Video Scalers and Processors
A recent discussion on the show about the “good old days” of HDTV, the days of rear projection LCD, DLP and LCoS, the days of High Definition CRT, got us thinking about some of the other aspects of the early days, like video scalers. Once considered a must have for any true home theater connoisseur, the video scaler seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Before HDTV hit the mainstream about a decade ago, we lived for about 50 years with one dominant video format for television here in the US: NTSC. NTSC blessed us with a beautiful 4:3 image, it ran at 29.97 interlaced frames per second. Each frame was 525 scan lines, composed of the two interlaced fields of 262.5 scan lines each. But only 483 scan lines were actually visible on screen. This left us with what we now refer to as 4:3, 30 fps, 480i video.
And that was it. All televisions supported that video format, all home projectors supported that format, it was the one ring that bound them all. It didn’t matter if you wanted a standard CRT or “tube” television, a big screen, rear projection television, or a home projector. They all knew how to accept 480i at 30 fps, and render 480i at 30fps. But then the world changed. HDTV, and the ATSC standard, threw all of that out the window.
ATSC defined a multitude of potential video formats that a television would have to be able to display. Not only did it include the legacy 480i, it added 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and even a few we never really used here in the US because they were added for PAL support, like 288p, 576i and 576p. And on top of the new resolutions were a bunch of new frame rates, the legacy 29.97 and 23.976, 24, 30, 59.94, 60. And, of course, the 16:9 aspect ratio.
But in the early days of High Definition, there wasn’t just a whole new set of video formats to support, there was also a miriad of television technologies that all rendered the video slightly differently. From the digital formats like plasma, LCD and DLP that were progressive displays and rendered all the interlaced lines at once, to the analog CRT televisions that continued to display interlaced, although they did scale up to cover the 1080i High Definition standard.
In those tumultuous days, display manufacturers struggled to just get all the supported formats to render on their chosen display technology. They weren’t focused on the best way to do it, or any potential improvements they could make to the source video to make it look better on the newer, higher resolution displays. This meant that when you started with terrible, NTSC 480i content, and blew it up onto a 720p, 1080i or 1080p television, it looked, in a word, terrible.
Video processors or scalers to the rescue. Luckily, although the manufacturers weren’t focused on the scaling problem that much, there were dedicated companies that stepped up to the challenge. Companies like Faroujda building chips, or DVDO building scalers. These devices allowed you to connect any type of source content, and convert it to the ideal format for your display. And they did it really well. 720p content looked great on a 1080i television; 480p DVDs looked great on a 720p TV; even 480i content looked decent on an HDTV. Scalers saved the day.
But lately, those same technologies that saved us in scalers, have been making their way directly into the TVs and projectors you can buy for yourself. Most of them now do a very respectable job of scaling. And we don’t have nearly as much terrible resolution content to deal with. We’re dealing with mostly native HDTV content, or worst case, 480p DVD. It starts good, it scales well, and everyone is happy. So people aren’t really clamoring for scalers anymore.
Do I need a scaler?
There are two very good uses for video scalers today. First off, some of us can benefit greatly from a video scaler, or at least a device that sits between your source equipment and your display, to fix up any issues the two may have in agreeing on video format or resolution. Many times, especially if you have a receiver in the chain, your source and display can disagree on what format is best when they do their HDMI handshake, and you end up with a messed up video, or a sub-optimal experience. A scaler can force the output to match what the display wants. In those cases, it is used more to fix issues, not really to improve the video rendering. Although fixing the issues does improve the quality of the video.
And secondly, there are people who really enjoy some of the effects the more specialized scalers can introduce. For example, the Darbee Visual Presence technology. If you want to take advantage of Darbee, you have to buy a scaler or video processor that includes it – or get the OPPO Blu-ray that has it. If you enjoy the effect Darbee Visual Presence or other like technologies have on your video experience, a processor is your only option. In this case, the processor is doing exactly what it did in the early days, improving the content on your display to make you TV and Movies look even better.
Many modern AV Receivers include very good video processing and scaling capabilities, but they don’t always solve all the HDMI handshake issues, not do they include specialized technology like Darbee Visual Presence. Buying a good AV receiver with good video processing chips, assuming you don’t have HDMI issues, should be good enough for most people. If not…
DVDO Edge Green High-Definition Video Processor and Connectivity Hub Solution
Buy now: $287. DVDO was the company making some of the best scalers back in the day. They made the $2000, $3000, $5000 scalers that made all the difference on those early HDTV sets. We used one and loved it. They’re still making great video processors, and they are much more affordable now.
OPPO BDP-103 Universal Disc Player
Buy now: $499. OPPO makes some of the best Blu-ray players available. And they do this by only including the best of the best video processing and scaling technology. The most recent models include a spare HDMI input so you can take advantage of all that processing power for other components in your theater.
If you want Darbee Visual Presence, try the OPPO BDP-103D Universal 3D Blu-ray Player, Buy now: $599.
DarbeeVision Darblet – HDMI Video Processor From Darbee DVP 5000
Buy now: $299. If all you want is Darbee processing for your video content, you can get the dedicated Darbee Darblet.
Posted by The HT Guys, October 3, 2014 1:36 AM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.