs is dependent on their having been recorded in Video CD, Super VCD or CD Audio formats, or as a CD-ROM. MP3 audio files are easily accessed and played back.
An important feature of the DV137 is that it offers built-in Dolby Pro Logic II decoding with all the trimmings. This will be a boon to those with older AV preamps or receivers without Pro Logic or with only the first generation version. Either Movie or Music settings may be selected, and Matrix enhances mono signals to spread them around a bit. Dimension adjust the balanced between the front and surround channels and Center Width can spread the phantom center channel signal so that it appears over a wide arc than just at the center speaker location. Pro Logic II is very effective in producing a surround effect from most normal stereo CDs; in fact with proper adjustment it can rival the surround effect from many discrete multichannel SACDs.
I was surprised to note other reviews of both this universal player as well as others which had little or nothing to report about the audio playback of hi-res and multichannel formats. That is just as important to me as the video side. Arcam states on their site that the DV137 is their first player to offer direct output from SACDs. I’m not sure if that means this is the first time they have offered a universal player or that previous ones converted the DSD bitstream to PCM before converting to analog, as the Pioneer players did until recently. I had read that the DV137 required a break in period of over 100 hours, so I gave it that.
One disadvantage I discovered with the DV137 was that it was impossible to change SACD playback from multichannel to stereo without using the video display menu. Other players I have worked with allowed switching this on the remote without a video display. I first did some A/B comparisons with duplicate copies of several standard CDs I have. I used the Direct Source inputs on my Sunfire AV preamp. Results were very similar, with a very slightly better low end foundation to the tone on the DV137. Both the 137 and Oppo 981 players sounded better than my modified Sony 777 CD/SACD player. The disc operations of chapter selection and fast speeds were far more reliable and easier to access on the DV137.
DVD-A playback was also excellent. There is a notice that in order to select 96K or 192K playback from DVD-As or 96K from PCM stereo sources, the HDMI Auto setting must be off. Oddly, this would seem to block highest quality video playback when the disc has a hi-res PCM audio soundtrack. SACD surround playback was superb, and the balance among all six channels was very similar to what I had already set up for my Sony and Oppo SACD players, using the excellent multichannel test tones (with the little boy’s voice intros) on Telarc’s 1812 Overture SACD. (Setting levels this way is always to be preferred over using the test tones built into your multichannel AV preamp.)
Universal disc players are now available from many different manufacturers, and over a wide price range. All are built upon a DVD mechanism rather than CD, thus it makes sense to offer DVD video playback along with the SACD & DVD-A audio facility. The DV137 is pretty much right in the middle of the range price wise. It achieves the highest resolution from standard DVDs I have seen in my system, while providing multichannel audio fans dependable playback of both hi-res formats as well as others formats such as DivX and MP3. Plus it looks great on the shelf.
– John Sunier