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DVD Benchmark - Product Review - Meridian 800 DVD Machine - October, 2000

Staff

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Background

This is Meridian's statement DVD player or more properly called "DVD Machine".  We believe this is the first high-end DVD player that was built from the ground up.  By that we mean they did not start with a brand X DVD player and improve it.  A full fledge review of the 800, including an in-depth look at its design will be forthcoming, along with how it actually looks and sounds with movies and CDs.

Video

The video quality of this DVD player is excellent.

Anyway, here are our test results:

The 800 properly labels the CAV outputs Y’Pb’Pr’ and uses the superior BNC connectors.  We do want to note that the outputs are actually in the order of Y’Pr’Pb’ which has the Pb and Pr channels reversed.  The Faroudja DVP-3000 also has them in this order.

Black and White Levels

Format Black White Comments
CAV 7.6 98.8 The black level is just about perfect.  The white level is 1.2 IRE low.
YC 7.4 98.4 The YC levels closely match the CAV levels.

Color Bars

CAV

The Y portion of the CAV signal is just below Betacam® and EIA 770.1 from white to magenta.  It is dead-on from red to black.

The Pb portion is just above SMPTE and EIA 770.1 but well below Betacam® from yellow to blue with the exception of cyan where it is below SMPTE and EIA 770.1.  The Pr portion is just above SMPTE and EIA 770.1 but well below Betacam® from cyan to blue.  Yellow falls just below SMPTE and EIA 770.1.

Component Analog Video Data

 

YC

The Y portion of the YC output is just below SMPTE 170M from white to magenta. Its red through black it is dead on.  This is identical to the behavior of the CAV output.

The chroma level is just below SMPTE 170M, which means you will have to turn up the color control on your TV (providing your TV follows SMPTE 170M).  The chroma phase out of this player is perfect.  You should not need to adjust the tint control on your TV if it is properly decoding SMPTE 170M.

Composite/YC Data

 

Video Frequency Response

The CAV and YC outputs track each other perfectly.  The frequency response is just about flat out to 3.58 MHz. It’s only down –0.28 dB at 4.18 MHz, but it does drop down to –1.30 dB at 5 MHz.  I would like to see less roll-off at 5 MHz (as long as it does not add any ringing to the image). It is interesting that there is a video frequency roll-off and yet, a superb image when watching movies. It is sort of like having a tube amp with no negative feedback. Such amps often have an audio high frequency roll-off partially because of the lack of negative feedback, but the sound is superbly smooth and musical. Maybe this is the video correlate to keeping the circuit simple and elegant as it is with a pure Class A single ended triode tube amplifier, as well as emphasizing that graphs are not the whole picture of performance by any means.

There is virtually no ringing at all on this DVD player when we looked looking at the Avia sharpness pattern.  This is a result of the video frequency response and good reconstruction filters.

Video Frequency Response

 

Pixel Cropping

Location Pixels Comments
Top 2 Very Good
Bottom 0 Excellent
Left 5 Very Good
Right 0 Excellent

Signal-To-Noise Ratio

Format Output SNR (dB) Comments
CAV Y -75.8 Excellent - There is only one player that had a lower SNR on the Y portion of the CAV signal.
CAV Pb -83.1 Stellar - This is the only player that had a SNR in the -80 dB range.
CAV Pr -83.3 Stellar
YC C-AM -66.3 Very Good - This player falls in line with the top half of all the units we tested.
YC C-PM -65.0 Very Good

Component Channel Timing

Channel Timing (ns) Comments
'Pb' to Y -0.5 Stellar - While 0 would be perfect, it does not really get any better in the real world.
'Pr' to Y -0.5 Stellar
'Pb' to 'Pr' -0.1 Stellar

Audio

Audio Frequency Response

I would call the audio frequency response of the 800 reasonably good.  It’s extremely flat between 100 Hz and 5 kHz, with a very slight amount of bass roll-off (-0.35 dB @ 20 Hz), and a small amount of high frequency ripple in the curve, as well as a bit of a drop (-0.35 dB) at the highest sampled frequency - 20 kHz.  Although it’s not the best performer in the group in this regard, it’s still not bad at all, the audibility of the dips and peak being questionable (the range being + 0.02 dB and - 0.3 dB).  The very slight bass response roll-off is probably the result of a coupling capacitor for the sake of preventing DC offset.  We do wonder if perhaps the HF ripple might be a by-product of upsampling algorithms, or if the response is just characteristic of the circuit.

