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From Hi-Fi World - January 2009 issue
BUY THE MAGAZINE (back issues subject to availability)
Noel Keywood finds that Yamaha's new BD-S2900 Blu ray player paints a pretty picture...
Manufacturers are stumbling over themselves to get Blu-ray players out now the format war is over and Yamaha are the latest, with this their first machine, the BD-S2900. Denon and NAD are hot on their heels, press releases sitting in my Inbox tell me, and Swedish Oppo are about to launch a player they tell us, so there's plenty of competition - and that's not taking into account Samsung's excellent BD-P1500 priced at just £230 that I reviewed in our September 08 issue. By way of contrast Yamaha's new BD-P2900 is on offer at £699, so it is a premium product in an expanding and competitive market place. Can it justify its position I wondered?
The Yamaha can decode all digital audio formats, including DTS-HD Master Audio, the most processor intensive of the lot. It also copes with Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus, an upgraded version of Dolby Digital surround-sound, a heavily compressed format. All these can be output in native form ('Bitstream') so the receiver can decode them, or converted internally to PCM and then output, for older receivers unable to decode. So the Yamaha is flexible in this area, able to operate as a transport in effect. It doesn't handle SACDs nor DVD-As, but then neither do current rivals.
Like all Blu-ray players, it plays both CDs and DVDs, in addition to Blu-ray discs, upscaling cooking video from DVDs up to 1080p high definition via the HDMI link. Whilst in theory this cannot improve picture quality, in practice it certainly produces a pleasing result; at present the Blu-ray high def version isn't always convincingly better, I find.
For those without an HDMI input on their receiver, the Yamaha decodes all audio formats to the analogue outputs and 96kHz PCM is fully decoded to give the 48kHz bandwidth expected, our measurements showed, not downsampled internally as on Sony players for example. However, I wasn't surprised to find that the BD-S2900 cannot support 24bit linearity through these outputs, its internal convertors just aren't good enough. It doesn't even match good CD players when converting 16bit to analogue from CD so I am afraid to say the premium price doesn't give any better result if the BD-S2900 is to be connected up via its analogue outputs, used as a CD, DVD and Blu-ray player.
Like all the Blu-ray players I have measured to date, the analogue outputs exist solely to provide compatibility with legacy receivers. Manufacturers expect connection to be made via HDMI, transferring responsibility for sound quality to the receiver. So this is not a high quality stand alone player and, indeed, as it had a little more jitter on its S/PDIF digital outputs, optical and electrical, than the very low jitter Samsungs it isn't the best choice for this type of use either. I don't want to make too much out of this because by absolute standards jitter was low and sound quality from CD quite warm and easy on the ear, I found.
Yamaha provide phono socket analogue audio outputs on the rear for 5.1 channel surround-sound, a two channel stereo mix down output and digital audio outputs, as well the HDMI digital cable that handles both audio and video, to the 1.3a standard. The player decodes both Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio to its rear analogue outputs, so you get full surround-sound canon fire from 'Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World' for example which, like most Fox titles, is coded in DTS HD Master Audio. I also played all Dolby codings including TrueHD and found the analogue outputs provide proper surround-sound. As I said earlier, talk of gaining the full benefit of high resolution audio via these sockets is specious because they can't really support it on any machine, as well as this one, in spite of its price.
Although I usually use native Bitstream output via HDMI to a Marantz SR8002 receiver, I checked the BD-S2900 decoded all formats to PCM internally and sent it via HDMI so it could be used with older receivers - and it was fine. However, I hit a surprising limitation whilst running these checks. Set to output either Bitstream or PCM internally, secondary video off, I could not get the player to output 24/192 PCM surround-sound from a recently acquired Blu-ray music disc, 'Divertimenti' played by TrondheimSolistene. Curiously, it would play both Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio codings of the music, and it would also play a 24/192 PCM Stereo version, leaving me to assume the BD-S2900 can't handle the prodigious data rate of 24/192 PCM surround-sound audio.
This isn't going to be an obvious limitation at present, and certainly not with films where I suspect 24/96 sound track will be as good as it gets for some years to come. However, music Blu-rays are beginning to appear and use of 24/192 code may become a popular marketing tool for them. If this happens then the BD-S2900 will be unable to cope. As a Samsung BD-P1500 had no problem playing this high rate PCM I'm afraid to say the Yamaha is a bit off the pace audio wise. It had no trouble with the 24/96 PCM surround-sound of the Chris Botti concert, I should add.
SOUND AND VISION
The BD-S2900 will run picture-in-picture with secondary audio, when it has been included on a Blu-ray. This is termed BonusView and is one of the most recent iterations of the format (Profile 1, version 1.1) that Blu-ray watchers like to get excited about (don't ask about Easter Eggs!). It handles Java menus. It isn't an Audio Profile 3 player (there aren't any yet) so it will not play audio discs like 'Divertimenti' without a TV to navigate the menus, I should point out.
There is no internet connection so software updates cannot be downloaded, as they can on many of the latest players. High resolution camcorder AVCHD video can be read from DVD, as can stills from an SD card, inserted into a front panel slot.
As you might expect, analogue video is output as Composite, S Video and Component; there is no Scart. I got the setup menu up via Composite and HDMI, so there was no problem with access here. Video output can be set to Auto, determined by the HDMI handshake, or fixed at any resolution up to the usual 1080i or 1080p. Which is best depends upon how good your TV is.
I tested video quality with Silicon Optix Blu-ray and DVD test discs, plus Rohde & Schwarz DVD discs and in all tests the BD-S2900 performed impeccably. The Silicon Optix noise test suggested this is a low video noise player, which ties in with its silky smooth rendition of colour, free from fizz. There were almost no jaggies visible in the video tests and I could detect none on the trumpet of Chris Botti in his concert, nor on the sheet music in the stands. The musical notation was clear too, due to good detail retrieval, so this is a player with fine video quality. I don't think I've ever been quite so aware of the fibres in Chris Botti's jacket!
Load times were mediocre. The Yamaha isn't slow but it did get bogged down at times when trying to load a Java menu. Operationally, I was surprised at the lack of dual track and time displays. The front panel display defaults to total elapsed playing time. To find out what track was playing a button marked 'Status' had to be pressed twice, whereupon the track was shown on-screen, with C as a prefix (Chapter). Trying to jump between the many tracks on Within Temptation's recent 'Black Symphony' DVD and Andrea Bocelli's 'Live in Tuscany' Blu-ray was made difficult by this omission, especially when I listened in Pure Direct mode with the screen turned off. In a darkened room the unlit remote did not help; oh, and it has no tray-open button.