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Comparative Evaluation: HTPC vs. Prioneer DV-565

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by meep, Oct 26, 2003.

  1. meep

    meep
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    UPDATE:
    -------------------------------------
    The results and comments on audio perfromance in this post are superceded by a later test leading to different conclusions. See later in the thread for the secodn test. Video comments in this post still stand.
    -------------------------------------



    Hi all,

    Decided to post my thoughts on my weekend's work.

    As people may garner from my site, I'm on my third HTPC build. I finally got the PC to the point where I was happy with picture and sound quality. Key A/V components are H3D-I and RGB daughterboard, X-Card for PDI to H3D, Delta 410 for audio. I have also managed to get a rock-solid XP install with all the junk stripped out resulting in virtually stutter free DVD playback and very crisp picture from Sky.

    Growing increasingly frustrated with HTPC control as well as a desire to explore the world of DVD-A and SACD, I took the plunge and invested in a Pioneer DV-565 universal player. I've just spent the last day and a half setting this up and trying various audio/video configurations through my Pioneer VSX 2011 receiver.

    Here's what I've found...

    First, ease of use has increased dramatically. Now I can use a single Pioneer remote to control Receiver & Player. It will be a simple matter to re-program Girder to respond to the Pioneer remote commands and manage switching of sources in the Holo3D application on source select etc. Pronto can be set aside at last.

    With everything wired up and ready to go, I decided to try a direct audio test first. In the HTPC corner, winamp with the ASIO plug-in outputs 96kHz data to the 2011 from the Delta 410 via a coax connection. In the Dv-565 corner, both analog phono and digital coax are connected to the Pioneer.

    To make it a fair fight, I chose to use the digtal connection in both cases thus letting the 2011 do the DAC. First of all, I popped one CD into the 565 and then into the HTPC. With this comparison, I could not hear a significant difference but there was about a 30 second time difference between stopping one player, switching the Cd, changing sources, sitting down etc.

    Next, I searched around my CD collection to see if I had a duplicate of a reasonable test tune. I came across Massive Attack's "Protection" on the original CD and also on a greatest hit's compilation. I lined the track up on each player and hit go.

    Well, what a difference now between the two players. To do an A/B compare, all i had to do was change sources on the receiver - no time delay. The Dv-565 won hands down!

    The sound was much more expansive. Much more dynamic with more of everything, more bass, more top end and significant improvement in vocal presentation, quality and depth. I switched the CDs around to be sure there was no issue regarding different recordings etc. There was not.

    So, the DV-565 plays CDs significantly better than the HTPC, does it with less background/mechanical/cooling noise, (ie silent) and also handles SACD and DVD-A. There is no doubt, it is a much better option for audio replay than my HTPC. Oh dear :-(

    Next, a comparison of visuals. I connected the DV-565 up to the component input of my H3D card. I popped in AVIA and calibrated the input. Now for a direct comparison between the Pioneer player and the HTPCs X-card feeding the H3d's PDI input.

    As before, I found something I had two copies of - a particular episode of Stargate SG-1 that apears on Season 1 and Season 3 box sets. Both were set in train more or less in tandem.

    Again, a direct instant comparison was afforded through switching sources (component vs. PDI) in the Holograph application.

    This time, the HTPc appeared to have the edge. While both pictures were evenly matched in terms of colour balance, brightness and contrast thanks to AVIA, the X-card was producing more detail. In comparison, the DV-565 over component was quite noticably softer. One of the downsides of the X-card, however, was the introduction of additional "grain" in the image, something that was not present in the 565 picture.

    With very little in it, I proceeded to watch some scenes of the same movie over and over on each player. The movie in qestion as Attck of the Clones, for no other reason than it was the first I could lay my hands on that had THX optimizer.

    Again, colour, balance etc. were identical. Again, the HTPC/PDi solution was giving more detail. This was especially apparent in wide shots populated by a group of characters. Such characters in reasonable long shot just had more definition on the X-Card than from the 565.

    So, what's the conclusion? I was surprised by the difference in audio quality. Perhaps with an even better sound card, I might hear some improvement but that would be a silly investment given that the 565 gives me ALL audio formats and better stereo sound quality now.

