Posts Tagged ‘HDMI’

NAB 2010: A Show in Transition

Some of the big questions facing attendees as their flights landed in Las Vegas were these: Can NAB survive? Will it evolve into something different? Is it even that important to attend NAB anymore?

The answer to all three questions is “yes.” Even though attendance was still down from 2008 (NAB claimed 83,000 ‘officially;’ my guesstimate was more like 55,000 to 60,000), there were plenty of companies in attendance with lots of cool products to check out.

That said, the show is undergoing a rapid transformation away from a traditional ‘broadcasting’ show to a mix of InfoComm and CES – hot new products for professionals. Of course, 3D was all over the place. But so was networked video, which dominated the upper and lower South Hall exhibit areas.

Booths were smaller this year, and that’s not going to change any time soon…not when the typical booth is showing products that have price tags in the hundreds and low thousands. Contrast that with NAB shows 15 years ago, when most of the price tags had three and four zeros in them!

You know attendance was off when this was one of the largest booths in the Central Hall!

On the other hand, the alternative wasn’t too attractive…

The smaller booths and lower number of exhibitors resulted in wider aisles and less traffic – a plus. But it also resulted in NAB placing the main registration area smack in the middle of the Central Hall, something I’ve never seen before.  And there was plenty of wide-open space at the end of that hall, as well in the North and South Halls.

Can NAB be staged in three halls? Absolutely! And can you see everything you need to see in three days? Try two days. (Thursday has become ‘exhibitor bonding day,’ to quote a fellow editor.) I could have covered my beat in two days if necessary.

THE TRENDS

Not surprisingly, 3D was a big topic this year, although not to the same extent as it was at CES. The SMPTE/ETC/EBU Digital Cinema Summit focused entirely on 3D for both days, and I was fortunate enough to deliver one of the papers to a jammed room of 500+ attendees.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Grass Valley, AVID, Doremi, Harris, Evertz, and Ross Video were just some of the companies showing 3D products in Vegas. Those products ranged from 3D monitors and cameras to 3D workflow (acquisition, editing, post, effects, and playout) software and hardware.

Sony’s LM4251TD 42-inch LCD monitor uses micropolarizers for passive 3D viewing.

Other specialized 3D brands were in attendance, too. TD Vision, Miracube, Mistika, and HDlogix had nice exhibits in the South Hall, down the street from Grass Valley. Smaller companies like Cine-tal occupied the 3D Pavilion nearby, while Motorola and Ericsson showcased 3D transport and format recognition products upstairs.

Although the consumer TV market is seeing a big push towards active-shutter 3D TVs and monitors, the emphasis at NAB was on passive 3D viewing (cheaper glasses, more expensive displays). JVC, Hyundai, and LG all manufacture them, and there were plenty of folks standing around with RealD X-pol eyewear watching the demos.

The projector guys were on top of things, too. projectiondesign showed a stacked pair of 3-chip 1080p lightboxes in the Mistika booth, using linear polarized glasses. HDI showed a 100-inch, 1080p LCoS rear-projection TV in the HDlogix booth, also using X-pol glasses. Christie also had suitable 3D projection systems out for inspection.

There were also some demos that left me scratching my head, such as Canon’s dual-projection X-pol 3D demo, using a pair of REALiS WUXGA (1920×1200) LCoS projectors. While it worked well, it requires two separate projectors and outboard 3D filter holders – too klunky! (A Canon rep told me that was because of the 60 Hz frame rate limitation on the internal video processor.)

Well, it IS 3D, but I doubt Canon will sell very many of these rigs…

Broadband video and IPTV were also big this year. This market for MPEG-4 AVC over Ethernet, fiber, or private data networks is exploding, and encoder companies such as Adtec, Vbrick, Harmonic, Ericsson, Harris, Motorola, and Digital Rapids were showing a full range of compatible products.

Sezmi also occupied a booth at the show. This company has a unique selling proposition – a set-top box that receives both terrestrial (read: free) digital TV and selected cable channels carried on secondary terrestrial channels. It also accesses a video-on-demand server through broadband connections (SDTV only) and has a customizable program guide for each user.

While not technically broadband, the nascent MH broadcast format was in abundance at NAB. MH uses MPEG-4 AVC coding in multiple streams with IP headers to send low-resolution video to handheld receivers, such as mobile phones and combo PDA/receiver products. MH is catching on in popularity with broadcasters, who see it as a more sensible alternative to simple multicasting of secondary channels that very few people may be watching.

