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Big Bang In Universal DVD Players

The universe of all-in-one DVD players is expanding, but can consumers hear them in the electronics retail space?

At CES, Samsung, Toshiba and Integra Research launched their first DVD players that play DVD-Audio, Super Audio CD and DVD-Video discs. Integra, Yamaha and Onkyo expanded their selection of universal models to two apiece.

Universal players also appeared in more packaged home theater systems. Klipsch, for example, launched a system with speakers and universal player, and Sharp offered universal players in two home theater electronics packages, which exclude speakers.

“We’re moving strictly to universal,” said Eric Harper, product manager for Onkyo USA’s Integra and Integra Research brands. “Consumers shouldn’t have to decide [between DVD-Audio and SACD].”

Whatever the format, sales of DVD-Audio and SACD players have been hindered by a lack of demos at retail, suppliers said. Yamaha VP Steve Caldero attributes the situation to logistical issues and “a lack of interest in giving the audio experience.” Salespeople, he explained, “are always talking about plasma and LCD.”

The logistical issue has to do with listening-room switching systems that don’t accept the 5.1-channel analog outputs of DVD-Audio and SACD players. In those systems, he said, players must be hard-wired directly to a specific receiver for playback,” and very few multichannel music players have been incorporated into retail switching systems in that manner. In some cases, however, demos occur in home theater vignettes, said Denon president Steve Baker.

The prices of new universal players introduced here range from a suggested $249 to $4,000. New universal-equipped home theater systems start at an everyday $399.

Suppliers hope consumers will get a chance to listen to the following new universal players displayed at CES by the following companies:

Integra: The brand’s new universal player, the DPS-10.5, is expected to ship in April at a tentative suggested retail of $2,500. It will join a $1,200-suggested universal player.

The new step-up piece will feature HDMI video output and authorized FireWire output for DVD-Audio and SACD content. The HDMI output will scale DVD video to 720p or 1,080i. It also doubles as a video switcher by converting composite-, S- and component-video inputs to digital HDMI output, although it won’t up-convert the analog inputs to 720p or 1,080i.

It features 5.1 channel Dolby Digital and DTS decoders and 7.1-channel analog outputs to let consumers split a surround output to left/right surrounds and a pair of center-back surrounds.

Integra Research: The brand’s first universal player is the RDV-1.1, due in April at a suggested retail of $4,000. It shares all of the features listed above in the Integra-brand DPS-10.5 but adds such features as AES/EBU digital output, enabling the player to be used as a CD transport.

Klipsch: The first HTiB system to be announced with pending THX certification is Klipsch’s $4,000-suggested KES-6100, due in May with single-disc universal DVD player. It also features video transcoder to up-convert all analog video inputs to component output and down-convert a component output to S and composite.

It also up-converts video to 1,080i and offers wideband high-definition (HD) video switching.

The system’s other features include second-zone output, THX Surround EX, DTS ES, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Neo:6, learning remote, and second-zone IR remote.

Onkyo: The brand will expand its universal selection to two SKUs with the single-disc DV-SP1000 at a suggested $2,000. It offers HDMI outputs that up-convert DVD-Video to 720p or 1080i, but it lacks the analog video inputs of its Integra and Integra Research brothers.

Another universal piece continues at a retail of under $1,000.

Pioneer: As it did in 2003, Pioneer will offer three Pioneer-series HTiBs with universal DVD players.

The HTZ-950 uses NXT flat-panel speaker technology for all full-range channels and incorporates DVD-Audio and SACD playback in its single-disc DVD-receiver. Details were unavailable.

The $399-suggested HTD-540 features five-disc universal changer and separate receiver. The $399 HTD-645 comes with 2.4GHz wireless surround speakers, five-disc universal changer and separate receiver.

Samsung: Its two universal models up-convert DVD video to 720p or 1,080i HDTV format signals. The DVD-HD841 ships in the third quarter at a $249.99 suggested retail. The step-up DVD-HD941 includes Faroudja’s Directional Correlational De-interlacing (DCDi) technology and ships in the third quarter at a $349.99 suggested retail.

In HTiBs, the company is offering DVD-Audio for the first time in five of seven new systems starting at $299 to for the HT-DS610 with five-disc DVD-receiver due in February. The systems weren’t engineered in the same factory as the standalone universal players.

Sharp: Three wall-hanging and pedestal-mount component home theater systems lack speakers but feature single-disc universal players.

The $1,299 SD-HX600 consists of a wall- or stand-mountable DVD-tuner and companion 1-bit digital amplifier designed to blend in with a wall-hanging flat-panel display.

A second system, the $999 SD-HX500, is also a two-piece wall- and stand-mountable model.

A third Sharp system, the $499 SD-PX2, is vertically oriented like the others but is intended only for pedestal mounting with included pedestal. It’s a one-piece 8-by-13.5-by-3.88-inch DVD-receiver.

Toshiba: The company will no longer market DVD-Audio/Video players and will instead offer two universal SACD/DVD-A/V players, a single-disc model due in June at a suggested $199 and a five-disc model due in May at a suggested $249.

Yamaha: The company’s second universal player is also its most affordable, at a suggested $399. The DVD-S1500 ships in April to complement a $999-suggested model. At $399, consumers get Faroudja’s DCDi video processing for progressive output, CD sampling to 176.4kHz, and MP3/WMA playback. The company’s two-carousel SACD/DVD-Video changers continue in the line.