    On picture quality, I'm a little disappointed with the Pioneer player. Or perhaps I should be happy with the HTPC? Anyway, now I have a DVD playback solution with high WAF (provided she remembers to power up the HTPC to act as scaler) but will continue to use the HTPC/X-Card solution for critical viewing sessions.

    My next step will be to source high quality component cables for connecting the 565 to the H3d (the above test was with quite low grade video cables). It will be interesting to see if that makes a significant difference. After that, I'll have a look to see if there's an SDI mod available for the 565. That would probably be a better comparison.

    Maybe some day, the HTPc will be regulated to scaler/de-interlacer duty only. Maybe not.

    Peter
     
  2. Branxx

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    Peter,

    Excellent post. This will help many potential user of either persuasion.

    I have been using HTPC for number of years and have very positive impression with regard to quality of video and in particular the audio.

    I do agree that the simplicity of separates is greatly lacking in HTPCs. Hopefully that would be developed in the recent future.
     
  3. JohnAd

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    On the audio comparison: Would it be possible to retest so that the PC isn't doing any resampling, I'd be a bit suspicious about the 44.1 -> 96 conversion. The outcome may well be the same...

    John
     
  4. meep

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    John

    No need to retest, I'd done this before some months ago with an A/B compare of the same PC feeding the 2011 in the first case with upsampling enabled and in the second with no processing applied.

    In that case, there was a small but noticible improvement in overall sound quality when outputting 96kHz to the receiver.

    The difference was not large but the upsampled audio did have improved dynamics and definition.

    For the past few months, I've been listening to music with the upsample settings enabled as it sounded best to my ear. it was for that reason that I used those settings in this lates comparison.

    I find it odd that there should be such a difference given that both sources (HTPC and Dv-565) are effectively outputting a digital stream to the receiver for decoding.:confused:

    Anyhoo, that's what I found. Surprising but true.

    Peter
     
  5. JohnAd

    JohnAd
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    Peter

    I suppose I'm just saying that if A>B and B>C then A isn't necessaily better than C when it comes to audio. But what you're probably hearing is some other effect, it'd be interesting to know what caused such a noticable difference (or the delta's jitter figures are embarrasingly high)

    John
     
  6. Gordon @ Convergent AV

    Gordon @ Convergent AV
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    I'd re-do the audio swapping the machine the CD's are in as the same track on two different CD's may not sound the same.

    Also I think the graininess may not be caused by X-Card but by DCDi processing of holocard. This graininess is something I see on many devices with the big F chipset.

    Gordon
     
  7. meep

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    OK

    Right now I'm going to burn a copy of the same track to two CDs. That will eliminate any differences in audio quality. I'll then run the test again using the following sources;

    1. HTPC, Winamp, Delat 410 Coax out upsampled to 96kHz
    2. HTPC, Winamp, Delat 410 Coax out, no upsampling
    3. Pioneer Dv-565 Coax out

    All will be sent to digital inputs on the Pioneer 2011/ I'll be able to A/B between 1/3 and 2/3 by simply clicking source select on my remote.

    Tune back in an hour for the results....

    (Gordon, Won't the DCI be engaged on the incoming component feeds to the H3D as well? Should I not also see the grain there?)

    Regards
     
  8. meep

    meep
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    So, in response to comments on yesterday’s post, I’ve gone and conducted a second audio test comparing my newly acquired Pioneer DV-565 to my trusty HTPC.

    This time, to ensure accuracy and to try to determine the wide difference audible in yesterday’s test, I took much more care with set-up. Specifically, I took the time to burn identical copies of Massive Attack’s “Protection” to blank CD’s to ensure the exact same source material was playing in each unit. Furthermore, I checked all cabling to ensure similar grade interconnects were in use and double-checked that each input on the receiver was set to digital and that each source as set to Direct.

    The first test was to ascertain the differences between the Dv-565 feeding the Pioneer over digital coax and the HTPC playing the CD through Winamp with the ASIO plug-in direct through the Delta 410 digital out (no upsampling).

