Dec 15, 2005

Dead DVD Player (sort of)

Looks like my DVD player is on the fritz.

It started about two months ago. Whenever I would start to play a DVD, squiggly lines would fill the screen. They would last about 2 minutes at first, then over time they would last 5 minutes, then 8, then 15, and finally, over the last week, they would just stay around the whole movie. They are really, really distracting. Imagine watching the beautiful images of March of the Penguins with blue squiggly lines all over the place.

I have a SONY DAV-C700 Dream System. It’s one of those “Home Theater In A Box” setups where the DVD player and receiver are all in one, and it came with 5.1 speakers. For my small Manhattan apartment setup, it’s great, especially because it’s only one unit and doesn’t take up that much space.

I considered getting it fixed, but it would probably cost at least $50 and a new player would cost $100. If I got it fixed, there would be no guarantee that it wouldn’t come back again in six months. So at this point, I think I decided to get a new player, and plug the audio output from the new player into one of the inputs on the DAV-C700.

The downside to this idea is that I have no idea if the DAV-C700 will transcode the 5.1 it gets from the standard L-R RCA inputs. Obviously it trans codes the 5.1 from the DVD, but I can’t find anything that says it will or won’t from an external source. I might as well give it a try and see what happens.

I think I have settled on a Sony DVPNC80V/S. The key feature I want is a multi-disc changer. I’m surprised how few multi-disc changers there are in the sub-$150 space. It was either the above mentioned Sony or a Panasonic. One feature killed the Panasonic. Apparently, when you are watching a DVD on the Panasonic and you want to stop watching a disc, but want it to “remember” where you were so you can start back at the same spot later, you have to hit a memory button and then hit stop. On the Sony, you just hit stop and it automatically remembers (you hit stop a second time if you don’t want it to remember). Because I have been using a Sony for a long time now, I can’t tell you how convenient that automatic memory feature is, especially without having to remember to use it.

If it turns out that the DAV-C700 will not transcode the 5.1 from the audio inputs, then it looks like I will need to go get a new receiver. I can’t imagine not watching a movie in 5.1 anymore.

December 20, 2005

So I tired all sorts of ways to make the new DVD player work with the old DAV-C700 and produce 5.1 surround sound, but alas, I failed. So I did the only thing I could do&helipse;I bought a new receiver and speakers.

I got a Sony STR-DE598 which is a 6.1 receiver. I also got a JBL 5.1 speaker set with powered 8” subwoofer. It took about two hours to set everything up, and to fix it once I realized I wired the left and right speakers incorrectly (oops). Then for the big test. Playing a DVD that has a clearly defined 5.1 soundtrack.

For testing, I used the U2 Go Home concert DVD because I knew it had regular stereo, Dolby Digital, and DTS soundtracks, and because I knew you could clearly hear the difference between them. I put it in the player, set the receiver to DVD input and auto sound (it will figure out the correct coding by the signal input), and hit play.

As expected, since standard PCM stereo is the default soundtrack on the DVD, the receiver played it in stereo. It sounded fine, but flat since I was used to the 5.1 version. I then switched the audio track to the Dolby Digital 5.1 and watched as the receiver did nothing but continue to output in stereo.

There is one point on the DVD where there is a definite difference between the 5.1 soundtracks and the stereo soundtrack. In the middle of playing Until the End of the World, there’s a chick that screams, “Bono! Bono!” at the top of her lungs while he is laying on the walkway that makes the heart. You can only hear that on the 5.1 soundtracks. It’s not there on the stereo version, at all. So I made sure I was using one of the 5.1 versions and fast forwarded to that part of the concert, and there it was, you could hear it, but still the receiver was only outputting in stereo. Hmm.

So I took the time to actually read the manual and setup all the speaker settings. Took about 15 minutes with the confusing menu system, but it didn’t make a difference. No matter what soundtrack I chose, it was always output in stereo.

It was after I pulled out most of my hair that I decided that I should double-check the settings on the DVD player. I looked at the audio settings and saw that it was set so that if it was playing Dolby Digital or DTS, it would output stereo PCM. Doh! I realized that at one point in this whole endeavor, I had reset the DVD settings back to the factory defaults.

I changed the DVD output and everything worked. Perfectly.

Only one problem. On the DVD player, when it is playing a multi-channel source, it has a little blue light on the front to let you know it’s playing multi-channel. The one small problem is that this light is about as bright as two Suns. And it’s blue. And it’s right in the front. Did I mention it’s bright? I had to tape a piece of tissue over it just to bring it down to an almost acceptable level.