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Camelot Roundtable DVD Player Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 October 2000
ImageThe Camelot Technology Roundtable is a progressive output DVD player designed for the true audio and video enthusiast who appreciates cutting-edge gadgetry and is willing to invest in a high-performance front end for their music and theater system. The $3,999 Roundtable is a progressive scan DVD player packed with all of Camelot Technology's best tricks, including an internal digital line doubler, 24/96 up-conversion, Camelot's Dragon 5.1 jitter reduction for 5.1 AC3, DTS and other digital formats, Camelot's powered S-Video cable technology and more.

The concept behind the Camelot Roundtable was to build a DVD player for the enthusiast who has a mid-to-high-end audio system and a video system that includes a TV that can accept progressive inputs. The Camelot is designed around a Panasonic A-110 DVD player with a highly modified, heavy-duty chassis that measures 17 inches wide, 12 inches deep and three-and-a-half inches high. The Roundtable has all sorts of output options, including coax for digital audio and unbalanced RCA for analog audio. It also has S-video, composite video and two progressive video outputs, one for VGA and one component. You can switch progressive outputs with a toggle on the back of the unit.
Camelot Technology has its roots planted deeply in high-performance audio. Doug Goldberg, the designer behind many of the early Audio Alchemy products, designed the Roundtable's 24-bit DACs, the video outputs and hot-rodded many of the internal circuits. The Roundtable is also a worthy CD player. It is built like a tank and has modified Burr Brown 24 bit 96-kHz HDCD DACs that are very good. According to Camelot, the unit doesn't have balanced outputs because the physical unit is too small. Depending on the configuration of your system, you may want to set up an input on your AV preamp to take an analog input from the Roundtable. This is because you may find that the internal DACs in the Roundtable, with its automatic 24/96 upconversion, sound better than taking the digital output straight out of the Roundtable and into your AV preamp, without the significant audio advantage of the 24 bit upconversion. An A/B test is as easy as switching from an audio input on your AV preamp to the DVD input with the same CD still spinning.

The upconversion feature on the Camelot Roundtable is one of its best features. Although upconverted (or dithered) 24/96 doesn't sound nearly as good as what you'd find on native 24/96 master tape or DVD-Audio, the 24/96 upconversion sounds much warmer, more dynamic and more three-dimensional than standard 16-bit audio. In building the Roundtable, Camelot found that the upconverted 24/96 signal sounded better than the HDCD filtering built into the DACs. Don't confuse the issue. The HDCD DACs are very very good, but to many listeners, the Camelot upconversion sounded better than the HDCD filtering for HDCD CDs. The upconversion was so significant that Camelot built a bypass on the back of the unit so that the user can get around the HDCD filtering and stick with their upconversion. With the toggle on the back of the unit, the choice is yours and will provide audiophile fun for you and your friends.

The Roundtable is a great DVD player for music enthusiasts. All of the audio mods and digital improvements make the Roundtable sound very clean and dynamic. The audio of the Camelot Roundtable benefits from their proprietary Dragon 5.1 technology, which dramatically reduces jitter on CDs and DVDs, especially for 5.1 sources. Some industry experts have reported jitter to be four times higher on DVDs than on CDs. Camelot's jitter reduction for 5.1 is the only one I know of for 5.1 sources.

Video is even better than audio on the Roundtable. With The progressive outputs give you a 480P video signal. What this means is that, inside the Roundtable, there is a digital line doubler outsourced from DvDo, which doubles a traditional DVD's 240 lines interlaced to create a 480P output. This is the exact same principle as an outboard line doubler, except that the Roundtable's unit is internal and performs in the digital domain. It therefore avoids a secondary set of analog to digital and digital to analog conversions. The effect of the line doubling is stunning and can greatly improve a good video system. Is the internal doubler as good as one you'd find in a Faroudja? No, but the Roundtable will give 80 to 90 percent of the performance of the big dollar machines and the Roundtable isn’t really built for the extreme top-level enthusiast who has an eight- or nine-inch CRT projector and $20,000 video processor. The Roundtable is designed for the guy who wants to emulate top-flight video resolution and smooth picture on a high-performance but much less expensive video system.

Testing Music and Movies on the Camelot Roundtable
My testing of the DACs with the upconversion vs. the very good DACs in my Proceed AVP AV preamp ($5,000) proved what a value the Roundtable is. I found the Roundtable to compare favorably with the Proceed. On Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" from the Original Musicquarium Remaster (Motown), I found the Camelot analog output to be smoother and more enjoyable at very loud levels than the Roundtable fed digitally into the Proceed AVP. The horns sounded more present but were less abrasive. The bass sounded full and Stevie's vocals stood out in front of the mix.

In my system, I use professional upconversion to 24-bit for CDs by running a Theta Data Basic CD transport ($2,400) into a z-systems RDQ-6 digital EQ and upconverter ($7,500) and into an Apogee Professional 24-bit DAC ($3,400), using Transparent Digital Cables ($600) and Transparent Reference interconnects ($3000 per pair). Obviously, this front end is many times more expensive than a $3,995 Roundtable and you can hear definite improvements. My CD front end had way more pop and was much more present than the Roundtable, but the Roundtable sounded smooth and resolute like my tricked-out $17,000 CD front end.