ATSC MH on an iPhone? Brilliant! (There’s an app for everything!)

MY PICKS

After three days of walking around, I came up with a list of “finds” that I’ll share here. These are all products that represented clever thinking, breakthrough technology, and/or new price points. Some were easy to spot; others required quite a bit of digging. But they all made the trip to Lost Wages worth it (and that’s saying a lot, considering how airlines jam you in like sardines these days!).

TV Logic: This manufacturer of LCD broadcast monitor showed the world’s first active-matrix OLED broadcast monitor (unless you think Sony’s press announcement hit first, which it didn’t.) The LM-150 ($6,200) uses a LG Display 15-inch OLED panel with 1366×768 pixel resolution and come equipped with all the expected niceties including markers, crop marks, caption displays, over/underscan, and HD/SDI, HDMI, and analog video jacks. There’s also a 3D version in the works (TDM-150) that will sell for about $7,700.

This was the coolest product at the show. But will it REALLY last 30,000 hours?

Ericsson: In addition to a host of MPEG-4 and IPTV encoders, the ‘big E’ also showcased an innovative, iPad-like LCD touchscreen remote control/video viewer. Dubbed the IPTV remote, this product can dial up video from broadband, cable, satellite, and even your home network. Not only that, it can monitor weather sensors and your home security system. (Sound much like a Crestron product?) The IPTV remote will not be offered for sale at retail. Rather, it’s intended to be a content provider offering.

Christie: Have you seen their MicroTiles yet on the Colbert Report? These innovative ‘mini’ DLP projection cubes use LED light engines to power 800×600 DMDs (the actual working resolution is 720×540) and measure about 12” x 16.” They can be configured in just about any format you wish, including floor and ceiling projection, and up to 1024 can be driven at one time. The LED light source is specified to last over 60,000 hours. Think of LED-powered LEGOÔ blocks, and you’ve got the concept.

And YOU thought iPads were all the rage…

SmallHD: It wasn’t easy finding these guys behind the Sony booth, but they’d come up with a focus assist monitor for video and still cameras that they claim is the world’s smallest HD video monitor. The actual size is about 5.6 inches and the glass is WXGA (1280×800) LCD. It comes in two flavors – one for digital SLRs ($899) and one with SDI input ($1199). The monitors are an inch thick, weigh 10 ounces, and mount to hot shoes.

Z3 Technology: I found this booth on my last pass through the South Hall, and it was worth the stop. They showed the Z3-MVE-01 MPEG encoder, a compact box that codes HD up to 1920×1080 resolution using H.64 High Profile (up to 30Hz), with Ethernet and ASI outputs. Input compatibility includes composite, component, HDMI, DVI, and HD-SDI video…all for $5,000.

JVC’s 46-inch X-pol monitor always drew a crowd.

Adtec: I didn’t expect to see an HDMI-to-QAM modulator at the show, but that’s exactly what Adtec pulled out for me. The HDMI2QAM is a dual-channel design that encodes anything from the HDMI inputs (yes, they are HDCP-compliant) to a pair of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels, using MPEG-2 encoding. The modulation format is selectable between 64-QAM (SD), 128-QAM (not widely use), and 256-QAM (HD). Bit rates are constant and optimized for each mode (i.e. 38.8 Mb/s for each HD channel).

 

Cydle: This new start-up demonstrated an app for iPods and iPhones that allows viewing of ATSC MH (A/153) video. Along with it comes the i30,  a battery-powered docking station with built-in antenna (UHF). This means that your ‘i-whatever’ has two batteries to draw from, so if you run low on talk power, simply switch to the i30 battery. Both can charge simultaneously. Cool!

Sezmi’s personal program guide rivals TiVo for user-friendliness.

Panasonic: I’ve seen it before at CES, but it now has a model number. The company’s first production camcorder now goes by the moniker AG-3DA1 and is yours for the low, low price of just $21,000. (Well, all things are relative, I guess.) The camera weighs about 6 and a half pounds and uses a pair of 2.l07 MP sensors (full 1920×1080) to record 1080i and 720p HD content to SD memory cards. Convergence and horizontal and vertical displacement are fully adjustable.

Panasonic gets another mention for the AG-AF100, which they claim is the world’s first Micro 4/3-inch (1.33:1) HD camcorder. That’s a big deal because the 4/3” format matches the coverage area of 35mm film frames…which means you can use standard 35mm film camera lenses to get effects like shallow focus, soft focus, and vignettes. The camera records to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards using the AVCHD format and supports 1080i/p and 720p formats, including 23.98/24/25 Hz.

