Adcom GDV-850 DVD-A/V Player 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Thursday, 01 April 2004

In a world where you can pick up the Sunday newspaper and see full-feature, entry-level DVD players advertised for less than the price of a video game and DVD-Audio-capable players for about the same price as top of the line video game consoles, you may be asking yourself, do I really need a high-end DVD player? If you are one of the many millions of consumers with a TV, big screen, plasma or LCD that can take a progressive (480p) video input (which most if not all can do), then it might be time to consider the visual benefits that come from a more upmarket source component. At $1,000, the Adcom GDV-850 could be just the player you want.

With its beautiful matte silver finish and a clean, simple layout, the front of the Adcom GDV-850 is not your run-of-the-mill DVD player. Featuring progressive scan video output with “field adaptive” deinterlacing, high-quality DACs for high-resolution 5.1 analog audio reproduction and a linear power supply, everything about the GDV-850 screams high quality. Despite not having the physical bulk and weight (or price) of some other high-end DVD transports, such as offerings from Meridian, Classe’ or Lexicon, you can still feel the quality in the fit and finish of the player as you crack open the box and pull out the player. Made to be stacked on top of the current line of Adcom AV preamps and amplifiers, the 19-pound GDV-850 has fairly tall feet to allow a good amount of air to circulate under it, yet it has a profile that is low enough that it should easily fit in most racks or cabinets, even if you don’t yet have the other “stackable” components in the Adcom line. Its complete dimensions are 17 inches wide, 3.63 inches tall and 15 inches deep.

Options abound on the DGV-850, including 5.1 analog audio outputs (mostly for DVD-Audio) and stereo analog audio outputs, as well as coax and optical digital outputs. On the video end, besides the component video outputs, which have a toggle switch for progressive 480p and 480i interlaced, the GDV-850 also has S-video and composite video outputs. Like any quality piece of AV gear, it has the necessary connections for custom installation, including RS232 control, a 12V DC trigger and an IR input that can be hard-wired on the back. The included remote isn’t the sexiest piece of technology I have seen, but many of the programming functions require the remote, so you’ll still want to keep it handy on the occasions when it’s time to do some tweaking.

It is possible to play MP3 files, MPEG movie files and JPEG files on CD, which can be displayed using the GDV-850. This would be useful for showing your friends virtual slides of your Hawaii vacation photos that you took with your digital camera. Needless to say, the GDV-850 has almost everything you could hope for, with the only glaring omission being the lack of a DVI-enabled digital output for connecting directly to a digital video display and SACD playback, as is now more commonly found on “universal” players from the Asian manufacturing companies.

Some of the other features that help set the GDV-850 apart from your typical DVD players include a very thoughtful test tone generator for assuring that your speakers are connected properly, variable audio compression for listening to music or watching movies with wide dynamic range at night and a screen saver that protects your monitor from burning in when the player sits idle for an extended period of time. Plasma owners will love this feature.

The GDV-850 is literally a perfect match for the Adcom GDP-880 AV preamp. I was able to get the player up and running in a timely 10 minutes, once I had determined which cables I wanted to use and how I was going to wire my system. One item to note is the fact that the component outputs on the GDV-850 are RCA-type plugs, but the inputs and outputs on the GDP-880 preamp are BNC. This required a trip to the local electronics store to get six RCA-to-BNC adapters for my Accell component video cables. Although this was a small inconvenience, I immediately understood why Adcom chose to wire their DVD player this way. At the price point the GDV-850 is at, not everyone is going to have a receiver or AV preamp that has BNC inputs, so Adcom wisely keeps the product relevant to the masses.

The instruction manual that is included with the GDV-850 is topnotch, including a large section in the back that shows a diagram of almost every scenario that you could hope to use in hooking up the player. Using these simple layout diagrams, almost any electronics-loving idiot can get the player up and running with ease. What’s even better than the diagrams is the way that the instruction manual almost reads like a dictionary of audio/video terms. Rather that just telling you that the player has Dolby Pro Logic, the instruction manual gives you a basic definition of this feature. The same goes for almost every bell, whistle and other feature that the DVD player has. This is just one of the reasons why you spend an extra few hundred dollars on a premium player over a mass market component.

Audio Set-up
Once I had the player connected, it was time to run the speaker set-up. Leaving the AV preamp on its stock settings, I wanted to see how versatile the set-up functions of the GDV-8500 were. Beginning with the audio/speaker set-up, I was able to dial in a small amount of delay for the center channel since it sits on top of my TV monitor, about a foot in front of the main speakers in my system. When the audio mode is set for multi-channel playback and the user does not have a center channel speaker, there is a clever option that allows the center output to be disbursed evenly between the two front speakers, while the integrity of the signal that normally goes to the fronts is maintained. The same delay options are available on the rear speakers and they can be toggled on or off. When turned off in surround mode via the analog outputs, the front speakers will be fed their signal, just like the center channels. It is important to remember that the delays for the center channel and rear speakers will not be audible if you use the digital output of the DVD player. When running digital, you’ll have to make these adjustments at the receiver or preamp if your system has this option.

