Saturday, September 6, 2008

the SACD side of the equation, and why Sony sucks

After investing in a decent audio setup, I then discovered the world of SACD, where thousands of classical albums were available with better audio and multi-channel output. That's great, I thought, how do I get started?

Well, besides the hardware requirements, one should be aware that SACD discs usually have multiple audio formats on them, a regular layer that plays fine on a normal cd player, and a new layer that contains HD content that can only be played back on an SACD player. Oh, but the fun doesn't stop there, the SACD layer is encoded in DSD, which outputs only through HDMI (or some obscure thing predating HDMI). (I'm not clear yet whether this is because of bandwidth limitations, DRM, or both). Regardless, this means that you can't use optical (either due to bandwidth limitations, or processing power to convert a DSD signal into DTS). However, most SACD players will output in analog, but this requires conversion into linear PCM format, which is not quite as nice as DSD.

Oh, and then you need the hardware to playback DSD. If you're just using analog, then any standard hardware will do, but as of now, it seems as though most A/V receivers that play DSD are rather expensive. Although, the Yamaha RX-V661 is pretty inexpensive at < $400, but it doesn't seem to have HDMI 1.3 spec, so it may not do SACD over digital (HDMI). (I'm still a little confused about this issue.)

So where does Sony fit in with this picture? Besides the fact that Sony dropped backwards compatibility on the newer PS3's (even after moving from hardware to software emulation), they dropped a bunch of other features as well: flash card readers, and SACD support. "Fine Hao, so buy an older PS3, or trade a newer one for an older one." First, the only real advantage to a newer PS3 is that it is produced on 65nm instead of 90nm, reducing power usage and probably fan noise. (Well, I guess you could also have an aversion to chrome trim.) Another issue is the fact that the PS3 has never supported DSD playback for SACD, but converted to PCM. There were hopes that Sony would release a firmware update to enable DSD for SACD over HDMI, but that seems unlikely now that the new PS3's no longer play SACD's at all.

That being said, I am optimistic about future prospects. Right now, if I had to buy an SACD player, I would go with the Oppo 980. Yes, the 981 and 983 do a slightly better job of upconverting video, but the 980 does a much better job of SACD. (There are issues with enabling DSD over HDMI in the 983.) Plus, it converts to analog for my current needs, but also supports DSD over HDMI for any future receiver purchase.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home