Sony gets extra credit for announcing the world’s second (or first) AM-OLED professional video monitor. The PVM-750 ($3,850) is a bit smaller than TV Logic’s offering at 7.4 inches (16:9), and is not quite full HD resolution at 960×540 pixels. (Not that you’d notice on such  small screen!)  The PVM-750 has 3G HD-SDI, HDMI, and composite video inputs, the full range of adjustments from tally and markers to blue screen mode and AC/battery power operation. No word on lifespan of the display, but Sony uses small molecule (SM) OLED technology, as does LG Display.

LP Technologies rounds out my list with one of those ‘too good to be true’ products: An LCD-based 9 kHz to 3 GHz spectrum analyzer with USB 2.0 interface, built-in preamp, and Ethernet connectivity for remote monitoring. Sorry, no internal battery pack!) The USB hook-up can be used to save data in the Excel format, while the internal memory can tore 900 different waveforms. The display is a 6.4” 640×480 (VGA) LCD type. And the cost? Just $4,500…

Stick one of these on a Canon 5D MK II, and you can shoot an entire episode of ‘House!’ (No kidding!)

Product Review: Kramer ProScale VP-729 Presentation Switcher/Scaler (June 2009)

It wasn’t all that many years ago that the idea of a seamless presentation switcher was nothing more than fantasy. Back in the late 1990s, the farthest anyone had come with switching and mixing video signals was to combine the functions of basic line doublers and quadruplers with a couple of frame buffers, resulting in a product with five- and six-figure price tags.

But Moore’s Law prevailed, as it always does. Today, it’s possible to buy a presentation switcher for less than $2,000 that works better than those early line-doubling models. That’s good news for anyone who has a modest AV facility, but wants to switch between video and computer sources as smoothly and elegantly as staging companies do.

Kramer Electronics, one of the fastest-growing companies in the Pro AV marketplace, specializes in feature-rich but affordable video and audio interfaces. Their earlier efforts at presentation switching have been met with favorable reviews by a myriad of end-users. It was only a matter of time before a product like the VP-729 made its curtain call, combining HQV-quality video signal processing with Ethernet connectivity and a very attractive price – just $1,595 MSRP.

Figure 1. Front view of Kramer’s ProScale VP-729 presentation switcher.

OUT OF THE BOX

The VP-729 is surprisingly compact, measuring just 1RU in height. It’s finished in the usual Kramer blue-gray, sporting nine input selection buttons, three additional function buttons, and eight smaller buttons for accessing the menu and other functions, including navigation. A separate power switch is on the far left, along with an IR control sensor.

There are nine inputs on the rear of the VP-729, four of which can be configured to accommodate multiple analog video formats. In addition, there’s a USB 2.0 jack on the front panel that does double duty as a JPEG still image reader and a port for uploading firmware updates.

Each of the four analog video inputs consists of three RCA jacks and will accept composite, S-video, and component (YPbPr) video signals up to a maximum resolution of 1920x1080p 50/60. Note that you’ll need a special adapter cable to connect S-video to the VP-729. Kramer hasn’t included DIN-style S-video jacks on this switcher, but given how few people use that signal format anymore, it may be a non-issue.

The next two inputs are standard 15-pin VGA jacks, labeled “UXGA 1&2” on the front and back panels. These connectors will accept just about any RGBS/RGBHV signal format all the way to 1920×1200 resolution with a 60Hz frame rate. You can also create a custom configuration in the Advanced menu to work with even higher image resolutions.

The last two inputs are HDMI 1.3 types. Like more and more companies in the pro AV channel, Kramer has opted to replace DVI connections with HDMI, ostensibly because they take up less room, and can also carry digital audio – a real handy thing to have in a switcher. The connectors are fully HDCP-compliant, which might throw up a red flag in terms of being able to switch sources smoothly. (Not a problem, as you’ll see shortly.)

Figure 2. You’ll have enough connectors for just about any conference room or classroom installation.

Kramer has provided two video outputs. The first is another HDMI 1.3 jack, while the second is a 15-pin VGA connector. (You can drive both at the same time.) The VGA jack can work as a conventional RGBHV connection, or be configured to transport YPbPr signals on three of its pins.

