Proceed PVP Video Processor 
Home Theater Video Processors & Switchers Video Processors
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Friday, 01 February 2002

The Proceed PMDT is a $5,995 modular DVD-Video transport and video processor built by Madrigal, the parent company of brands like Mark Levinson, Madrigal Imaging, Revel and Audio Access. Unlike nearly all commercially successful high end DVD-Video players, the Proceed PMDT as a transport is built from the ground up for performance, not a repackaged Japanese OEM player with a bunch of tweaks made under the hood. The advantage of such an approach is complete freedom to deliver amazing functionality. The disadvantage is, as DVD-Video has developed into the most successful AV technology ever (that’s right more successful than CD) the technological road has been far from smooth including DVD authoring issues, disc reading issues as well as the looming DVD-Audio format to consider. To date, the Proceed PMDT attacks the challenge of reproducing DVD-video discs at the highest level with nearly no competition other than Meridian’s $16,000 800 DVD machine.

There are three key areas to evaluate with the Proceed PMDT: the audio quality, the video quality and the optional PVP as a 480P video processor. The first category, the Proceed PMDT as an audio transport is one of the most shocking. DVD-Video players are rarely considered by hardened audio enthusiasts as worthy CD transports, however the Proceed PMDT is absolutely the exception. Before my review sample arrived I spoke with an industry icon who has the enviable luxury of testing literally all of the best cost-no-object audio and video components in the world as his profession (don’t you just hate this guy?) as part of a big cable manufacturer. His company owns a Mark Levinson No. 31.5, their big gun reference CD transport costing $10,000, and he told me that the PMDT nearly as good as an audio transport in blind A-B comparisons. I found that hard to believe until I got my PMDT installed and compared it to my trusty old reference CD transport – a Theta Data Basic. The difference were staggering. The PMDT was so much more liquid and resolute. The Theta sounded thin, brittle and weak in comparison. Ultimately the Theta was on eBay and out of my life for the PMDT. Keep this in mind as well, I am a music enthusiast first and film buff second. I would never compromise music playback for movies therefore the PMDT was able to woo me away from a more audiophile friendly product with its ability to reproduce music in my system – plain and simple.

As a DVD-Video player, the PMDT is one of the absolute best money can buy. It excels in color reproduction and lack 0f noise in comparison to other components I have had in my system. Additionally, the feature sets offered including the ability to program out the FBI warnings and having the PMDT remember which surround mode you like best (DTS for me) as your first standard and then having for me Dolby Digital as my backup all preprogrammed without the need for needless menu hunting, makes the PMDT a really luxury in your home theater.

The PVP is a card option for the PMDT that has a modified version of the Silicon Image iScan video processor. At $1,500, this option is a worthy consideration for many AV enthusiasts in a number of systems that do not have big-dollar video processors like Faroudja’s $4,000 (and up) NR Series processor. In my case, I have a Madrigal Imaging D-ILA digital video projector (review pending) and use a Faroudja NRS to upconvert 480I video from sources like DSS, TiVo, VHS and DVD to a 720P resolution. The PVP is legally limited to 480 progressive resolution but at 480P, the PVP is an exacting video processor that excels at reproducing difficult colors like bright yellows and oranges with accuracy that is normally reserved for HDTV. Direct comparisons between the PMDT and the Faroudja were difficult because the PMDT can not output 480i component video while the PVP card is installed, yet in switching back and forth on both my old Sony 7 inch CRT projector as well as my new D-ILA, seemingly the motion artifacts are far less obvious on the Faroudja. The color quality was nearly as good with he PVP.

The PVP very nicely interfaces with the Proceed AVP (soon to be an AVP2 though a pending upgrade) AV preamp to facilitate audio and video switching and successfully reducing system complexity as compared to the outboard video processor assuming you are using a Proceed product as your AV preamp. For HDTV systems, and if you are bucking up for a $5,995 DVD player you are likely in the market for HDTV at this point, you can toss the system simplicity described out the window. The Proceed PMDT even with the PVP installed has no HDTV video passthrough thus in order to hook it up you need an outboard video switching product that redirects component video. Extron and Key Digital make some of the finest outboard products in this category ranging in price from $500 to $1,500. The Faroudja offers full 1080I component video passthrough on their video processor in conjunction with a component video input which is best for DVD. In coming months the AVP2, with its optional CVP2 outboard video switching device, will have such inputs and passthoughs. While the Faroudja has performance advantages and can be more simple in HD systems, the decision for a PVP is made mostly based on price. At $1,500 the PVP is a well done video processor that can shred internal video processor in many other DVD players and can compete with Faroudja internal video processor found on really suave DVD players from Kenwood, Krell and others.