    Something must have changed since yesterday as the differences were not nearly so apparent. The Pioneer just shaded this with better bass definition. The HTPC bass was not quite so smooth, a little fuzzier.

    There was also a difference in the quality or timbre of upper mid-range/low treble but I could not say one was better – just different. There is a particular percussion track which fades into the song after about 20 seconds. This had a different quality on each with a little more “space” around it from the 565. In other areas, the two sources matched almost perfectly. Vocals in the test track were identical.

    OK, next test. Bumped the HTPC up to 96kHz output in the M-Audio control panel and restarted the tune on both machines. This time, there was no audible difference between the two.

    This result in improved output in 96kHz upsampling mode is consistent with my test findings of some months ago when I decided a small improvement was worth running my HTPC like this permanently (a downside of this is that the 2011 locks into 96kHz mode and disables much post-processing. In particular, surround music modes are unavailable).

    Comparing the DV-565 to HTPC in 96kHz mode via A/B source switching on the receiver resulted in no discernible differences.

    These results are much more in line with my initial expectations and I can only conclude that other factors caused the severe differences I was hearing in my previous test (stereo vs direct mode on the two sources perhaps?)

    Just for fun, I then proceeded to compare analog outputs from each device. This is perhaps a better test as the DAC is occurring in the unit itself (DV-565 and Delta-410 respectively).

    In this test, the HTPC came off better as it had a much better bass balance than the 565. Yes, both had bass present but the HTPC had better integration with the rest of the frequency range. It was as if the bass control on the 565 was turned down. (indeed, it may be worth investigating bass management functionality on the DVD deck to see if there is a way of compensating but as the unit arrived yesterday, that will have to wait.).

    Another possible cause of the differential is the quality of cables used to connect each device to the amp. The analog interconnects on the Dv-565 are of inferior quality to those used on the HTPC. I’m planning to purchase a range of analog and video interconnects next weekend and will perhaps retry this test.

    In other areas of the frequency spectrum, the two units were virtually matched in analog mode.

    In effect, this analog only test is inconsequential in any case as digital out from either device (receiver DACs in use) is noticeably superior to even the better analog signal from the HTPC.

    So, that’s where we stand. In contradiction of yesterdays results, I now find that both HTPC and Dv-565 are more or less comparable in terms of stereo audio reproduction, with the baby Pioneer having a slight edge unless the HTPC is running in 96kHz mode.

    I’m happier with this as it’s more in line with expectations and goes some way towards proving that a HTPC can be as good as commercial devices. However, the Dv-565 is a low end unit and cannot be expected to have the very best capabilities either in terms of audio of video. I look forward to conducting a similar test with a similarly priced CD only player.

    My HTPC, for music, is pretty much set up to work exactly like a CD player. Pop in a disc, it plays. Hit eject, it stops. So, for usability, the HTPC and DV-565 are equally matched. In fact, the HTPC might just have the edge as I can display disc title and track name on the LCD.

    However, it does take the HTPC about 3 times longer to reach “Ready” state from standby than it does the DV-565 (45 seconds vs. 13). In addition, although quite a bit of time and money has been invested in silencing the HTPC, (and it is remarkably quiet), the Pioneer is virtually silent when spinning a disc.

    All things considered, the DV-565 must be considered a better buy as it includes the capability to play both DVD-A and SACD media. I’d need to purchase and install specific hardware on the HTPC to get DVD-A capability and it is unlikely I’ll ever get to play SACD.

    And it is worth it. My only high-resolution title at present (Meatloaf, Bat out of Hell, Stereo SACD) certainly sounds quite superb with levels of detail and clarity I have not previously heard from my speakers.

    I suppose my HTPC does still give me a slight edge in video (see previous posts, above) and it is of course a multi-purpose unit on which also handles scaling etc.) I don’t see myself ditching it just yet, though it’s probably going to see a bit less use over the next while, for audio in any case.