Continuing with the audio set-up menus, the audio output mode options include 5.1 channel surround (digital and analog), two-channel stereo, two-channel Pro Logic and two-channel virtual surround. When using the S/PDIF outputs, there are the options labeled “LPCM 48K” and “LPCM 96K.” LPCM 48k downsamples 96k or higher material to 48k. When 96k is chosen, any source material that is higher than 96k is downsampled to 96K.

Video Set-up
Once the audio setup was dialed in, it was time to scroll through the video options. Three video display options – pan/scan, letterbox and widescreen – give you the option of formatting the picture in a manner that best fits your display. If you have a 4:3 monitor like I do, the instruction manual suggests you use either the pan/scan or letterbox setting. The letterbox option inserts black bars at the top and bottom of the screen when displaying widescreen material. If you have a 16:9 widescreen set, such as most plasmas, you’ll most likely want to set this on widescreen. If your monitor has progressive inputs, a series of options for “pic mode” allow you to optimize the progressive scan mode.

The only place where the menu buttons become unclear is when you get to a sub-option where there are only two choices. When choosing audio resolution, for example, the options shown are 48 and 96K. As you use the supplied remote control to toggle between these two choices, it can sometimes be a little confusing as to which of the two selections you are actually making. Where there are more than two choices, this is obvious when looking at the selected menu bar. A slightly inverted border surrounds the selected menu item, but the simple rule to remember is that the menu selection that the cursor is on turns the text white.

The last dedicated DVD player I had in my theater was the Kenwood DV-5700 five-disc changer. After sending the review sample back to Kenwood, I was without a DVD player, so I had to turn to my trusty X-Box for a week or so before the Adcom arrived. My Sony XBR television has component inputs, so I was thrilled to be able to put a DVD player back in my theater with component outs. Needless to say, the difference between the picture on the X-Box and the Adcom was jaw-dropping. The real comparison, however, is between the Kenwood and the GDV-850. With many hours of viewing DVDs and listening to DVD-Audio discs with the Kenwood under my belt, I decided to watch the last few DVDs and listen to the DVD-Audio discs that I had recently played on the Kenwood DV-5700.

Beginning with the 2003 horseracing drama “Seabiscuit” (Universal/Dreamworks), I opened the solid front-loading single-disc tray, popped the disc in and wanted to test the player with scenes that I have found make lesser DVD players struggle. In the horse-racing scenes that were filmed at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA, the curved white rails around the track cause trouble for many DVD players. Maladies like dot crawl and color bleed on the round white railings are minimal on the GDV-850. As the camera pans along with the action of the Santa Anita Handicap, the details of the crowd are crystal clear. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is thunderous as the horses fly around the track at breakneck speeds. Having seen the film in theaters, then experiencing it through the Adcom combination powered by the ultra-beefy GFA-7805 Adcom amplifier, the experience of watching “Seabiscuit” in my home theater now almost rivals the movie theater.

One interesting feature that the GDV-850 boasts is the ability to zoom in on a scene. Once I realized the player had this feature, my first instinct was to watch the Oliver Stone film “JFK” (Warner Home Video) to see if I could figure out if there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll in the Zapruder film. I didn’t end up solving this conspiracy theory, as the picture gets pretty pixilated when zooming in to extremes, but I did find the digital sound quality of the player to be excellent, especially in the timbre and clarity of the actors’ voices. In the courtroom scenes, the subtle ambience of the hard, cold walls of the room was transplanted in my carpeted living room. Cranking up a movie like “Star Wars Episode 1” and blasting the speakers and subwoofer at insane levels may be a good way to test the audio on your DVD player, but to truly be great, a system has to be able to reproduce natural-sounding dialog like that found in “JFK.”

Thinking back to another film that I had seen recently on both my Kenwood DV-5700 and the X-Box fill-in DVD player, I went to the Disney animated hit “Finding Nemo.” The vibrant colors of this underwater computer animated adventure can become washed out on many a player, but they are much more vibrant and alive with the Adcom’s progressive component outputs. Each of the characters have very distinct dark lines around them and there is no color bleed between the colors of the tropical fish and the blue ocean water they swim in. During the scene with the migrating turtles, millions of small bubbles whoosh by and the GDV-850’s ability to reproducing these with outstanding detail is impressive. Not everyone has progressive inputs on their television monitors, so I decided I would give “Finding Nemo” a try with the S-Video and composite outs as well. As you might expect, the picture quality is not quite as stunning, but you certainly would not be disappointed with any of the video outputs on the GDV-850.

