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Universal, Multichannel Music Players Make Gains

At least four more companies — Denon, Lexicon, Linn, and Zenith — unveiled their first “universal” DVD players capable of playing DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, and multichannel SACD discs at CES.

Zenith’s model will be priced at a suggested retail of less than $200.

In addition, at least two more companies, Harman Kardon and GPX, plan universal players later this year.

The universal models will join the recent introductions of the first such models from Marantz, Onkyo, Integra, and Yamaha. They followed the industry’s first models from Apex and Pioneer.

Also at the show, universal players showed up in a handful more home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems with the introduction of the first two Pioneer-series HTiBs to sports universal players. They complement Elite-series systems that shipped late last year.

Universal suppliers cite the split in the music industry for making universal players viable. Sony Music and Universal offer SACD in the U.S., while Warner and BMG support DVD-Audio in the United States. In a reversal, EMI Records Group (a sister company of SACD-proponent Virgin Records), says it will add SACD titles in the U.S. to its DVD-Audio titles, although the focus will be on DVD-Audio, said Kenny Nemus, manager of catalog marketing for the EMI catalog group in the U.S. The first EMI title will be EMI/Capitol’s Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, due early March at CD pricing.

Some universal-player suppliers nonetheless continue to offer dedicated DVD-AV players or dedicated SACD/DVD-Video players. Those suppliers include Zenith and Yamaha.

Some hardware companies, however, remain firmly in one camp or the other. Panasonic is spreading DVD-A throughout its line. And DVD-Audio supporter JVC said it had no plans to introduce an SACD player here at CES or at its spring line show.

Likewise, SACD co-inventors Sony and Philips remain wedded to SACD, with Philips following Sony in launching its first two HTiBs with SACD/DVD-Video players. High-end audio supplier Krell showed its first SACD player.

Companies that recently introduced home universal players include Yamaha, Onkyo, Integra, Marantz, and Pioneer Elite, which also offers the industry’s first HTiB with universal player.

Here’s what’s new in universal players:

Apex: The company’s second-generation universal player is a single-disc model with built-in 5.1-channel DD/DTS decoders, playback of Kodak Picture CDs and jPEG CDs, and MP3-CD and WMA-CD playback. It features progressive output and karaoke. Pricing was unavailable at press time.

Denon: The $999-suggested DVD-2900 features digital bass management for SACD and DVD-A playback, and MP3 CD playback. Targeted ship date is April. The company plans additional universal models in 2003.

Lexicon: The RT-10, due in the first quarter at a suggested $3,495, plays all these discs: CD, CD-R, CD-RW, Video CD, S-VCD, MP3 CD, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, and multichannel SACD. It incorporates six 24-bit/192kHz DACs for all six analog outputs.

Linn: The Unidisk SACD/DVD-AV player also plays MP3 CDs. It’s due sometime in the first quarter. Pricing was unavailable.

Pioneer: The first two universal-player HTiB systems in the Pioneer line both feature progressive-scan capabilities and Dolby Digital EX/DTS ES 6.1-channel decoding. They ship sometime in the summer at an unspecified price.

One is the HTD-630DV with universal five-disc DVD player and a wireless center-back speaker. That speaker wirelessly receives all three surround channels, distributes the side surround channels via wire to the left and right surround speakers, and contains all surround-channel amplification. The second system, the HTD-530DV, also features five-disc changer. Both systems also play MP3- and WMA-encoded discs.

Zenith: The company’s first universal player, the DVB318, also features MP3 and WMA decoding and JPEG-picture display capability. It’s expected to ship in the second quarter at a suggested price of less than $200.

Here’s what’s new in SACD players:

Krell: The company’s first SACD player is tentatively priced at $4,000, which plays multichannel SACDs. Ship date had not been set at press time.

Philips: The company’s first two SACD-equipped HTiBs are the LX8000SA and MX5900SA at a suggested $999 and $599, respectively. The former is available; the latter ships in the summer. Both feature five-disc changers. The 8000SA also plays MP3 CDs.

Yamaha: In showing its first SACD/DVD-Video player and a new DVD-AV player, the company said it’s trying to show logical steps in its multichannel-music lineup.

The SACD/DVD-Video player is the five-disc $499-suggested DVD-C940, which features SACD bass management and MP3 CD playback. It ships in April. The new DVD-AV player is the $399-suggested single-disc DVD-S840. It ships in May. In October, the company shipped its first universal player, the flagship single-disc DVD-S2300 at a suggested $999.

Here’s what’s new in DVD-Audio:

Motorola: The DCP301HD is a DVD-AV receiver with analog and high-definition ATSC video tuner and standard-definition/high-definition digital-cable tuner.

Panasonic: Between now and later this year, the company will launch 10 new HTIBs, nine of which will feature DVD-AV, up from five in the current line. The DVD-Audio HTiBs will top out at a suggested $999, up from the current line’s $699, which ranges from a suggested $399-$699.

Samsung: The company’s first DVD-Audio product for the U.S. is the DVD-HD931, which also upconverts DVD-Video output to a high-def 10801 or 720p and transfers it to an HD display through a digital DVI output. The upconversion and transfer takes place totally in the digital domain, eliminating the data loss and artifacts that occur when a digital TV upconverts a DVD signal that’s spit out from a DVD player’s analog component output.

It ships in June at a suggested $349.

Zenith: In greatly expanding its DVD-AV selection from a single SKU, the company is incorporating DVD-Audio playback in six of nine new DVD players. One of the six also features SACD at a suggested $200.

Of the five DVD-AV-only players, two are five-disc changers at a suggested $149 and $169; one is a single-disc model at a suggested retail of $149, and two are single-disc DVD-VCR combos at a suggested $179 and $199.

All of the DVD-AV models and the universal model are due in the second quarter. All of Zenith’s new DVD players also feature playback of MP3, WMA, and JPEG discs.

The Future: Although it was not showing a universal SACD/DVD-AV player at CES, Harman Kardon plans mid- to late 2003 availability of such a model, said president Tom McLoughlin.

For its part, GPX is planning a home theater-in-a-box (HTiB) system equipped with universal player for second-half delivery, but it, too, wasn’t on display at CES.