New Meridian 800 Combo Player Pushes Performance Envelope

Is there a computer in your audio future? Meridian thinks so. An expensive new flagship disc player hints at things to come at more affordable prices. Working at the far edge of the digital playback frontier, the UK company has just announced its 800 Reference, a new combination CD/DVD player, built like a computer, that takes digital audio and video playback to a new level. The player "sets the bar for DVD and CD reproduction," according to a June 16 press release.

Guided by AES Fellow Bob Stuart, chairman of the Acoustic Renaissance for Audio, Meridian has consistently worked toward extracting higher levels of resolution from encoded bits. Playback servomechanisms, control software, digital conversion, resolution enhancement, and digital interfaces have all been improved in Meridian's laboratories.

The 800 Reference is unique in claiming the absolute best performance from both CD audio and DVD video. A DVD-ROM drive is the heart of the machine, capable of reading CD, CD-R, CD-V, or DVD discs, and all decoding and data manipulation take place on replaceable plug-in circuit cards---as in a computer. A slot is also available for a second drive. (Dare we suggest that a DVD burner might one day occupy that spot?) Operating software upgrades will be available to owners, who can download the codes directly from Meridian's website into the 800 via an RS-232 connector on the back panel.

Stuart and crew say they have taken all the necessary precautions regarding the unit's mechanical stability. The company, however, stresses that the 800's vanishingly low jitter and error rates are due to "three levels of memory-based de-jittering, as well as three layers of error correction, to guarantee the lowest jitter and highest data integrity possible." The 800's memory architecture "completely eliminates" such problems, the company emphasizes. A key member of the DVD Audio Group, Stuart succeeded in having Meridian's Lossless Packing (MLP) system accepted as an industry standard: MLP has been selected as the definitive coding system for the DVD-Audio format, due next year.

Compatible with all digital surround processors and video-display devices according to the company, the 800 will also work as a preamplifier with any of Meridian's Digital Active loudspeakers, or can drive a power amp in a non-Meridian setup. Video capability is said to be as perfect as is now possible, with provisions made for upgradeability: "For the first time ever, movie buffs can achieve picture quality close to the original formats, bypassing all the depredations of analog storage . . . and video interchange." Supported audio formats include Dolby Digital (AC-3), MPEG Surround, MPEG Extended for 7.1-channel movie sound, MPEG Audio, and DTS for movies, music and performance videos, and extended digital formats including MLP and 96kHz or 88.2kHz 24-bit PCM.

CD playback is enhanced by Digital Signal Processing (DSP) techniques: "The 800's complex digital filter automatically upsamples data to double its sampling rate....Meridian's proprietary DSP allows 44.1kHz 16-bit CDs to be reproduced at 88.2kHz with 24-bit word length, while DVDs with 48kHz 20-bit audio are upsampled to 96kHz 24-bit."

The 800 Reference will accept any 800-series input card to configure it for high-quality two-channel use. The suggested retail price varies from $12,000 to $16,000, depending on configuration.