    (Thanks for reading this far :smashin: )

    So for those needing a summary, (or who did not read ALL the above);


    HTPC (my specific config) is better for stereo audio because;

    -Audio out put is quite configurable thus providing many tweaking opportunities to improve audio
    -Produced better analog rendition of test track
    -Displays more information on each track
    -Has digital audio quality comparable to Dv-565 in 96kHz mode


    Pioneer DV-565 is better for stereo audio because;

    -Can play DVD-A and SACD
    -Is ready for use from standby three times faster
    -Is quieter in operation
    -Has better digital audio quality than HTPC(in 44.1kHz mode)



    Peter
     
  9. Gordon @ Convergent AV

    Gordon @ Convergent AV
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    Peter,

    Sorry I thought that you were comparing direct video v holo3d. You are correct the way you conducted the test would have made the DCDi effect I speak of obvious on both sources.

    Good job on your re-match!

    Gordon
     
  10. JohnAd

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    Peter

    Thanks for doing the rematch! It's interesting that the 44.1 isn't up to snuff, I wonder why that is, maybe the card uses a poorer clock or something.

    Plus fpr me thebig benefit of HCPC is that you can rip the audio to HD and play from there.

    John
     
  11. meep

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    Hi All

    I've edited both of the above tests into a single (coherent) review and posted it on my website .

    For those interested, choose AV from the menu and follow the link at the end of the first section.

    Regards

    Peter
     
  12. Branxx

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    Peter,

    The 1st half of your test i.e. the comparison of digital feeds between M-Audio Delta 410 and Pioneer DV-565 into your Pioneer VSX 2011 receiver resembles very closely a comparison I did with Charlie Whitehouse more than a year ago.

    In that test we very using HTPC with RME DIGI96/8 PAD and Theta David II transport (just for the sense of scale the Theta David II used come with very esoteric cables with the total price tag in excess of £7,000). To cut the story short we could not identify obvious difference in the resulting sound between the to. To add more spice to the story, HTPC did not even use any special playback software (like ASIO or kernel streaming). The CDs were ripped in lossless compression and stored on the network drive.

    The reason why I am dragging this old story is to highlight the difference what a small price difference in sound card can make to the perceived sound quality. RME DIGI96/8 PAD currently costs £90 more than M-Audio Delta 410, and I think that was the difference about a year ago as well. Even more drastic improvements are possible by going £150 above the cost of Delta 410 and buying RME HDSP9632.

    As for the 2nd part of your test (comparison of analogue out) your findings are confirming the pattern that even modestly priced soundcards are producing better audio output that almost any mid-range player. For example only yesterday Apocalipse reported ” I felt like Marty in BTTF when the speaker blows him back, the power of the music was astonishing.” after starting to use RME HDSP 9632. I have also posted my own test between various sound cards and Lexicon MC-12B here.

    There is another interesting comparison between M-Audio Revolution 7.1 and Denon AVR-5803 that is giving Denon the edge.

    Again, thank you for your efforts in conducting your test and post a well balanced report.
     
  13. Gordon @ Convergent AV

    Gordon @ Convergent AV
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    We will be doing an A/B demo of HTPC v Decent sub£1000 CD player at The Event. We will also be trying to explain how to actually tell if something is better or worse rather than just different. I know it's going to cause alot of fights.......still it's all for fun.

    Gordon
     
  14. CrispyXUK

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    I also do not notice any difference between my Revo 7.1 compared to my Pioneer 626D through coax to my Denon 3802, but I do hear a slight improvement on the Revo with analog.

    Will I hear any major improvement using an RME DIGI card? It is cheaper to buy than a budget/mid CD player.
     
  15. Branxx

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    RME DIGI96/8 PAD costs £212, HDSP9632 is £282 (both Inc VAT but you'll need to add postage).
     
  16. CrispyXUK

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    Thats a lot of dollar dude!

    I currently have a Revo 7.1, if I get an RME DIGI will I get a big improvement in CD audio over analog? will SP/DIF sound much better for movies?
     
  17. Branxx

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    In a relative sense (considering Revo is about £70) I don't think the sound quality will jump 3 times if you switch to DIGI96/8. Revo is considered to have better analogue audio quality to Delta 410 (and that is already a reasonably good card).

    I haven't tested Revo myself but from what was written on it I think it is an extremely good value for money. I suggest reading Revo vs. Denon 5803 and see if you really need an upgrade.
     

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