Audio Frequency Response

 

Harmonic Distortion + Noise FFT

The distortion products of the Meridian 800 were low, but what really distinguished the player was the predominant lower-order nature of the distortion spectrum, primarily the 2nd, and somewhat 3rd harmonic.  The 4th, 5th, and 6th harmonics can be seen, barely, at 4 kHz, 5 kHz, and 6 kHz respectively, just a few dB above the active noise floor, itself sitting at –130 dB, and any distortion products above that are indistinguishable.  WONDERFUL!  In this regard, the player is among, if not the best in the whole lot. In other words, teriffic.

Distortion Spectrum

 

Wide-Band noise spectrum FFT (Wall AC)

The noise content of the player with the DACs disabled (infinity zero data) was a mixed bag.  Above 1 kHz, the noise floor was very good, with a low overall level averaging about –130 dB, with just a few, relatively small spikes.  Below 1 kHz, however, there were a multitude of substantial peaks, due in part, we suspected, to not rejecting a great deal of noise from the wall plug.

Noise Floor (Wall)

 

Wide-Band noise spectrum FFT (Lab grade AC)

With the Lab grade AC (using a Power Plant 300), the low frequency noise of the player’s outputs was greatly reduced, particularly at 60 Hz, which is interesting since even the lab-grade AC is generating a 60 Hz signal, on purpose.  If I were to speculate and retest, I would look at the Power Plant 300’s voltage regulation properties as the specific cure.  However, things improved a bit more when we tried the XLR (Balanced) output. As we have mentioned before, such results substantiate the value of spending good money on a superb AC Line Purifier, such as the PS Audio Power Plant and ExactPower.

Noise Floor (Lab)

 

Wide-Band noise spectrum FFT (Balanced w/ lab grade AC)

Balanced Operation not only brought down the 60 Hz noise floor (due in part to rejecting airborne EMI), but cleaned up the noise floor in the mid-bass region as well.  What does all of this tell us?  If you end up spending the dough on an 800 to use as a player/preamp with analog outputs, give it clean AC, and run the outputs balanced.

Noise Floor (XLR Lab)

 

Low-Level DAC Linearity

The low-level linearity performance of the 800 was stupendous!  With a 16-bit, dithered source, the D/A converters remained linear within ± 1 dB to –106 dB, and could very well go far beyond that with a true 24 bit signal.  Absolutely terrific.  Let us indulge ourselves and say, “Good grief!”

DAC Linearity

 

Dynamic Range

The 800 tested out at 96 dB.  This is as good as it can get with a 16-bit source.  Perhaps in the future we should implement 24-bit tests in this regard, and maybe some others.

Inter-Modulation Distortion

The result was -114 dB by SMPTE standards, which is as good as any other player.

Functionality

The 800 is one of two DVD players that can be software upgraded in the field.  The menu system of the DVD player is a simple character driven UI.  It's not very fancy, but it is functional.  As one example of fixes that come through upgrades, when we first received the 800, the subtitles would always default to "on".  This was fixed with a simple software upload to the 800 (the subtitle bug was an annoyance).

Note: A green check in the boxes below means that feature worked OK. A red X means it is unsatisfactory.

Avia

Test Results Comments
Subpicture

 
Slide Show

Could not pause.  When we tried to pause, it skipped to the next image in the slide show.  We also could not navigate backwards (Previous Chapter).  This is something that can be corrected with a future software update.

Video Essentials

Test Results Comments
Blacker-Than-Black

 
Stress Test

 

WHQL (If check boxes have a green check, it's OK. If it's a red X, it's unsatisfactory)

Subpicture Palette (DCS)

Test Results Comments
Still

 
Bob

 
Weave

 

Default Palette Color Index

Test Results Comments
Still

 
Bob

 
Weave

 

Custom Palette Color Index

Test Results Comments
Still

 
Bob

 
Weave

 

Branching

Test Results Comments
Seamless Branching

This player does it in 2 sweeps which is perfect.
Multiple Angles

This player is able to change angles within .75 – 1 second.

Menu

Test Results Comments
Loops

 
Ends

 

Field/Frame Freeze

Test Results Comments
Weave

 
Bob

 

16x9 Menu

Test Results Comments
Letterbox

 
Widescreen

 

Cropping

Test Results Comments
352x240

 
720x480

 
704x480  
352x480  

Layer Break

The layer break is a blazing 0.25 - 0.5 seconds.  We would rate it as one of the fastest.

Test (DVD) Results Comments
"Cruel Intentions"

 
"Ghostbusters"

 
"Friend" VCD  
"Saving Private Ryan" (DTS)  
"The Abyss"  
Chesky Super Audio 96/24 You can select if you want 96 kHz or 48 kHz on the digital output.  You can also select if you want MHR used.  MHR will allow you to get 96 kHz on the digital output even if CSS is enabled.  You will need a box on the other end that can decode MHR (e.g., Meridian DSP speakers or one of their surround decoders).  There are also two digital outputs, and you can set one for 96 kHz and one for 48 kHz.