One of the best examples of a DVD-Audio disc that truly works in the surround sound format is Yes’ Fragile (Rhino/WMG). This is a must-have DVD-Audio disc for any fans of classic rock who own a DVD-Audio player. I have heard this disc probably 20 times through on my Kenwood DVD-Audio player, so needless to say, I am very familiar with it. When listening to DVD-Audio, the “Dig Audio Out - OFF” button needs to be pressed so that the 5.1 analog outputs are utilized. The DACs on the 5.1 analog outputs of the Adcom are bit smoother than on the Kenwood and have a more natural-sounding high end. Sound effects and different reverbs play an important role on this album and they have a silky-smooth quality when played through the GDV-850 DVD-Audio player.

On the hit song “Roundabout,” the bass management feature of the Adcom AV preamp makes it easy to keep the low notes of Chris Squire’s bass from bleeding into the speakers and causing unwanted overtones and possible distortion. This frantic tune in the highest level of audio playback - MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) surround is an essential demo track to wow your friends with and it does not disappoint on the GDV-850.

Keeping with the classic rock/artsy vibe, I decided to spin up some live Frank Zappa from the outrageously entertaining Halloween DVD-Audio disc (DTS Entertainment). The crowd noise that starts the album is eerily realistic as the band tunes up for their set and, when blasted at high volumes, the trio of Adcom gear doesn’t flinch once. Through each hilarious track, the GDV-850 performs flawlessly and the corresponding images on my TV screen from the disc are bright and clear. The disc includes some bonus features, such as a live performance of Zappa doing “Dancin’ Fool” on Saturday Night Live. The footage is old and obviously dated-looking but looks great through the GDV-850.

The quality playback capabilities that the GDV-850 has as a DVD player could easily overshadow the fact that it is also a very capable CD player. When listening to standard CDs and MP3s on discs, there are DSP options that allow you to EQ the discs. A host of standard EQ preset settings, such as classic, jazz, rock, pop, ballad and dance are available, as well as a customizable one called “personal” that allows you to live your lifelong dream of being a mixing engineer. Subtle moves with the digital EQ seem to work better, as I was able to produce some pretty unnatural sounds when moving the virtual sliders to extreme positions. Putting the White Zombie album Astro Creep: 2000 (Geffen) and cranking the high end and low end, forming the classic metal “scoop,” made for some fun listening on songs like “Electric Head, Pt. 1 (The Agony)” and “Super-Charger Heaven.” I had to back things down to a much flatter setting to get the most out of the Counting Crows’ Hard Candy (Universal) album that was recorded so brilliantly that it doesn’t need much frequency tweaking to pull out the lush harmonies and instrumentation.

The Downside
I do not yet have a digital display, so not having a DVI or HDMI output on the DVD player is not a critical omission at this point in time for me, but there are surely a handful of consumers who will want this feature. For those of you who currently have a digital display with a DVI input, you won’t be able to take advantage of this incredible feature that allows you to pass a fill digital signal to the monitor without the levels of digital to analog and analog to digital conversion that detracts from the picture quality. If you don’t foresee yourself getting a DVI-equipped monitor in the near future, then it won’t matter that the GDV-850 doesn’t have this feature.

Combo DVD-Audio/SACD players are starting to spring up in stores, but obviously GDV-850 will not play SACD discs. There are still countless consumers who are baffled by the differences between DVD-Audio, DVD-Video and SACD but if you have already a dedicated SACD player or have made up your mind that you don’t want to have an SACD player, not having it on this player is not a downside. If you insist on having an SACD player but only have a single set of 5.1 analog inputs on your receiver or AV preamp, a universal DVD-Audio/SACD player might be a better option for you.

As sexy as the GDV-850 is, the onscreen menus for the player are a little utilitarian. The menus are blue rectangles that look like navigation bar menus from a bad website. Sure, the GDV-850 could have better-looking menus, but the real important question is, what kind of hoops can you make the player jump through using these menus? As you scroll through the list of options in this very intuitive first level of options, you will immediately see how flexible the player is.

The GDV-850 is a beautiful piece of gear. With its minimalist design, clean lines, easy-to-read display and matte silver faceplate, this DVD player will never be confused with a mass-market Asian player. With quality comes a slightly higher price tag, but as the famous saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” With picture quality that rivals players that are exponentially more expensive and almost every option and output that you could hope for, you need to consider the Adcom GDV-850 when it’s time to upgrade to the next level of performance.
Manufacturer Adcom
Model GDV-850 DVD-A/V Player
Reviewer Bryan Dailey

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