A recent trip to Akiba was notable not only for the interesting cafes of the town, but also for bringing a new techno-baby into my life- in the shape of a universal dvd player, the Pioneer 696dv. Slim and slick, she manages to make my xvid files look almost as good as a dvd, with rich colours and hardly any artifacts. There is also a deblocking option that smooths over those annoying squares on very low-bit rate mpeg4 (divx/xvid) and a sharpener to make them clear again- great for low quality anime recordings. Dvds look fabulous. Not being an expert, I don’t know how it compares, though I’ve heard that revolves around playing "difficult disks" well.
Being universal means she plays DVDs, Divx 4,5,6 (having the new "Divx Ultra" certification, which includes support for Divx 6’s menu features),SACDs and DVD Audio, the latter being high definition audio formats using a whole dvd for a more life-like recording, with a thousand times more resolution. You can’t always hear it as such, but it makes the music more whole. I got one with Dvorak’s Symphony For a New World arranged as organ music, that includes deep bass sounds such as I’ve never heard before on a recording; in fact the tv’s speakers won’t play those notes, only the subwoofer… which makes me wonder if a better subwoofer would have even more detail! Some of the players in the SACD guide cost millions of yen, so I feel lucky to have one at all. The sound feels so warm and rich, much closer to live music, as the high resolution keeps more frequencies than a usual CD would. You can really feel it more.
Not being able to wait to hear more of my favourite music like this, I then went out and got Pink Floyd’s A Dark Side of the Moon and it sounded so much better than ever before to me. All this is just the stereo tracks, I have yet to hook up the right speakers for what I’ve heard is the phenomenal experience of multi-channel hi-res audio (there are generally three tracks on a SACD- the original CD, a stereo track and a multi-channel one).
I’d always felt there was a certain hollowness to CD recordings, as if they weren’t quite alive enough and they lacked rich bass. Until recently I thought it was the price you pay for going digital. I’m not the only one to say this- dance music almost always comes on vinyl and audiophiles still get records. For me, on vinyl I remember hearing more of the bass (also maybe due to listening on larger speakers back then, perhaps), but not nearly such a fresh, detailed sound as on the CD. Not only that, it was a pain to carry a record over to a player and always have to worry it would get scratched for life! Now we have a chance to get beyond the limits of both… but only with the right player and if we are lucky enough to get our hands on a SACD or DVD-audio of our music, both of which are still very thin on the ground. If you can, though, why not hear the future of recorded sound now? Unlike with Blue-Ray and HD-DVD video, players which play both are getting common, so you don’t have to worry about chosing one format anymore.
Having said all that a convenient use for the unit is it’s ability to play MP3 DVDs, so I’ve created complinations full of my favourite stuff and then just chose it with the remote-control- much more natural than tinkering with the PC keyboard each time, which means it’s much easier to focus on the music rather than the ‘Wow! I can do this on a PC!’, each time. Of course, that’s not to say I won’t hook a media center PC up to my TV in the near future… nothing like playing everything off a hard disk.
As for dvds (what some would say a DVD player is really for!), I’ve watched the Quatsi trilogy again (see below) and even my Divx versions look astounding, large and free from artifacts. Now I’m watching a BBC 5-dvd set I got in England called ‘Planet Earth’, which features various scarcely explored wildernesses and the beautiful creatures that inhabit them. Polar-bears, snow-leopards, cave dwellers and manta rays abound. What I love is the experience of soaking in these scenes, the feeling of being there, without the danger of getting bitten. The colours are so rich and perfect, it is almost as if someone had painted them.
Immersing myself in music and nature- What better use has technology!?