Theta David II DVD/CD transport Page 2
Progressive players have their place. That place begins with any suitably equipped (but only recently available) direct-view CRT of 30 or more diagonal inches, capable of handling a 31.5kHz horizontal scan rate. It then proceeds up to most rear-projection TVs that claim HDTV compatibility. The end of the line for progressive-output players is probably front projectors with 7-inch CRTs aimed at reasonably sized screens (i.e., less than 7 feet wide). Owners of larger projectors with 9-inch CRTs and 8-foot and larger screens should already be using video processors capable of upconverting an interlaced signal to somewhere between 600p and 1080p. At that point, any advantage of a fixed-resolution progressive DVD player is overshadowed by the external video-processing power already in place in a high-end theater.
Being at the top end of that range, I clearly saw advantages to both methods. I upconvert interlaced DVDs to the equivalent of 635 progressive lines every day of the week with my Dwin HDP-500/TranScanner combination. As I did when I reviewed the DVDO iScan line doubler, I used a 480p configuration on the Dwin projector when viewing the progressive component outputs of the David II.
The first thing that struck me about the Theta's progressive output was its incredible image sharpness. The signal looked extremely clean at all times. With a fixed 480 lines of resolution, images were projected well below the level at which scan lines would overlap and soften the picture.
That's not to say there isn't a small price to be paid for projecting 480 lines on a video setup clearly capable of at least 600 lines of resolution without any softening, and that price is the visibility of scan lines. But visible scan lines were rarely an issue with the Theta driving my Dwin projector. If I stood right next to my Stewart screen, I could faintly detect scan lines in bright, high-IRE scenes. From my normal viewing seat some 12 feet away, I noticed scan lines only twice after having watched dozens of movies. The first time was at the very end of Bound (Republic Pictures 46298), the Wachowski brothers' first movie (The Matrix was their second). This is one of the best non-anamorphic DVDs out there, but let's not argue. When the camera pans vertically up over the very red hood of a classic car, a broad swath of scan lines appeared as if on cue.
The second movie where scan lines crept in was U-571 (Universal 20785), when the shallow depth charges produce huge plumes of white spray that cover large sections of the screen. While these frothy visages rise rapidly under force, their slow-motion descent was timed almost perfectly with the appearance of the dreaded scan lines. Their abrupt appearance was enough to shake me out of my cinema frame of mind and throw me unarmed into the glaring reality of an NTSC war.
Fortunately, my reactions to most of my viewing were exceptionally positive. The David II had one of the best pictures I've seen short of high-definition. The level of sharpness detail on Titus (Fox 20785) was disarming, akin in my experience only to the difference between CRT projectors with 7-inch guns and those with 9-inch guns. Running through test patterns on Video Essentials showed that the David II exhibited no artificial sharpness enhancement. The many small boxes on the Snell & Wilcox test pattern were the most stable I'd seen from any player, and the large "bouncing ball" collection of concentric circles exhibited absolutely no color fringing.
About halfway through the review process, I was settling into regular viewing through the David's progressive outputs and enjoying it when my daughter Laura pointed out a problem. She'd heard a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and didn't know who performed it, but a friend told her to check out the closing credits of Meet Joe Black (Universal 20785), where the performer in question turned out to be Hawaiian legend Israel "Izzy" Kamakawiwo'ole. During the song, white-lettered credits emerge on a black background. Some seemingly random tearing appeared on the screen: fleeting but clearly visible short horizontal white lines no more than one or two scan lines high crossed through the white letters and extended into the black background, appearing for an instant and disappearing just as quickly. I scanned back until I got to the scene before the credits, one replete with a normal color palette; now knowing what to look for, I saw the artifacts here as well.
To describe this problem as subtle would be an understatement. When I returned the unit to Frank Culmone at Theta (unfortunately sans offending disc), it took him three days of testing before he finally saw what I was desperately trying to describe. Once he did, Theta devised a cure that involved some program tweaking on their part, and within a week I'd gotten the unit back. To their credit, Theta never blamed the problem on a malfunctioning component or defective part. While that would have been an easy way out for them, it speaks of their integrity that customer satisfaction, not avoidance of blame, appears to be their first concern. The returned unit sailed through Meet Joe Black, and all other discs, with no problems. In fact, this corrected unit is responsible for the preponderance of my positive comments.
Up to this point I had been so enamored of the David's progressive outputs and CD transport acumen that, other than a quick film clip here and there during setup, I hadn't bothered to watch anything substantial through its interlaced component outputs (using the Dwin TranScanner as a scaler). The first movie I picked for that purpose was Any Given Sunday (Warner 18322), and from the opening, the solid black backgrounds of the opening credits were marred by very active moiré patterns that disappeared when words or other images faded in. Rewinding to the mostly blue-and-white Warner logo at the very beginning of the chapter proved unsettling as well, as the moiré patterns reappeared, healthy, alive, and quite active.