Testing both the music and video playback of the Camelot Roundtable, I pulled The Eagles’ ‘Hell Freezes Over’ DVD (Geffen Home Video - DTS). The music on ‘Hell Freezes Over’ sounded far better than the CD version I have been listening to through my Pioneer Elite DV05 DVD player. (I had been listening to the Eagles DTS CD in my Pioneer Elite DVD player because my CD gig won’t pass a PCM word found on a DTS CD or DVD.) The big bass sound that is famous from this version of "Hotel California" sounded tighter and lower through my Sunfire Signature subs when spinning this disc in the Roundtable. The highs sounded somewhat forward, but I think this is because I was hearing them without the low pass filter I run on my z-systems EQ to offset the hot tweeters, which are a characteristic of my Wilson WATT Puppy V6.0's ($20,000 per pair). I found the same high-frequency edginess on the Pioneer DV05 as I did on the Camelot. I didn't hear the edginess when running it through the EQ, so I think it is a characteristic of the speakers.

The picture on ‘Hell Freezes Over’ with the progressive output was smooth, as I have come to expect from my Faroudja LD-100 ($15,000) on my Sony 1252 projector ($10,000). The lighting and stage effects create a smoky, club feeling on the first few tracks of the DVD. The Roundtable did a very good job of resolving crisp, smooth images, including realistic skin tones, and resolution detailed enough to show how amazing Don Henley's capped teeth look.

I have found ‘Men In Black’ (Columbia/TriStar - DTS) to have a few very tough tests for a DVD player. My favorite is the scene where Will Smith's character is taking the test to become the Tommy Lee Jones character’s partner. Smith's bright orange jacket stands out radically against a nearly all-white room. On lesser DVD machines, there is noticeable dot crawll, which makes the orange look as if it is colored outside the lines. With both the Faroudja in the loop and the S-video output connected from the Roundtable, the picture was crisp and resolute, with -cut contrast between the bright orange and the stark white background.

The best-looking DVD I have seen in recent memory is ‘Super Speedway’ (Image Entertainment), the home version of an Imax film depicting life in the world of auto racing. At the end of the film, restoration experts reunite Mario Andretti with one of his first Indy cars. The restoration, which started as a salvage project earlier in the film, resulted in a stunning vintage race car. When it is unveiled to us, you can see the exposed chrome exhaust glisten just as if you were outside on that historic autumn day in Pennsylvania. The decals placed on the side of the car were clearly visible down to the very last detail and graphic. You could actually read the names and see the artwork as the camera slowly panned along the car.

The Downside
While Camelot Technology's Roundtable is jam-packed with high-end audio video technology, it is based on a DVD-Video platform, as opposed to a combination DVD-Video and DVD-Audio platform. What this means is that the Roundtable will not be upgradable to play the forthcoming DVD-Audio discs and will not have six analog outs that you'll need to play back DVD-Audio in 5.1. In comparison to some of the more modular DVD players out there, this is a disadvantage for the Roundtable, but those other players are not necessarily Progressive DVD players and cost from $6,000 to $16,000 per machine. The Camelot Technology Roundtable will play music recorded on DVD-Video discs and decode it in 24/96, but there are only a limited group of mostly audiophile titles within these specifications.

I didn't think the remote was anywhere near as bad as the Theta DaViDs that I reviewed months ago. However, it is only a slightly modified version of the Panasonic remote. It isn't hard to use and it is ergonomically friendly, but it isn't crafted from a solid billet of aluminum and polished by Trappist monks in Belgium. It is clear to me that the majority of the design and build money went into performance improvements and not flashy tricks like a sexy remote. The best solution is to get a Philips Pronto ($399) or an even more advanced control system, which will make your home audio/video system really jump through hoops. The Roundtable remote will only be used to program the buttons of the Pronto once. From then on, the Roundtable remote can live in the infamous remote drawer.

By the same logic that caused Camelot to invest primarily in performance improvements, they didn’t invest in rewriting the screen saver that comes up with a Panasonic logo when you fire up the Roundtable. No one is saying the Roundtable isn't a Panasonic unit, but it is important to note that you do get a reminder every time you see the screen saver come up.

The Camelot Technologies Roundtable is a lot of technology in one component and the Roundtable completes each of its tasks to an exacting level of excellence. If you don't have a line doubler, the Roundtable is of great value to you, especially if you have modern big screen or a plasma TV.

At $3,995, you can make an argument that the Roundtable is a viable audio product, even if you never pop a DVD into it. I did not get better results with a comparable piece of equipment until I compared it to my CD system with digital upconversion costing $17,000.

The build quality of this unit is excellent, much better than the Theta DaViD ($4,500), which is only a DVD Transport with no upconversion and/or DACs. If you get into idea of Progressive outputs, you may also want to consider an outboard DvDo doubler ($799) for other sources such as DSS, VCR and Laserdisc. The Roundtable doesn't have video inputs on it.

For what it is, The Camelot Roundtable is a world-beater of a DVD player. It isn't cheap by any means, but when you consider what this does for your music and movies, it is worth the $3,995 for many end users.

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