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T 585 Universal DVD Player Review

October 29, 2008

Home Cinema Choice

Martin Pipe

 

In many ways, NAD is the quintessential hi-fi separates company and over the years has acquired an enviable reputation for its wares—old-timers will remember the legendary 3020-series budget amplifiers. NAD has since 'gone AV'—ostensibly so that its commitments to sound performance can be experienced with movies, too.

NAD chief Neil Wilson admitted to HCC. 'It's taken us a little bit of time to really embrace AV. I believe we turned corner with the Masters Series, which has been lauded around the world. Now we're in a position to roll out some of that technology across our cheaper AV components.'

As an audio player, the T 585 is highly impressive—indeed, I would stick my neck out and say that it's one of the nicest-sounding DVD players in its price bracket.

While the company's commitment to AV may be newly reinvigorated, what hasn't changed is the functional design of (most) NAD products—check out the battleship-grey colour-scheme and industrial aesthetic appeal. Just as well, then, that the T 585 can be controlled via RS232 or an external IR sensor (sadly, not included). Out of sight, out of mind? Yes, but remember—you've still got to insert those DVDs.

NAD's no-nonsense approach counts in other areas. For a start, the T 585 shares many of the design features of the company's aforementioned 'cost-no-object' (and HCC Reference Status award-winning) Masters Series—specifically the M55 player. It may look military—unlike the Masters components—but the tank-like build quality is retained. Not for NAD the lightweight flimsy DVD trays of lesser players.

Then there's the strong complement of front-panel controls, capable of commanding many of the functions that would ordinarily require the remote—in this case, a rather somber affair whose (non-illuminated) layout could be improved.

Back of the tech

Turn the player around, and you'll find a sensible array of AV connections that includes HDMI 1.1 (with upscaling, if desired), component, two-channel downmix and 5.1 audio outputs (driven by Burr-Brown 24-bit/192kHz 'hybrid' digital-to-analogue converters). There's also a VGA output, which is highly unusual on DVD players of this price point. It's only of any value if you're running out of HDMI/component inputs on your display, regularly use a computer monitor, or reply on an old office-type projector. Another "oddity' is the 12V trigger input. If the voltage is present, the player works—otherwise it's placed into standby. Perhaps there is a coming need for such a feature amongst the custom install CEDIA brigade but I'm struggling to think of many applications.

Given its manufacturer's hi-fi heritage, it shouldn't shock you to learn that there's more to the T 585 than DVDs. It supports both the DVD-A and SACD high-res audio formats—and in full 5.1 mode too. SACDs are processed 'natively' in DSD form and not—as is commonly the case—converted first to PCM. Like all DVD players the T 585 will, of course, spin your CDs. However, this NAD goes one step further by handling the HDCD variant—which was once popular among audiophiles, at least until the coming of 'true' hi-res audio.

T585 Universal DVD PlayerSuch discs are recognized as 'standard' CDs by regular players, but HDCD-compatible hardware like the T 585 looks for special 'helper' content that boosts the resolution from the traditional 16 bits to a useful 20. Audiophiles aren't too keen on MP3 and WMA, but a NAD engineer has managed to sneak in compatibility with these compressed formats, too. The 5.1 output also delivers Dolby Digital soundtracks, but stops short at DTS.

Picture processing

So audio, as we've seen, is quite well looked after. How about the video? A nice touch is the video processor—which includes adjustments for black level, colour saturation and gamma but not noise reduction. They have to be accessed from the main menu though, which means you can't immediately see their effects on playback. The T 585 has no truck with codecs like DivX, XviD and WMV—a pity, given that compatible players can be had for a tenth of the NAD's asking price. So, not quite as 'universal' as I would have liked...

Although NAD has brought in Faroudja's familiar DCDi deinterlacing technology, scaling only goes as far as 1080i. In other words, there's no 1080p option, although NAD told us an upgrade will be made available. What is perhaps worse is that the HDMI output doesn't have a 576i mode (standard-definition interlaced, as it comes 'off the DVD'). The output mode can be selected by a 'resolution button', but unless you're using component the lowest you can expect is 576p.

Is this of note? The trust is that the proprietary deinterlacing technologies of some recent TVs can deliver superior results to what DCDi—now a bit long in the tooth—is capable of.

In addition, serious enthusiasts like to employ scalers and video processors—which work best when the source is operating in its raw native form. Perhaps NAD will look at this either with its proposed firmware update or on a second iteration.

It goes without saying that HDMI is preferable to component, because you bypass all of that conversion between analogue and digital. The HDMI 1.1 port employed here is restricted in terms of the audio it can carry. SACD's DSD streams cannot, for example, be conveyed to a compatible amplifier in this way.

Performance

Using the recent zombihorror 28 Weeks Later as a test DVD, my initial impressions of the T 585 are positive. The SD visuals aren't perhaps as finely-detailed as on some of the megabuck DVD players seen in the recent past, but they're as engaging as the build quality as far as contrast range, black level and colour rendition are concerned. Upscaling—720p or 1080i—doesn't add much to the reproduction, but then again you can't create information that wasn't there in the first place.

Further viewing reveals that occasionally, the component output is preferable to the HDMI. My reference Sharp LC-42XDIE TV (a Full HD 42 in LCD mode) occasionally revealed more vertical definition when a 576i component feed was used, regardless of the HDMI mode selected. As revealed, the T 585's HDMI port cannot deliver 576i. A pity, because the latter is slightly 'quieter' and fares better as far as colour fidelity is concerned. It would therefore appear that the Sharp's proprietary deinterlacer improves over the NAD's 'bought-in' Faroudja solution.

I have no reservations as far as audio quality is concerned—the T585 delivers the goods. I spun an SACD of Shostakovich's ominous 11th Symphony—which is very 'filmic' in character—and was drawn into its unfolding drama. Dynamics and detail are handled with equal adeptness here. Vocal performances, whether musical or as part of movie soundtracks, are also represented naturally.

Conclusion

As an audio player, the T 585 is highly impressive—indeed, I would stick my neck out and say that it's one of the nicest-sounding DVD players in its price bracket. In video terms NAD's deck can be considered above average. However, the lack of support for 1080p (now specified on much cheaper players) may disappoint those badge-hunters with compatible displays.

There's much to like about the T 585, but there are items I'd like to put on a wish list, such as the ability to play back DivX discus and 576i HDMI mode. But if such functionality isn't required—and audio performance rates highly in your list of priorities—then the T 585 is a very creditable new NAD.

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