Surprising Refinement & Versatility
July 7th, 2008 -- by Chris Martens
The $399 DVD99 is presently the only universal player offered by Cambridge Audio, a value-minded British firm known for building products that offer terrific performance/dollar—a reputation we think the DVD99 is sure to enhance. As we spent time with the DVD99, we found it had three defining characteristics: video performance that is a cut above the norm for this class, refined and surprisingly sophisticated sound quality, and an unusual degree of versatility (thanks to a special features set that gives the player capabilities that few other in this—or any—price class can match).
- HDMI upscaling options: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p.
- 7.1-channel Analog Audio Outputs
- USB 2.0 Connection: Allows player to access and play material stored on USB flash/memory cards or other “mass storage devices”
- RGB/SCART A/V Connections: The DVD99 is the only player in this survey to support this distinctive combination audio/video interface, which is often used on European-spec televisions and monitors.
- PAL (European format) < - to- > NTSC conversion
- Variable Analog Outputs with Volume Control
The DVD99 provides one of the best user (and most versatile) user interfaces we’ve seen on any universal player, and the remote is quite nicely designed, too. Highlights include:
- Analog audio setup support for both 5.1 and 7.1-channel systems.
- Analog audio channel trimmers that provide a full +/- 10dB range of adjustment.
- Audio as well as (some) video settings that can be adjusted “on-the-fly;” that is, while disc are playing—a feature few players at any price provide.
- An OSD (onscreen display) button on the remote allows users to access a wide range of information on discs being played.
- A CD Mode button turns off any connected display device to minimize potential “screen burn” when playing audio-only discs.
- Direct PAL/NTSC switching from the remote control.
- Direct USB input switching from the remote control.
- A volume control on the remote regulates levels from the DVD99’s analog audio outputs. Note: This feature means the DVD99 can be connected directly to self-powered speakers to create costeffective, minimalist systems.
The DVD99’s user interface is so good that it leaves little to wish for, though two “gild-the-lily” touches we would like to see are an onscreen display that accesses SACD track titles and variable crossover frequencies for subwoofers (both are features some of the best players in this class provide).
Cambridge Audio doesn’t specify the video processor/ de-interlacer used in the DVD99, but on the basis of our benchmark tests, conducted using the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD Ver. 4, we’re prepared to say it’s certainly a good one. In fact, on certain benchmark tests the DVD99 outperformed the Faroudja DCDi-equipped players tested in this survey, with results as noted below:
- Color Bar (resolution) Tests: The DVD99 looked nearly perfect, with no “banding,” even on the most finely-spaced resolution test lines.
- Jaggies Tests: The DVD99 exhibits virtually no “ripple” on most jaggies test, and only barely perceptible “ripple” on worst-case tests.
- Noise Tests: While all players did a pretty good job of minimizing noise, the DVD99 did an exceptional job of suppressing noise.
- Motion Adaptive Noise Tests: The DVD99 performed flawless on these tests and—importantly— did so while doing an exceptional job of preserving fine image details. In one part of the test a tour boat is seen passing under a bridge, and the Cambridge player made the boat’s name— “Portofino”—look sharp as a tack, which not all players we tested could do.
- Film Detail Tests (scene of a racecar passing in front of empty grandstands): Like most players we tested, the DVD 99 exhibited momentary moiré patterns visible in the grandstands before the processor intervened and the image locked in.
- Cadence Tests: The DVD99 not only performed well on the “big two” formats (2-2 30fps Video and 3-2 24fps Film) but also did well on most, though not all, of the less commonlDVCAM, Vari-Speed, and Animation cadences.
Real world DVD tests confirmed what the benchmark tests already led us to expect; namely, that the DVD99 is a very fine DVD—probably one of the top three in our survey. With the player set for 1080i upscaling, the Cambridge offered a smooth, sharp, generally film-like presentation with much better than average resolution. In House of Flying Daggers, the player did a great job of teasing out the details of intricately carved and brightly colored interior of the Peony Pavilion—an interior many players tend to make look too soft (almost as if the camera were slightly out of focus).