More Features and Gadgetry
The Proceed PMDT is built from the ground up with ergonomics in mind. The button layout on the unit makes the remote unnecessary in most situations – a comment I have never made while reviewing a DVD player. The PMDT remote is a big sucker and has tons of buttons. Some aren’t all that intuitive including the all important Menu button which takes some getting used to but once you find it once, you’ll be ready to rock from then on.

The software for the PMDT has its flaws for which I will discuss in the downside but since the player isn’t just a repackaged player like others, it has the ability to customize the use of the system to impressive standards. This includes telling the player to remember which surround modes you like for all kinds of different discs. DTS CDs launch in DTS surround. CDs in my system spun in stereo. Movies were reproduced in DTS if it was available. If not, my PMDT knew that I wanted Dolby Digital next. The PMDT is so smart it will even remember the settings you have selected for a specific disc and go directly back to them without you having to lift a finger. If you wanted to change the settings all you have to is access the menu and the options are easily. The menus are intuitive and smooth as far as the interface goes.

The disc tray itself has a predetermined sensitivity for opening and more importantly, closing. It is refreshing to see special attention paid to the physical details of a DVD player. They do matter, especially jitter which can be, at least partially, addressed in the physics of a transport. In comparison, the Theta DaViD that I reviewed over a year ago didn’t inspire the same confidence the PMDT does when the front faceplate literally falls off in your hand to remind you that you bought a $4,500 Pioneer repackaged. At least the Pioneer’s tray won’t fall apart on you and surely the Proceed is built to way higher tolerances. It would have been useful to have the tray sensitivity adjustable in the user menu because I did find it a bit temperamental when asking the tray to close with your fingers. In fact I once damaged a disc by unsuccessfully loading a Van Halen disc. The PMDT closed on the disc causing scuff marks and the player would no longer read. For that matter the PMDT is a bit touchy about the discs going in. My tests showed that you really couldn’t get away with playing tired CDs with lots of fingerprints or slight scratches like the ones you get loading CDs from your car changer back to your main collection. Dish soap and a soft, lint free cloth solved most of the problems.

Rarely do I talk about cables but I must comment on my experience switching from S-Video to Component while using the PMDT. Madrigal suggested that the changes wouldn’t be too earthshaking but they were. More scary was the fact that with an upgrade to a Transparent Reference Component Video cable my picture became less noisy and the colors were more vibrant. If you have read my reviews in the past, you know I am the last guy to advise you to geek out over cables however in this instance I must insist that you at least try a high performance $300 plus video cable with the PMDT versus say a Radio Shack special. Be sure not to toss your Radio Shack receipt. You will be back with plastic in hand, looking for a refund.

Music and Movies
On Van Halen’s "Beautiful Girls" from Van Halen II (Warner) Eddie’s legendary brown sound was appropriately "brown" (meaning dull because of 1970 guitar pedals and special Marshall amp modifications) however his fingerwork has never sounded more exciting on my system. What was more surprising was the exacting depths of bass that I could hear with the PMDT over my former reference Theta transport. Both with Michael Anthony’s bass notes and some kick drum work from Alex Van Halen, my subwoofers were given a real test from a record not know for great bass. The bass was not sloppy and loose as I have heard elsewhere. It had that in-the-studio feel that makes you want to keep bumping up the volume. On the higher frequencies, Diamond David Lee Roth’s yelps, screeches and other vocal stylings had an air and life to them not heard on my Theta. The effect described is the kind that has you looking deep into your collection for music that you love not recordings that sound good.

Another example of digging deep into the collection was spinning Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul (Fantasy) and the track "Hyberbolicsyllabiclsesquedalymistic." To me Ike’s backup band, The Barkay’s, never sounded better than when played back on the PMDT. There was an openness between the instruments and a space normally reserved for master tape that opened the recording up in ways other transports can not.

Having cut my teeth in audio-video retail in the early 1990’s the album Brother’s In Arms took the Top Gun or Jurassic Park award for Most Played Out Demo Material yet during my listening sessions with the PMDT I was inspired to walk down to Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard and purchase another copy. I guess enough time had passed and I was ready to hear some of the old standards. I heard some of the deepest bass I have heard to date from my system on "So Far Away" although the snare sounded thin and brittle even on the remastered version of the recording. This was a detail that I didn’t remember the from way back when. On "Money For Nothing" the classic intro built up to a feverish pace at nearly deafening levels to lead to a drum fill that actually scared me. I didn’t need to change my shorts or anything but I was truly startled. Mark Knoplelfer’s chops had a live presence to them but the same tinny sound prevailed on this track as well. I would likely mark it up to the mastering and the recording because the Isaac Hayes and Van Halen didn’t show this malady.

