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Upscaling is your Friend?

by September 05, 2008
Toshiba XD-E500 DVD Player

Toshiba XD-E500 DVD Player

Upconversion… upscaling… to many, it is the same thing. As more and more people run out and buy a 1080p display, people are realizing that not all video sources are created equal. As they research, they realize that upscaling can take a low resolution signal and make it look pretty darn good - with the right electronics. But don't fool yourself, kids, this is a garbage in, garbage out situation. If you have a bad cable box, all the scaling in the world isn't going to help it. But assuming that isn't your problem and you just need a little help, where do you turn? Well, this year at CEDIA, we asked around to help you out.

Toshiba

The XD-E500 upconverting DVD player has been talked about for the last few weeks. Toshiba claims it will do better than all other upconverting DVD players to the point of being compared with Blu-ray. Marking hype notwithstanding, we saw this $149 beauty demoed side by side with another upconverting DVD player. While the picture definitely looked better, it's hard to say how much better it would be in a more normal environment. It has three main enhancements over the standard upconversion - Sharp, Color, and Contrast. These modes can be controlled by the remote and an obvious difference was visible. Again, noticing a difference is one thing. Testing to see if it is adding artifacting or other problems is another.

toshiba displaysToshiba's top-of-the-line displays also touted a completely different upconversion ability called SRT. Details were sparse other than "it's better than others." The problem was that at CES Toshiba was showing off an upconversion based on the PS3 Cell processor and yet when asked no one knew anything about it. Not only that, why would the technology in the XDE be different from the SRT? If one is the best, why use the other? It's all very strange. For more information, please visit Toshiba.

DVDO

dvdo1DVDO has long been known for their scalers - mostly because that's all they do. The problem is that most of their products either have someone else's logo on them or they are priced well outside of the budget of Joe Consumer. The DVDO Edge seeks to buck that trend with its $799 price tag. Sure, it isn't cheap but compared to most of the rest of the DVDO offerings, it is practically a steal. It has an outrageous number of inputs: 6 HDMI (v1.3), 2 component, 5 audio, an HDMI output with audio and video for your display, an HDMI output with audio for your receiver, and an optical audio output for those without an HMDI capable receiver. It has aspect ratios, lipsync, gamer specific functions (whatever those are - maybe it dispenses Mt. Dew?), and a Universal remote. You can calibrate each input separately. It supports nearly every resolution you could think of and probably some that you can't. It pretty much does everything. For more information, please visit DVDO.

Gefen

Gefen wasn't about to be outdone in the scaler department and is showing off two models - the Simple TV Scaler (released about 4-5 months ago) and the GTV-HTS-Pro (GefenTV Home Theater Scaler Pro). We got a lot of conflicting information at the booth from the Simple having the HQV Realta chip and the Pro having the Realta 2, to both having Realta, to the Simple having no Realta and the Pro having Realta. Since we can find no evidence that a Realta 2 chip even exists yet, the first seems unlikely. What we do know is that the Simple scaler has a choice of 720p, 1080p, and Auto for resolution and outputs both component video (YPbPr) and HDMI. The Pro scaler only puts out 1080p and only via HDMI. Both have two HDMI inputs and a single component, composite, and s-video input. There are analogue and digital audio inputs on both. It seems pretty definite that the Pro has better electronics than the Simple (as you'd expect) and the price difference is $100. The conflicting information comes in the form of the actual price with one source quoting around $700 for the Simple TV Scaler and another starting it at $500. Both said the Pro would cost $100 more. We tend to believe that the Pro has the Realta chipset with the Simple having something a little less powerful. We also believe the higher price quote mostly because it is safer that way. Both boxes are small, compact, and sport a reflective silver finish. For more information, please visit Gefen.

Summary

It's hard to understand why someone would want to fork out $700+ for a scaler when most people think they are getting high def through a composite cable. I agree. Those of you with a front projector and a big screen know, first hand, the frustrations a poorly scaled and deinterlaced picture can bring. For those that sit 12 feet away from a 42" screen, it might not seem like a big deal. The fact is that screens are getting bigger and cheaper which means that more and more people are going to be wondering why their pictures look so bad when they paid all that money. Sure, people like Toshiba and just about everyone else is trying to add the best deinterlacing and scaling at each product's pricepoint but sometimes that is not enough.