There are several ways you can have audio follow video around during switching. Separate stereo RCA jack are provided for each of the four analog video inputs, while a pair of 1/8” mini phone jacks are used to interface PC audio. Embedded audio through the HDMI jacks moves around just as easily, and you can enable/disable the embedded audio stream from the menu.

For audio output, Kramer has included one additional pair of RCA jacks for an analog connection, plus a coaxial SPDIF output. And of course, the HDMI output jack also carries switched audio from any source. The connector complement is topped off with a standard DB9 RS232 port for remote control, plus an Ethernet jack for TCP/IP operation.

REMOTE AND MENUS

The supplied remote control was too busy for me with 30 buttons of similar size and color. (The Power and Menu buttons are red; all others are white.) But the upside is that you’ll have direct access to any input and generally fast navigation when making adjustments.

In addition to discrete up/down/left/right buttons for navigation, you’ll also find eight buttons at the bottom of the remote for designating the picture-in-picture (PiP) source signal. I would have left these behind a cover – it’s not likely that the settings will be changed all that frequently.

Additional buttons operate the switcher’s Freeze Image mode, let you switch to a blank screen, capture a JPEG image to be used as a screen-saver or boot-up screen, save and recall image settings, and mute audio. You can also push and hold the RESET button to restore the VP-729 back to its default output resolution of 1024×768 (XGA), just in case you accidentally configure a non-supported output signal. (Like that’s never happened before, right?)

When it comes to menus and adjustments, you’ll be in hog heaven. Kramer has included just about every adjustment you could imagine, taking full advantage of the IDT HQV video processor. Not only does that mean top-notch de-interlacing and 3:2 motion correction, but it also places image warping and rotation tweaks at your fingertips. These are extremely handy settings when you are mounting a projector off-center or at a severe angle to the screen.

The Input menu lets you configure the four universal video jack sets to accept composite, S-video, or component signals. You can also set the video standard (NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, SECAM or Auto modes), fine-tune the horizontal and vertical image position for RGB signals, and play with frequency and phase to clean up clock errors. There’s also an Auto Image button for fast setup.

The Picture menu is where you’ll make basic image adjustments, along with five steps of output gamma, film/video mode (for detection of 2:2 and 3:2 frame cadences), and three kinds of noise reduction – temporal, mosquito, and block. Surprisingly, these adjustments are grayed-out when viewing content through an HDMI connection, which is where they’d be most needed, as mosquito and block noise are the results of digital image compression.

Kramer has also provided multiple steps of detail, luma transition, and chroma transition enhancement. I’d suggest staying away from these tweaks completely, except with low-resolution composite video such as those you’d see from ½” and ¾” videotape formats. Otherwise, you’ll find up with some weird ringing and edge artifacts around higher-resolution video signals. (Repeat to yourself – HDTV does NOT need edge enhancement…)

The Output menu is where you’ll configure the VGA and HDMI output ports. For your convenience, Kramer has provided 28 pre-programmed settings that start at 640×480 (VGA) and top out at 1680×1050 (UXGA+). Among those choices, you’ll also find eight standard component/HDMI video formats, including 1080p/60, or you can simply set the native HDMI input format to be the output format. (According to Kramer’s technical staff, the VP-729 can actually scale all input signals up to 1920×1200 (WUXGA) resolution, using the Custom menu settings.)

The HDMI output connector can be toggled to operate in full HDMI mode with embedded audio, or in basic DVI mode (video only). Five different aspect ratios are also at your fingertips, including Standard, Letterbox, Anamorphic (stretch), Virtual Wide, and Native (pass-through). A Custom option is also included for your imagination.

The Output menu also gives you access to some of the goodies packed within the HQV processor, including the ability to pan and zoom images horizontally and vertically, or to digitally zoom the entire image from 100 to 450%.

There’s also a Picture In Picture menu where you define PiP mode (overlay, side-by-side, or split screen), choose the Pip source and window size, set the horizontal and vertical position of the PiP window, and turn on or off a colored frame around the window’s edge, with red, green, or blue being the choices.

In the Audio menu, you can toggle between analog and SPDIF (digital) audio inputs and fiddle with input and output volume, bass, treble, balance, and loudness. Kramer has thoughtfully included a user-programmable digital audio delay line, which will help clear up lip-sync errors on large flat panel HDTVs or even fix a problem with digital TV broadcasts. The maximum delay is 340 milliseconds, or you can simply leave it set to Dynamic, which corrects automatically for the video processing chain inside the VP729.