Physical Response

We ranked this player at 8.  There was one player that was faster overall at navigating.  The Meridian 800, like the Apex A600D, uses a DVD-ROM drive.  The ROM drives can read the data at faster rates than a normal DVD transport.  Perhaps this is why these are the two fastest players out there.  The 800 is always reading at a minimum of 2x.

Test Results Comments
Setup

This is user selectable.
Transcode

 
CD-R  

Error Correction/Concealment

Pierre Vareny

This is one of two players that could read out to track 35, which has a gap of 2.40mm.

Scratch the Dog

This was the only DVD player that could play chapter 2 without getting pixilated.  It eventually got stuck around chapter 5. (It may have continued but we got tired of waiting.)

Usability

This remote tries to do everything, and has succeeded in doing almost everything poorly.  Meridian produces some of the finest, most innovative equipment in the world, but their remote hasn’t changed in 6 years. (It was revised when the 800 was released by adding an extra column of buttons to accommodate the DVD player.)  The world of consumer electronics has changed quite a bit since this remote found its way to American shores.

This is a two handed remote, and a big one at that.  To reach a number of the more advanced DVD controls, users must depress the function key while pressing another button.  Most people will rest this remote on a coffee table to use it.  When the participants in our review did this, it really looked like they were hunching over a keyboard.  This is not the image of relaxation most of us have when sitting back on the sofa and watching a movie.

The remote was one of the hardest to use of any remote we examined.  It really challenged most users' ideas that a remote should be easily held in one hand. It’s such a shame, because they do so much right in other areas.

The Remote Score = 5 out of 11.  The photo shown below gives you an indication how the Meridian designers have considered the usability of the remote.

We established our rating scheme in the usability article with the Eleven Tenets of Remote Design. Each one of those principles gets the player 1 point, so the maximum possible score would be 11.  See the comments for each of the design tenets.

Test Results Comments
Button Access

The buttons are nicely spaced, but they aren’t grouped very well.  Given that this remote has to serve so many devices, it is almost understandable that an organization might be difficult to craft a proper remote control.  We said almost.  A remote cannot serve so many devices with any efficiency.  This is why the majority of DVD player users continue to employ the remote that came with their device instead of going to a universal solution.  Prior to the 800, Meridian shipped a Toshiba-based remote with their 586 DVD player.  With the 800, they wanted to eliminate the extra remote.

The remote looks like a piece of art.  That generally is the hallmark of a company lots of stock in appearance and not enough in usability.  Take a look at Bang and Olufsen equipment.  It’s beautiful, but ease of use is appalling.

Minimal number of buttons

For a universal remote, there are a reasonable number of buttons.
Distinctive buttons The buttons are almost all the same size, and the shapes are hard to differentiate by feel.  While the on/off button is smaller than the volume button, they are next to one another.  If you accidentally press the wrong button, you’ve turned your system off instead of increasing the volume.  There have been many times where we went to hit the display button and instead hit mute (this was while trying to use it in the dark).
Appropriately sized buttons The buttons do not feel much different from one another.  However, the play and stop buttons are larger and have good spacing. 

Good tactile feedback

The buttons do not depress very far, and we found them a bit small for comfortable use.

Fits well in a single hand

Just look at the photo.  This monster is a table-only control.
Right/Left Handed This remote all but requires two hands to use.  If you want to use one hand to adjust the phase, be prepared to stretch your fingers, even if you have big hands.
Backlighting The remote cries out for backlighting.  Since there are so many multiple mappings to features, they should provide a backlight.  As we understand it, the backlight burns through batteries too quickly.  If we had just purchased a $15,000 DVD player, we would probably be able to afford batteries.  At a minimum, offering a charging stand and rechargeable remote would have been a nice option.

Indication of control mode

There are dedicated buttons at the top of the remote to switch between modes, but unfortunately, nothing indicates what the current active mode is.  If you have an 800 in a system with an 861, you will have to use the function key to switch between DVD player and 861 control when using the arrow keys.

Standard naming

They provided standard names, but the controls are scattered across the surface of the remote.

Player feedback

The player provides basic feedback about your control actions (e.g., Play shows on screen when you press "Play").

The Bottom Line on Usability

This remote is a disappointment when compared with the innovation associated with Meridian products.  They are very clever engineers, but they haven’t turned their attention to the most readily accessed interface to their devices.  This remote needs to be brought into the 21st century. We suspect they will after they read this article. They are too good a company to sit on their laurels. Is the Meridian 800 worth $15,000? Yes, and it is an audiophile/videophile delight.

- Staff -

DVD Benchmark Explanatory Articles

Introduction

Part 1 - Video

Part 2 - Audio

Part 3 - Functionality Part 4 - Usability Part 5 - Progressive Scan

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© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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