Arcam FMJ DV27 Progressive Scan DVD Player

      Date posted: December 16, 2001

Arcam FMJ DV 27

Sugg. Retail: $4250.00 (CAN)
Distributor: Emerald Audio Resources,
RR #1, Palgrave, Ontario,
Canada, L0N 1P0,
(905) 880-7170 FAX 880-7171

Reprinted From the Almanac 02 Issue

      Last spring I spent some time with Arcam’s Diva DV88 DVD player (Spring 2001, Vol. 20 #2), and was impressed by its S video output, but less so by its non-progressive component output picture. Now we have in front of us the FMJ range player with progressive scan output, which is said to offer superior audio performance as well. It plays CD-Rs, Video CDs, and “some MP3 audio files”, according to the manual, as well as decoding HDCDs.

      As well as two sets of the component outputs (oddly enough, one progressive scan, one not), the DV27 also provides a European SCART multipin output for RGB, so can be used in this way with front projectors that prefer such an input. It can also be used with PAL video output, as I discovered when I first hooked it up; a secret numeric code keyed in on the remote control was required to convert it to NTSC operation. There are also S and composite video outputs, and two sets of stereo audio outs. Finally, the SCART output can in the setup menu be set to output component video instead of RGB, and the progressive RCAs can in turn be set to output RGB.

     In terms of audio, the DV27 plays 96/24 stereo DVDs (but not DVD-A), but does not have Dolby Digital or DTS decoding built in, and will output a DTS digital signal. It is also claimed to be superior to the DV88 as a CD player.

     The remote control is pretty much identical to that of the previous player, with lots of small buttons (unlit) identified by unreadably small type right on the buttons. As noted in the DV88 review, it is a teaching remote: it teaches you to remember the location of the important buttons. For any function more complex you turn up the lights. Fortunately, the most-used buttons are clustered around the large cursor 4-way toggle button.

     According to the manual, the FMJ DV27 uses the “Pure Progressive motion adaptive 4-field processing by Silicon Image Corporation”. And I would have liked to see the benefits of this added-on DVDO-like scaler, but encountered a fundamental incompatibility between the progressive component outputs and our Pioneer Elite Pro 710 HD TV. Such glitches are, I’m told, not rare in the new world of progressive component connections.

     Here, the 710 locked its picture mode in Full when receiving a progressive signal (it does this with satellite HDTV, too), also stretching the picture to the edges of the 16×9 screen, making all people short and fat. This condition could not be modified on the TV because of the locked aspect ratio, and the DV27 has no adjustment either. Thus, I ended up doing all of my watching via the interlaced component outputs and the S video ones.

     This was definitely not such a bad thing, the S picture coming very close to the component in quality when seen through the built-in scaler of the 710 as a 480p picture. However, scaling (or line doubling and possible frame rate conversion from film to video) is much better when done in the digital domain of the player than as a video signal sent to the TV or an outboard device because there is less guesswork about the nature of the signal.

     Therefore, in some ways I preferred the S picture from the DV27, since it had lower noise and fewer digital video artifacts, but also slightly lower resolution. Both were highly acceptable pictures, with bright vivid colours, exceptional blacks, and good grey scale, though not quite in the league of the Pioneer Elite DV-AX10 in this last category.

     I watched with pleasure a variety of film and video sourced DVDs, including The Fifth Element and The Thomas Crown Affair (both anamorphic), and a number of Imax films that were reviewed in our last issue. In my view, these large format 4:3 films that use the whole pixel structure uniformly benefit less from progressive output because they’ve already minimized line structure, and I found that setting the aspect to Zoom to fill the screen resulted in a very film-like picture with barely visible line structure from the Arcam FMJ player. It was cleaner and virtually line-free in progressive out, but then there were all these fat-headed dwarves running around the screen.

     I also found that the picture from non-anamorphic widescreen films, for example, The Arrival and Showgirls, looked better than I’ve seen from most other DVD players when scaled by the TV and also seen in Zoom mode.

     In order to ascertain the progressive picture quality of the DV27, I made the quite pleasant trek up to Palgrave, Ontario, where Arcam distributor Gary Nicholson lives and works, and has a large home theatre room with a Sony CRT front projector, 100″ screen, and of course, a DV27 as DVD source. I took with me several discs, some anamorphic, some letterboxed, and here’s what I saw:

     The Mask Of Zorro looked lovely and detailed, as did scenes from The Thomas Crown Affair. Gary laughed along with me at an outtake from High Fidelity in which John Cusack as record store owner Rob tries to bid up an embittered wife, (Beverley D’Angelo) trying dump her philandering husband’s 45-rpm record collection at the lowest price possible. Again, a beautiful picture, with no motion artifacts and very good colour and detail. The recent Star Wars: The Phantom Menace also looked pretty spectacular in its THX remastering for DVD.

     But there’s still a bit of a fly in the the soup, a rabbit in the carrot patch, a dog in the manger…um, sorry. The problem is, though the DV27 deals with non-anamorphic pictures well, and reproduces them with excellent resolution, it does not automatically set the aspect ratio with anamorphic pictures for different screen widths from 1.85 to 2.5:1. Therefore, Gary had to select these on the projector’s aspect ratio menu. Most DVD players I have used always automatically got the anamorphic aspect ratio right.

     I also acquainted myself with how good the DV27 could sound, both through the reference Sunfire Theater Grand II and through its own DACs from stereo 44.1 and 96 kHz discs. First, to get a feel for CD resolution and detail, I put on Loon’s Tunes from our Test & Reference CD (soon to be reissued), and was impressed with all the little bird sounds and the loon echoes off the rock face at Fox Lake; it was like being at the cottage again. Next, I played our Bellingham Sessions, Vol. 1, and noted the clean, sweet, and dynamic percussion, as well as very clean piano, bass and guitar, while on the Chesky DVD sampler, Livingston Taylor and his guitars sounded very alive. Classical discs included Gershwin’s American In Paris in the Classic reissue at 96K, which was quite spectacular, and the recent DVD-A Mahler 2nd with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, the latter heard from its Dolby digital layer, and sounding exceptional for the bit-starved format in discrete surround.

     This made me wonder if there was some upsampling going on, especially in light of previous collaborations between Arcam and their close neighbour in Cambridge, digital wizards dCS. The stereo version of the Mahler from the player’s analog outputs sounded very much like a good CD version, further attesting to the excellence of the DV27’s internal DACs. Overall, I would say that this player, though not DVD-Audio equipped, can still give pleasure with such discs in DTS, as well as with hybrid SACDs from the CD layer.

     It’s clear that there’s a lot in the FMJ DV27, both in audio and video circuitry. Returning to the latter, part of the price of this player can be seen in its output versatility. Not only can it operate in PAL video format, but can output progessive component, interlaced component, RGB, S-Video, or composite pictures. And from our considerable time with this flagship Arcam player, it’s evident that with any video display it will always provide excellent or better performance, and superb performance on the best ones.

Andrew Marshall

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