DVD Benchmark - Product Review - Meridian 596 DVD Player - November, 2001
Front Panel Back Panel
Meridian America Inc.
Suite 122, Building 2400, 3800 Camp Creek Parkway, Atlanta, Georgia 30331
Phone 404-344-7111; Fax 404-346-7111.
Meridian Audio Ltd.
Stonehill, Stukeley Meadows, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE18 6ED, England
Phone  1480 52144; Fax  1480 459934
This is the first DVD player review from our 2nd DVD Benchmark (B2). It is also a review of Meridian's latest DVD player, which inherits a lot from its old/bigger sibling, the 800 DVD Machine. The 596, like the 800, is built around a DVD-ROM drive and is modular in design. The 596 is not as flexible as the 800 in regards to upgrades, but the layout of the boards suggests that improvements can be made by swapping boards if such improvements are required. (think DVD-A and progressive scan playback.)
Much to our pleasant surprise, Meridian has apparently spent a great deal of time ensuring the analog outputs of the DVD player are top notch. We say surprise because we made the assumption that they merely included the analog outputs just to have them, not that anyone would every use them since they have the digital outputs. If you are looking for a great CD player, this DVD player is one of the best we have heard.
The 596 includes a slightly updated version of the MSR (remote control) that ships with the 800. A couple more buttons have been added for specific DVD-A features. The 596 also has a more refined user interface. Gone are the plain text on-screen display (OSD), and there is now a nicer UI with icons. You can also change some basic setup features of the 596 from the OSD vs. using a PC, so this is a big welcome.
We have also added PAL information to this and future reports.
With the exception of the choma upsampling error, the video quality of this DVD player is excellent. The MPEG decoder is the LSI Logic (C-Cube) Ziva-3. The video encoder is made by Analog Devices.
Anyway, here are our test results:
Black and White Levels
Standard for Studio Quality: -1 %
Standard for Consumer Quality: -2%
Standard Format Black White Comments NTSC CAV 7.5 IRE 97.2 IRE Black is excellent. White is a couple of IRE low. YC 7.4 IRE 97.9 IRE YC levels closely match CAV levels. PAL CAV -0.5 mV 674.6 mV Black is excellent. White is too low. YC -0.5 mV 684.3 mV YC levels closely match CAV levels.
Below you will find several bar graphs that show known standards for NTSC and PAL as well as where the 596 sits relative to them. The reason for these graphs is to show the many standards and the fact that no two players have the same levels. We are really trying to emphasize that if you change DVD players, you must re-adjust contrast, brightness, color, and possibly tint. If you do not, you will be fooled into thinking one DVD player has more saturated colors than another. This simply is not the case. All DVD players should output the same color saturation, and if not, you have not properly setup your display with your DVD player using color bars and a PLUGE pattern. This is a mistake that is sometimes made by consumers and reviewers alike.
For CAV color bars, all measurements are in mV. For YC, 480i is measured in IRE, while 576i is measured in mV. We are not doing this to confuse you; this is the way they are measured.
CAV - 480i / 576i
The 480i and 576i outputs are at different levels, which makes sense because they are different standards. If you plan on playing back both in their native format, you will need a display that has a dedicated memory for each standard. If not, you will need to re-adjust your picture controls when you change between them.
The outputs are correctly labeled YPbPr, though they are in the order of YPrPb. This is a bit out of the norm, but no problem as long as you pay attention. The outputs are also using the proper BNC connectors.
You will see below that the Y level is a little low, so you will need to use the contrast control on your display device to scale white up a bit. This could be a part tolerance issue or a lower setting in the video encoder.
Component Analog Video
YC - 480i
The luma level is a little low. You should be able to use your contrast control to scale it back up. The chroma level is just a little low too, but both are within tolerance. This difference can be easily compensated for by using color bars and a blue filter. Chroma phase is spot on.
Composite/YC Data - 480i (100/7.5/75/7.5)
YC - 576i
The 576i output is relative to the 480i output in reference to the appropriate video standard. Luma is a little low as is the chroma level. You should be able to compensate by using the contrast and color controls on your display device. Chroma phase is where it belongs.
