So, you are seriously into high performance home theater. You already have a 1080p projector and a great surround-sound system and your home theater is functioning well. What's the next step? A video processor like the DVDO iScan VP50 from Anchor Bay Technologies can take your system to the next level of performance. It is the flagship in their family of video processors which will convert all of your video sources to the native resolution of your projector, correct for A/V lipsync, improve connectivity, enable the use of an anamorphic lens, and help you properly calibrate your display. The price is $2,999.
The iScan VP50 is not a flashy piece of equipment, but the simple black box houses some amazing capabilities. The front panel is plain, with only a power button, small display, and menu controls.
The rear panel, on the other hand, is jam-packed with audio and video connections. Video inputs include four HDMI ports, two YPbPr component inputs, one set of RGBHV BNC inputs, two s-video ports, and two component ports. For audio, there are two coaxial inputs, two TOSlink optical ports, and a set of L/R RCA connectors as well. One HDMI port and one set of BNC connectors make up the VP50's video outputs, and only one can be active at any given time. Audio outputs consist of one coaxial connection, one TOSlink connection, and audio over HDMI. Even if your projector only has one HDMI port, you can connect multiple HDMI source devices to the VP50 and switch them into the single HDMI output to obtain the best possible image quality.
PReP - Some devices such as certain cable and satellite receivers will only output a progressive-scan signal, and a lot of them do not have high-quality deinterlacing necessary for pristine home theater. As such, these devices make deinterlacing errors and introduce artifacts into the picture. For this, the VP50 incorporates a function called PReP. PReP decodes a progressive-scan signal, essentially re-interlacing it, and then applies the VP50's superior deinterlacing. This allows you to get unprecedented picture quality out of your set-top box or HD receiver, and results in a cleaner, sharper picture with far fewer deinterlacing artifacts.
In practice, the PReP feature is useful for any progressive signal, not just those from devices with sloppy deinterlacing. We performed tests with the Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player's 1080p output, and the reprocessed output from the VP50 looked cleaner, sharper, and higher in contrast than a direct input from the source to the projector.
Deinterlacing - The VP50 incorporates Precision Deinterlacing. When using an interlaced signal from 480i up through 1080i, the VP50 uses edge, source, and motion-adaptive deinterlacing to eliminate jaggies and other motion artifacts common to interlaced signals. Deinterlacing is a standard feature in projectors and most DVD players, and deinterlacing quality has been improving consistently over the past few years to the point where most projectors do a wonderful job. But the VP50's processing takes image quality up a few extra notches, resulting in a crystal-clear picture with astounding detail.
The VP50 can deinterlace and upscale a signal with less than three frames of delay. For time-sensitive applications like video games, "Game Mode" cuts this time down even further. "Game Mode 1" introduces one frame of delay with edge-adaptive deinterlacing, and "Game Mode 2" uses two frames of delay with both motion-adaptive and edge-adaptive processing.
Scaling - The iScan VP50 can convert most any signal to your projector's native resolution, up to 1080p. The VP50 uses Anchor Bay's VRS Precision Video Scaling technology, which is more accurate and comprehensive than the scaling technology found on most projectors. Since projectors generally look their best when displaying a native resolution signal, this results in a cleaner picture.
For those of you using anamorphic lenses or perhaps a 2.35:1 Constant Image Height setup, the VP50 has aspect ratio controls for just this purpose. If you wanted to change a 16:9 signal to 4:3 for use with an anamorphic lens, the VP50 can do that for you. If you wanted to force your projector to display a 2.35:1 signal in 16:9, the VP50 can do that as well. For those with projectors that will not change the aspect ratio of material sent over an HDMI link, this is a life-saving feature that enables the use of an anamorphic lens for 2.35 widescreen display.
Input Switching - The VP50 is capable of auto-detecting and switching inputs on both audio and video. You can plug all of your input devices into the VP50 and then run one cable each to your projector and A/V receiver. This one-cable solution eliminates clutter and cuts down on the expense of longer cables for all of your theater components.
A/V Lipsync - To compensate for latency in non-interactive applications such as film, the VP50 incorporates A/V lip-sync. Since the VP50 processes both audio and video, it can slightly delay a source's audio track to better match its video. If you have ever noticed a film where an actor's words don't match his lips, this will correct the problem. The downside is that audio must be fed through the VP50 to accomplish this processing, and the VP50's audio connectivity is not nearly as diverse as its video options.
Test Pattern Generator - Finally, the VP50 incorporates a suite of test patterns to aid you in calibrating your projector. Along with the supplied calibration DVD, the VP50 can help you get the most out of your projector in ways that a standard calibration DVD cannot. When using the supplied DVD, one half of the screen will display DVD content, while the other half will display a test pattern generated by the VP50. Essentially, matching these two halves will help to optimize performance.
The HDMI 1.3 Issue
There has been much interest lately in HDMI 1.3, which is a new specification that includes support for 12-bit color processing as well as high-definition audio formats used on HD DVD and Blu-Ray. The VP50 does not incorporate HDMI 1.3, and so these functions are not available.
As far as video is concerned, we tested the effects of HDMI 1.3 by placing the VP50 in the signal loop between a Blu-ray disc player and the Epson Pro Cinema 1080 projector, thereby breaking the chain of 1.3-compliant devices. The image that was processed by the VP50 was cleaner and more attractive than the direct connection from disc player to projector. With the sources currently available HDMI 1.3 has no impact on image quality.
Since there aren't any HDMI 1.3 A/V receivers currently on the market, high-definition audio formats are not yet seeing a lot of use. As of now, the only way to take advantage of Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, or DTS-HD is to use a high definition player's 5.1 analog outputs hooked directly into your receiver. As the VP50 does not have 5.1 inputs or outputs, it is not possible to use the lip-sync correction of the VP50 with high-definition audio formats. And when HDMI 1.3 receivers become available, HD audio formats must be fed directly to the receiver.
There is one way to take advantage of the new HD audio formats with the VP50. All HD DVD and Blu-ray players currently available can output this high resolution audio as multichannel PCM, which the VP50 can process for A/V lipsync and in turn pass to an HDMI A/V receiver and HDMI display. However, if you are a serious audiophile, or just planning to make use of the new HD audio formats via HDMI or 5.1 analog, it pays to be aware of the VP50's limitations in this area.
The VP50 is a great piece of quality equipment, but as always, quality costs. While it would improve the performance of just about any theater, its premium price tag makes it more practical for those who have a complement of high-performance components already installed.
Most owners of 1080p projectors have a considerable amount invested in their theater and are seeking the very best in quality. After investing $15,000 or more in a home theater, even the smallest amount of A/V lipsync delay is unacceptable. An additional $2999 investment in the VP50 can ensure that all material will be displayed in near-perfect form, with no deinterlacing or scaling compromises and no A/V sync issues. For the serious home theater enthusiast, the VP50 is not just an attractive piece of kit; it is a logical addition to a high-end home theater.
The VP50 has a variety of other features too numerous to mention here. The benefits discussed above are what we consider the primary reasons to consider a purchase of the VP50. Superior deinterlacing and scaling along with great connectivity and the outstanding PReP feature make the VP50 an attractive next-step addition to your equipment rack. With a powerhouse processor like the VP50, prepare to see a level of performance you may not have thought possible from your theater.