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Theta DaViD DVD Player Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 January 2000
ImageThe DaViD is a highly tricked-out $4,500 high-performance DVD transport built by Theta Digital in Southern California. The DaViD is 19 inches wide by three-and-one-half inches high by 16-and-one-half inches deep (without cables), with a choice of black or silver exterior finish. The faceplate is modern and ornate, featuring milled aluminum extrusions for many of the basic direct access buttons, such as open-close, chapter up-down and power.

Theta Digital has been pushing the limits of consumer digital playback since 1987 with its Generation One DAC. Historically, Theta, especially with CD and Laserdisc transports, has modified the best of the OEM market. (OEM refers to the practice of buying the parts of a basic player, i.e. a CD or Laserdisc, and reassembling them with modifications.) The DaViD is no different in that its heart and soul is a Pioneer 404 DVD player. Theta repackages the transport in a new box and deals with technical performance issues that would never get addressed at Pioneer’s lower price points.

Under the hood, the Theta DaViD deals with the two crises facing DVD’s audio and video playback: jitter and digital noise. DVD uses two separate digital clock speeds, 16 MHz for audio playback and 18 MHz for video playback, which just add to the digital harshness of DVD as a medium. Theta addresses the issue by using its own master clock to store and reclock the original signal from the source DVD. In doing this, Theta has the digital headroom to address both jitter and clocking issues in ways that are not possible in a more traditional DVD design. Theta also uses significantly upgraded power supply technology, featuring six transformers and 14 highly regulated separate power supplies. The DaViD has a host of audio output options, including PCM, or DTS and AC3 signals, though either RCA, BNC, or AES/EBU digital outputs. For video, the DaViD gives you the option of one component video (BNC), two S-video or two composite video (RCA/BNC) outputs.
Using the DaViD
I have had the DaViD in both my music and my theater system for nearly two months now and for the most part I have enjoyed it in both venues. It looks good both physically and on screen. As a CD transport, it sounds about as good as many CD players I have auditioned, but didn’t sound better or work more smoothly for CD than my trusty old Theta Data Basic. The DaViD suffers from a slower user interface designed for DVD-V discs, not CDs, which makes loading a CD a pain for type A personalities like myself. Additionally, the DaViD is outfitted with only the most simple direct access buttons on the front of the unit. I recently purchased a new Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster, which has inspired me to play along with many of my favorite records. Using the DaViD for this proved difficult, since directly accessing sections of specific tracks required quite a bit of facility. The remote is a little better for the task, but I mostly stuck with my Data Basic during jam sessions.

A remote for a DVD machine can make or break your ownership experience with a DVD machine, depending on whether or not you use some sort of control system like Philips Pronto, a Crestron or a Phast. The remote for the DaViD is nearly the worst I have seen to date. It is complicated, it doesn’t fit in your hand as well as the remote from my old Theta Data Basic CD transport and it is made of cheap plastic. When this remote is compared to the advanced joystick-based remote that comes with the Kenwood DV 2070 for a retail price of $850, Theta should be ashamed. If you are to own a DaViD, you will want some kind of a control system. At $4,500, what difference would it make to raise the price to $5,000 and throw in a preprogrammed Philips Pronto, perhaps even preloaded with additional control actions for a Theta Casablanca or Casanova?

The Music and the Movies
Every DVD I watched on the DaViD looked smoother than they did on other lesser-priced DVD players I have tested in my theater. On Tomorrow Never Dies (MGM – DVD), I have never seen the depth of field look so good and I have tested this cut with great DVD players, even line-doubled Plasma monitors. The DaViD performed better in terms of depth of field of the picture. The color resolution in Chapter 21, when a truckload of Chinese fireworks is set off, represents additional levels of detail, especially in the oranges and reds of the actual explosion. The DaViD made lesser DVD players look two-dimensional and dull.

The DaViD made my Sony TV look dynamically bright, much like a nine-inch CRT projector on a big screen, during a screening of Disney’s A Bug’s Life. Granted, the onscreen animation was computer-generated, but who cares? The greenery of the opening shot in the first chapter was simply eye candy.

On less than phenomenal DVD transfers like This Is Spinal Tap (New Line DVD), the DaViD played back the source faithfully, but was not able to work miracles. The depth of field looked the way it does on every other DVD through a lesser DVD player with more screen resolution. From a musical playback standpoint during "Big Bottom," live from Fidelity Hall in Philadelphia, you do get the urge to join Nigel, David and Derrick Smalls as the fourth bass player.

For 5.1 encoded music like Boys II Men’s "Thank you" from the II record (DTS Entertainment), the DaViD performed just as well as, but not better than, my Pioneer Elite CLD 79 Laserdisc player, with both units connected digitally into my Proceed AVP using identical Transparent Reference digital cables. The DaViD captured much of the depth, resolution and 20-bit goodness that you’d expect from one of these 5.1 audio gems, but the Pioneer Elite CLD 79 sounded warmer, although it lacked some of the DaViD’s depth.

The Downside
The quality control of the DaViD is worse than the weak remote control. My first DaViD completely failed within the span of the first CD I played. My second DaViD actually fell apart on me. You heard me right – the front panel for the DVD tray literally fell off in my hand three times. I have tried to ignore this shoddy workmanship, but I can’t. The DaViD should be built like a tank and it is simply not. Giving Theta the benefit of the doubt, I checked with one of their larger dealers to find that it is not uncommon to have the front piece of the DVD tray fall off. Apparently, the glue and/or double-sided tape that Theta uses is not strong enough for the repeated openings and closings. If my second DaViD is falling apart in less than two months, I fear how the DaViD will hold up over time. Theta reports a four percent failure rate on the DaViD which is only slightly higher than high end industry standards.

Yes, the Theta DaViD can provide a much better picture and sound than a $500 Sony or $850 Kenwood DVD machine, as it very well should, priced at $4,500. It cannot provide more reliability or better ease of use. Modern high performance home theater owners are not willing and shouldn’t have to put up with unreliable sources. Your DSS works every time, so does your VCR, so do even Theta Laserdisc players. With the DaViD, you have the Lamborghini syndrome, in that the machine can really perform and looks very sexy, but it is no daily driver.

Theta has created some advanced digital and analog modifications to the basic Pioneer DVD transport that results in a cutting-edge picture and very good soundtrack playback. The DaViD should be considered with the Meridian 800 ($14500), the Pioneer Elite DV 09 ($2,000), Theta’s own Voyager ($5,500) or Proceed’s PDMT ($5,500) for those seeking the absolute best DVD performance money can buy.

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