Composite/YC Data - 576i (100/0/75/0)
Video Frequency Response
We have extended our Y frequency response measurements out to 5.75 MHz for the 2nd Benchmark (B2). We have also added frequency response measurements for the P'b and P'r channels.
The Y frequency response of both the S-Video and CAV outputs track each other well. The response of the 596 is flatter than the 800 DVD machine at 5 MHz. This results in a slightly more detailed picture as this is the area of fine detail. You will see that the video frequency response begins to drop off quickly after 5 MHz. This is expected behavior.
The P'b and P'r response are rather interesting. There is a large roll-off at 2.75 MHz. The bandwidth of the chroma channels are 3.375 MHz. The test pattern we used only extended out to 2.75 MHz. The 596 was the first DVD player we measured in B2. At first we thought the roll-of might be responsible for the fantastic SNR on the chroma channels. However, after we measured many more DVD players, we found some with equal or worse response and SNR that were no where close to the 596. (The 800 has the same roll-off as the 596.)
It looks like some type of low pass filter is being used on the chroma channels. How does this affect the image? Not like most people believe it does. Many people compare YC and YP'bP'r, and often say they see no difference. There are many possible reasons why this happens. One is that people really don't know what to expect, perhaps better saturated colors between the two. If you played back an animation like the Simpsons, trying to compare the blue of Marge's hair, you will not see a difference between the two. Large areas of color are really low frequency information. High frequency information, which is where the added bandwidth comes in, takes place in smaller chroma transitions. If you were to watch a scene that contained a football stadium filled with people, the tiny transitions from one person to the next are where this detail shows up most.
You will notice below that the Y frequency response for both 480i and 576i are pretty close in results. The big difference is on P'b and P'r. The 576i output has half the roll-off as the NTSC outputs.
There is a little bit of ringing present on the Avia sharpness pattern. The only DVD players we have seen that are able to display this pattern with no ringing are HTPCs (Home Theater PCs). We believe this to be the case because video cards in PCs are designed for very high resolution. The edge transitions in the Avia pattern are sharper than what you will find in video. We feel the 596 does a fine job reproducing this pattern.
Luma (Y) Frequency Response - 480i
Chroma (P'b and P'r) Frequency Response - 480i
Luma (Y) Frequency Response - 576i
Chroma (P'b and P'r) Frequency Response - 576i
Image Cropping (NTSC Only)
We expect 0 lines to be cropped from the top and bottom. 1 line contains 720 active samples.
Location Lines Comments Top 1 OK Bottom 3 OK
It is considered ok for up to 9 samples to be cropped from the sides of the image. It is best if they are split equally, but this is not required.
Location Samples Comments Left 1 Excellent Right 0 Stellar
The 596, like the 800, has impressively low noise.
Format Format Output SNR (dB) Comments NTSC CAV Y -74.0 Excellent. There is a small spike at 3.58 MHz (-65 dB) The rest of the noise floor is -90 dB. P'b -84.5 Stellar. P'r -83.6 Stellar. YC AM -74.0 Stellar. PM -72.7 Stellar. PAL CAV Y -73.6 Excellent. There is a small spike at 3.58 MHz (-65 dB) The rest of the noise floor is -90 dB. P'b -84.2 Stellar. P'r -84.1 Stellar YC AM -69.6 Excellent. PM -68.0 Excellent.
Standard for Studio Quality: < 2ns
Standard for Consumer Quality: < 5ns
You will notice a delay difference between NTSC and PAL. Two different test discs were used, and this might be the blame. The PAL test discs are new, and the quality of the test patterns are unknown.
The 800 had better over all interchannel timing than the 596. P'b to Y and P'r to Y were both around 1ns vs. 4ns. The 596 has consumer quality timing, while the 800 has studio quality timing for the 480i outputs.
We have also added YC timing numbers, and as you can see from the data below, the YC outputs are for lack of a better word, perfect.