The real question is whether or not a scaler will really make a difference. A bad source is a bad source. Sure, the high end crowd isn't going to care - they want the best and they are willing to pay for it. But they were already buying the $2000 scalers! At $700+ it is hard to see how these products are going to make inroads into the average living room. In the day and age of increasingly sophisticated video processing appearing in AV receivers, one of the only remaining draws for dedicated video processors is for prepping video sources for anamorphic/cinemascope lenses. Of course, several projectors at CEDIA this year are introducing that anamorphic zoom/scaling into their feature sets. This is turning dedicated processors, especially those in a "budget-oriented category", into a solution looking for a problem. While the XDE is touting "enhanced" pictures - we've found that all too often those "enhancements" do more harm than good. They end up being turned off by those in the know and kept on by those that don't. Your display isn't supposed to look more vibrant or contrasty or sharper than real life. It is just supposed to look real. Once a display achieves that, everything else is a gimmick.

The fact is that these products, regardless if they are in your price range, will someday be in a product that you own. Just look at Faroudja - five years ago you couldn't think about affording it and now you find it in iPod docks. Will it still be cutting edge then? Of course not, but it will be affordable. In the end, that's sometimes the most important thing.

 

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Rogozhin posts on September 10, 2008 10:51
allargon, post: 453384
Really? There are hundreds (if not thousands) of channels that are SD only right now. My local Univision station broadcasts in ATSC (digital) but not SD. Whenever I see someone posting that scalers and video processors aren't necessary I know that person watches mostly movies and not much TV-TV.

My gf still watches plenty of stuff on Oxygen, E and Style that's not available in HD. Yeah those are major channels that will eventually be HD, but they don't even have simulcast upconvert channels right now. Most upscaling DVD players (although my Philips recorder will) won't do much with a cable signal. Therefore, I still see a need for a scaler (My display does a horrible job.) when I want to watch “Iron Chef America” in proper 4:3 on Food Network SD rather than the stretch-o-vision version on Food Network HD.

I have the same problem, though all of my video games that she won't play are beatific.
allargon posts on September 08, 2008 20:05
ohio, post: 452372
I see upscaling as soon to be dead, not only as a standalone but even in high end receivers. It's easier and cheaper to upgrade your sources, which are converging to HD anyway.

Really? There are hundreds (if not thousands) of channels that are SD only right now. My local Univision station broadcasts in ATSC (digital) but not SD. Whenever I see someone posting that scalers and video processors aren't necessary I know that person watches mostly movies and not much TV-TV.

My gf still watches plenty of stuff on Oxygen, E and Style that's not available in HD. Yeah those are major channels that will eventually be HD, but they don't even have simulcast upconvert channels right now. Most upscaling DVD players (although my Philips recorder will) won't do much with a cable signal. Therefore, I still see a need for a scaler (My display does a horrible job.) when I want to watch “Iron Chef America” in proper 4:3 on Food Network SD rather than the stretch-o-vision version on Food Network HD.
autoboy posts on September 08, 2008 18:17
Upscaling is too important as a marketing buzz word to ever disappear from products. It will only get worse as more and more products come out that “upscale.” We will all be tasked with having to fix every setup you encounter from being upscaled 3 times before it reaches your eyes.

Who knows, maybe some will even try to upscale 1080p to 2160i at 180hz and people will be clamoring for it. As this current US election shows us, the foolish are quick to act while the wise are left to clean up the mess they leave.
Sheep posts on September 05, 2008 20:24
ohio, post: 452372
I see upscaling as soon to be dead, not only as a standalone but even in high end receivers. It's easier and cheaper to upgrade your sources, which are converging to HD anyway. What would you use them for? Incremental improvement from 720p or 1080i to 1080p? Most displays have embedded scalers that can do that pretty well, and they're getting better.

Hmmm, $700 scaler for my DVD player so it looks as good as BD at best, or $300 BD player? Hard choice…

I agree. MY Olevia 747i has a built in scaler and my DVD player upconverts too. The picture looks good from 6 feet away and pretty much flawless from the second row.


SheepStar
ohio posts on September 05, 2008 18:17
I see upscaling as soon to be dead, not only as a standalone but even in high end receivers. It's easier and cheaper to upgrade your sources, which are converging to HD anyway. What would you use them for? Incremental improvement from 720p or 1080i to 1080p? Most displays have embedded scalers that can do that pretty well, and they're getting better.

Hmmm, $700 scaler for my DVD player so it looks as good as BD at best, or $300 BD player? Hard choice…
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