Some people knock the PMDT for its lack of DVD-Audio playback. Madrigal says they are waiting for the digital transmission method but has told directly that the PMDT will play DVD-Audio discs eventually. The upgrade will be at an additional expense and for the earliest PMDT units, may require an update to the physical transport. For the rest of us, DVD-Audio will be a card based upgrade. You can play DVD-Audio disc and use the default surround mix as I did on many occasions for disc like the new Bjork and or Metallica’s Black Album. The problem with most of the default tracks are that they are mastered in Dolby Digital which for music playback in a high performance system, is simply inadequate. Some DVD-A discs come with DTS as the default surround mode like Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature but unfortunately that record sucks.

More of my critical listening came with DTS CDs which are mastered for 5.1 and in many cases are 24 bit 96 kHz. The PMDT didn’t seem to like these discs at first. It would spit distortion at the beginning and then pick up with music a few seconds later. Madrigal made software changes based on complaints however I am not sure this intermitted problem is fully resolved although it is better that it was upon first listening. It is a shame because once the music starts it sounds absolutely amazing with lively ambience and a presence simply not found on any 16 bit CD in stereo.

For movies the PMDT set my reference for video playback, competing favorably with the Camelot Technologies Roundtable progressive DVD-Video player priced at $3,995. I gave the Mission To Mir documentary a spin because of it being originally shot in Imax 70 millimeter film which frequently provides stellar transfers to DVD even at 480i. During the launch of the Soyuz rocket the detail of the launch pad was intense. All of the supporting architecture did suffer from dot crawl as you will find when looking at complicated video sources such as a big oak tree blowing in the wind or the twinkling lights of a big city. It takes HDTV to really get past much of that noise. What really caught my attention was the way the PMDT could reproduce the orange colors found in the launch rig. Orange can be a terribly difficult color to make took bright and lively as you will find it on the PMDT. On my Pioneer Elite DV-05, the oranges were darker and seemingly more two dimensional however the dot crawl was still present. The audio on the launch was loaded with colon loosening bass and off-the-hook dynamics.

It is too bad Mission Impossible II isn’t a better movie because it is one hell of a transfer to DVD. During the introduction scene and the later car chase scene the colors of the landscapes were deep and the skin tones looked realistic to me however there were issues with the shadows on the dark scenes looking too dark. This is likely an effect of the D-ILA projector because it wasn’t evident on my old Sony 7 inch CRT. Unfortunately, I was not able to get past the issue with my tweaking on my Faroudja NR Series scaler although I am waiting to have video guru, William Phelps install a gamma correction software fix for my projector that may ameliorate the problem. For now I am not sure if it was the player or the projector. My instincts point towards the projector but it is worthy to note.

With the PVP in the loop, I had to take note of how good animated TV shows looked even through TiVo. I was able to do a shootout with a few episodes of South Park on both DVD and recorded on my Sony SAT T-60. While more noisy than the Faroudja, the PVP did great with the over-the-top colors of the South Park cast. The pop was there and on the big 100 inch screen with an ultra-bright D-ILA projector, the image was gorgeous.

The Downside
The Proceed PMDT is uncharacteristically plagued with non-performance oriented bugs, a trait I have never experienced with a Madrigal product. Most of the maladies that I dealt with have been fixed and or are being fixed thanks to software updates that can be installed by a Madrigal dealer through your RS 232 communication port. Some of the problems include a burst of noise when starting a DTS CD and communication problems between the AVP and PMDT. More than once I had to hard restart both the PMDT and the AVP to get the input switching to work correctly.

While some dealer friends of mine dealt with some problem with select DVD titles not playing on the PMDT, I never encountered one single problem. My problem was with CDs. I had a pile of CDs that literally wouldn’t play or would crap out on me when they got to a certain spot. Some of these stereo CDs failed on their first plays fresh out of the jewel case thus the idea of scratches or disc blemishes are highly unlikely. Madrigal did come out and replace a logic board because there was a batch of bad ones that caused some CD playback problems. Since then things have been far more stable with the PMDT for music.

The Proceed PMDT is one of the highest performance DVD players available on the market despite its flaws. The picture quality is the best I have seen in my system on both of my projectors to date and as a CD transport it performs musically far beyond my expectations. The PVP for $1,500 is an excellent option for those who aren’t pushing the land-speed record with video with investments in costly video processors.

Knowing the clear advantages and the perhaps not so clear disadvantages to the PMDT will prepare you for ownership of the unit. While software updates and improvements have been made, the unit isn’t perfect. When it is working it is amongst the sweetest players going for music, movies and sources in the need of 480p scaling. Whether you buy a PMDT now or if you already have one in your system, be sure to have your dealer install the latest software and you are likely to be in business for years to come. Most of the problems with the PMDT are small, annoying and are being dealt with by programmers at Madrigal however you have to weigh some glitchyness versus absolute level music and video playback. When I did, I wrote a check. The PMDT is now my reference CD and DVD transport.
Manufacturer Proceed
Model PVP Video Processor

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