Standard Format Channel Timing (ns) Comments NTSC CAV P'b to Y -4.7 Very Good P'r to Y -3.6 Very Good P'b to P'r -1.1 Excellent YC Y to C -0.0 Stellar PAL CAV P'b to Y -5.7 OK P'r to Y -5.2 OK P'b to P'r -0.5 Stellar YC Y to C -0.2 Stellar
A DVD player's ability to pass blacker-than-black (BTB) has often been considered only necessary when setting the black level. This assumption is incorrect. If a DVD itself is encoded with BTB content, and a DVD player is unable to pass BTB, then the DVD player will clip the video. This is similar to clipping of white. Detail in dark areas will simply not be there, and it may take on a muddy look.
Joe Kane pointed us to this phenomenon with "The Talented Mr. Ripley" from Paramount. This will only be an issue if the DVD itself contains BTB information, which most Paramount DVDs do. If you jump to chapter 8 where Jude Law and Matt Damon are riding on a train, this scene is ripe with BTB detail. Jude Law's black hat and dark blue jacket are great examples of where to see the artifact.
Some DVD players are capable of passing BTB only when they have black-setup (black at 7.5 IRE). Since the rest of the world and progressive scan have no setup, a DVD player should also be able to pass BTB when black has no setup (black at 0 IRE). We tested for BTB on a DVD player with and without setup.
Note: A () in the boxes below means that feature worked OK. A () means it is unsatisfactory.
Black (IRE) Results Comments
This DVD player is capable of properly displaying BTB when black is set to 0 IRE.
The bounce test is used to exercise the device's (DVD player) ability to respond to long term transients, also called long time distortions. If the outputs on the DVD player are DC Coupled (DC coupling requires a bit more design work than simply using a capacitor, which is called AC Coupling), bounce will not be an issue. If the outputs are DC coupled, as the picture changes from dark to light scenes, you should not see flicker as it settles after a change from one APL to another. (low to high or visa versa.) If a player is not DC coupled, we will fail it on the bounce test. We believe that DC coupled outputs are the best way to go.
The overscan bounce pattern on Avia was used to measure the bounce of a DVD players outputs. This is a non-standard bounce, as the level changes happen faster than what they should for an optimum bounce test. None-the-less, it did the job. Hopefully we have better bounce tests with future test DVDs. The bounce test is a worse case test, like all test patterns.
APL Level Results Settle Time Comments
0.0 Seconds This player appears to be DC Coupled.
0.0 Seconds This player appears to be DC Coupled.
- Stacey Spears -
Full-Scale Output levels.
The 596 output had average levels for the players tested with left and right output and 5.838 dBV and 5.819 dBV respectively. For what it's worth, the player's output was one of the most closely matched between channels, which says good things for manufacturing tolerances.
Audio Frequency Response
Aside from a slight and gradual rise at the very top end, the audio frequency response of this player was as flat as a ruler's straightest edge and pretty close to as ideal as any of the players that we tested attained.
Harmonic Distortion + Noise FFT
The distortion spectrum playing the 1 kHz test tone was quite good, with only the 2nd and 3rd harmonics visible above the noise floor. The third harmonic was just slightly higher than the second, but still lower than –100 dB, while the second sat at –106 dB.
Wideband Noise Spectrum FFT (Wall)
With the DACs playing nothing (silence track on the DVD), without AC filtration or regeneration, you could consider the noise floor of this player fair, but nothing to jump up and down about. Not too bad, but not great. Many of the components lay as low as –135 dB, though there were substantial peaks at 60 Hz, 180 Hz, and 240 Hz from powerline components, as well as more minor peaks near and above 20 kHz.
Wideband Noise Spectrum FFT (Lab)
With Lab-Quality AC, provided by the PS Audio Power Plant, the noise floor improved substantially. The noise spectrum improved across the board, particularly by dropping the AC-related peaks by about 10 dB, and eliminating all but one of the higher frequency peaks, that still remained below –110 dB, and beyond human hearing by more than an octave.
THD+N vs. Frequency
The 596 looks to be one of the most consistent performers in this regard, with a THD+N performance that stays low regardless of frequency. It is one of the best, if not the best of the bunch along these lines.
IMD performance of the 596 was commendable, showing one of the better results of the bunch, with two clean original tones, and little else. IM distortion, that would arise at 1 kHz intervals from the original tones, were indistinguishable.
20 kHz "Stress" Test
When it came to our unrealistic player buster, the 596 kept its trousers on. 20 kHz came through with little spurious content along with it. In this test, the 596 ranked up there with the finest few.
Dynamic range performance of the player exceeded 101 dB, easily surpassing the needs of even the best CDs. While this didn't beat out the best performers along this venue, it did hold its own in the crowd.
Overall, we would say that the 596 is a very solid audio performer, well-rounded, and without serious flaws. It gets a healthy thumbs up from the number cruncher.
- Colin Miller -
This is Meridian's mid-range player, although at the price, it is more expensive than most other manufacturers' best efforts.
Stacey is a big fan of the Meridian gear, and after spending some time with this player, I (JK) understand his love of their stuff. It's solid, heavy, and quiet. This is a DVD-Video only player, and as such I only did listening sessions for the Redbook CD performance.
The Eagles, Hell Freezes Over, The Last Resort
I admit to being lazy and only bringing the DVD version of this, which has both a DTS 5.1 soundtrack and a PCM track. This made things convenient for me (one less disc to schlep along).
There are a few things I always listen to on this track – the sound of the acoustic piano and the sound of the drum kit.
On this player, the piano takes on a very tiny sound – pretty bad sounding to be frank, which is as it should be.
Further, the “rock drums” characteristic is exaggerated to its fullest. Also, whoever said that British gear could be reticent for bass reproduction wasn't listening to this piece of kit! Very well done – and all the little things, even the transition point from tessitura to falsetto on Don Henley's voice is well rendered. The steel guitar has a much more pronounced sound than I'm accustomed to. This is done right, not an exaggeration!
To get a really good feel for my comments on the drum kit and the piano, listen from the 3:00 – 5:00 mark where it's laid bare for you. If things don't sound like I describe, your system is burying details!
Keith Jarrett, The Melody at Night with You, Shenandoah
This album is exquisitely rendered, and the left/right imaging is splendid through the 596. The physical weight of the piano seems present throughout the track, and the microphone placements are painfully obvious with this player (in a good way). In addition, the way the final chord's beautiful dissonance holds on and resonates within the recording studio (really his home) is something for your ear to behold, especially that “grind” in the middle of the chord's voicing.
Joni Mitchell, Mingus, Goodbye Porkpie Hat
Joni wrote her own set of lyrics to this song, Mingus' tribute to the late Lester Young, a.k.a. the Prez. It's a bit different, and much more socially aware than the other set of lyrics floating around. Unfortunately, the original lyricist's name escapes me at the moment. I first bumped into Joni's lyrics on Mark Murphy's Bop for Kerouac in college.
So, how does the Meridian do here? Quite nicely – no surprise that! The 596 gives you a tremendous sense of spaciousness and room, and makes me wonder what part of the system is holding performance back here . . . I know it isn't the DVD player!
The drummer uses brushes throughout this ballad, and you hear their omnipresent swirling from start to finish, never really disappearing from view.
There are some excellent nuances of Joni's performance in the way she breathes, which was nicely portrayed, and I was especially fond of the way Wayne Shorter's soprano saxophone was depicted. Further, you really get hit over the head with how busy bassist Jaco Pastorius's playing is.
In short, nicely done!
Bob Mintzer Big Band, Camouflage, Long Ago and Far Away
This recording has been a staple in my collection for about 13 years, and I keep coming back to it time and again, kind of like a faithful audio friend. I know its nooks and crannies in and out, and when I was playing sax myself, I tried to learn some of the leader's tenor solos.
My notes say avoid the clichés. Ok, what I really mean is that the wideness of the soundstage is really impressive through this player. Yeah, it's beyond the speakers, and quite a fun thing at that.
The bell tone chords ring through distinct and clear (Hit and hold (and hit and hold (and hit and hold))). The leader's tenor is at times strong and thin, each in its turn as he soars over the band, or plays delicate phrases with just the rhythm section.
Awfully good Redbook CD performance. The best of the lot I got to sit down and listen to for the Benchmark, and I hope I get put on the list for the opportunity to review their next DVD player. If this is any indication, it'll be a very good player.
- John Kotches -
The Meridian 800 did exceptional during the first benchmark. The 596 has a refined user interface compared to the 800 (800 will get a face lift with version 3.0). However, there are some regressions in terms of functionality. By this we mean there are items that passed during 800 testing that have failed during the 596 testing. We mention this because they are sharing the same code.
The great news is that all of these issues can be fixed without you returning the Meridian DVD player. Once a fix is ready, you or your dealer should be able to upload the fixes to the player in a matter of minutes.
Test Results Comments Subpicture While menu highlights did not disappear, the 200 TVL pattern on Avia is missing the bottom portion of the image. This reproduces 100% of the time and is a regression from the 800. 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.
Test Results Comments Stress Test
DVD Demystified, 2nd Edition
Test Results Comments Random # Generator Subpicture Subpicture would only paint on half the screen the first time you select the menus.
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
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.
Test Results Comments Loops Ends
Test Results Comments Weave Blocked because we were unable to pause. This is a regression from the 800 DVD Machine. Bob Blocked because we were unable to pause. This is a regression from the 800 DVD Machine.
Test Results Comments Letterbox Widescreen
Test Results Comments 352x240 720x480 704x480 352x480
Test (DVD) Results Comments Parental Control "Cruel Intentions" Subpicture "Ghostbusters" VCD "Friends" SVCD "Terminator 2" Half-bitrate DTS "SPR" Subpicture "Abyss" 96 kHz digital output 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. Chroma Upsampling Error This player does suffer from the chroma upsampling error. The 596 is modular so it can be updated when LSI has fixed the problem. Selectable Setup This is selectable from an on-screen menu. It is for 480i only, 576i has black at 0 IRE always (by design). Transcode MP3 Playback Autoplay DVD-V on DVD-A This disc was the fastest of the bunch, taking only 33 seconds to begin playing back the DVD-V content on a DVD-A disc with no user interaction. SACD Hybrid (CD Layer) Read DVD-V on DVD-A disc Read DVD-A on DVD-A disc N/A This player does have a 0.9 version (not final) DVD-A navigator. However, we were unable to get it to read the dozen or so DVD-As we had on hand. Because it is not a DVD-A player, yet, we have marked this as N/A.
8 out of 10
We ranked this player at 8. The Meridian 596 uses a DVD-ROM drive for its loader. ROM drives can read the data at faster rates than a normal DVD loader. Layer Break
We would rate it as one of the fastest.
Test Results Comments CD-R CD-R/W DVD-R (3.68 GB) DVD-R (4.37 GB) N/A Not tested for B2.
Test Results Comments Pierre Vareny
This is unusually low, considering the 800 did unusually well (2.40 MM). Both the 800 and 596 share the same drive and CD navigation system along with error correction/concealment. This was one of the last players tested in this phase, and it appears the results got worse on the players as time went by. This will be re-tested after we have verified the 800 still does chapter 35 with this disc (to ensure it is not the disc's fault). Philips - Gap
1000 Microns would be perfect on this test with 400 Microns being a failure. Philips - Dot
800 Microns would be perfect on this test. Philips - Fingerprint
All players did the same on this test. Scratch the Dog This player and the 800 are the only two DVD players 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).
- Stacey Spears -
Because the MSR (Meridian System Remote) is unchanged since the 800 benchmark, we did not run a usability test on this DVD player.
DVD Benchmark - Article Index
Part 1 - Video Part 2 - Audio Part 3 - Functionality Part 4 - Usability Part 5 - Progressive Scan Part 6 - DVD-Audio
© Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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