Other menus include Geometry, where you can go crazy with image warping and keystone correction settings; Setup, where you can define and save image profiles in a maximum of eight memory locations, plus lock in frame rates, and Info, where you’ll see a static display of input and output signal information and firmware versions.

Hidden in the Setup menu is the previously mentioned ADVANCED sub-menu. This menu lets you download and store a custom logo from a USB drive, capture a displayed image to internal memory for use as a screen saver or boot-up screen, lock the front panel buttons or save your locked configuration, and define the FREEZE button function to operate alone, or pair it with the audio muting function.

This is also the place to input your own timing rates and create a custom output resolution. Caution – you’ll need to know several image parameters to do so without screwing things up. Otherwise, just stick with the factory definitions.

IN OPERATION

I decided to test the VP-729 with Pioneer’s PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma TV, connecting composite, component, and HDMI outputs from Aurora Multimedia’s V-Tune Pro HDTV tuner. I also hooked up component video signals from an AccuPel HDG-2000 test pattern generator and an Extron VTG-300 pattern generator. A second HDMI signal came from Toshiba’s HD-A2 HD DVD player. (Both HDMI inputs to the VP-729 carried embedded digital audio.)

The VP-729 recognizes input signals very quickly, especially HDMI sources. I selected 1080p/60 output resolution through the HDMI output to drive the Pioneer, after applying a software/firmware update from Kramer’s tech wizards Chris and Tom Kopin. This update from a USB flash drive ensured embedded HDMI audio was always recognized and transported smoothly through the switcher.

In my tests, all analog video sources switched between themselves with a smooth fade-down/fade-up sequence. Kramer calls this process Fade-Thru-Black™ switching, and it works by muting the input audio, then fading the selected video/PC signal to black. Next, a sync/audio switch is made, with the new video/PC source fading up. Audio follows shortly afterwards.

It took two seconds to make a complete analog video transition, with audio active in about three seconds. Switching from analog video to an HDMI source took slightly longer for video, but audio isn’t restored in this mode until nearly five seconds have gone by.

Unlike analog video sources, HDMI signals do not fade up. Instead, they “cut,” which may be a limitation of dealing with HDCP-compliant signals. Switching from analog video to an RGB signal also results in the latter “cutting” onto the screen, not a smooth fade up.

HDMI/HDMI transitions were as fast as analog video, with audio recovering after four seconds. The slowest transition was from analog component to HDMI video. It took about 2.5 seconds for the video to switch and nearly six seconds to hear audio.

During my tests, I lost the HDMI signal from the HD-A2 player completely after about 15 minutes. The player was looping one of the Realta HQV test patterns when I lost sync, and it could only be restored by powering down both the VP-729 and the HD-A2, then re-booting everything. The culprit might have been an older version of HDMI running on the HD-A2, which only has 1080i/30 output capability.

Video image quality was excellent with all inputs. The VP-729 passed both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution loss tests from the Realta HD DVD test disc with flying colors, along with the 3:2 sequence, rotating bars, mixed film and video titles, and variable cadences from the standard Realta HQV DVD.

The K-Storm scaler handles standard-definition video with ease. Expect some softness from sources like composite and S-video, which you can sharpen up using a variety of detail, luma, and chroma edge enhancements. But leave these off when working with HD video signals, which should not need any enhancement.

I’d like to see Kramer open up access to the three noise-reduction processors when switching HDMI signals. Mosquito and block noise artifacts are digital in origin and always the result of excessive video compression, something that digital video often suffers from when it originates from terrestrial, cable, or satellite broadcast systems.

CONCLUSIONS

Kramer’s VP-729 is a winner. It’s just the ticket for affordable seamless switching and scaling. Given HDMI’s inexorable creep into the pro AV market (whether you want it or not), it’s good to see manufacturers responding quickly with compatible interfaces. And a pro install these days is likely to include a few consumer signal sources, like set-top boxes and Blu-ray and upscaling DVD players.

I’m not sure what caused the signal dropout from my HD DVD player, but Kramer has been pretty good about diagnosing these glitches and promptly issuing firmware updates. I’d suggest checking to see if you have the latest firmware before you purchase one of these. If not, the updates are easy enough to load from USB flash drives.

Kramer Electronics

ProScale VP-729 Presentation Switcher/Scaler

MSRP: $1,595

Specifications:

Dimensions: 19” W x 9.3” D x 1RU

Weight: 6.6 lbs

Video Inputs: 4x C/YC/YPbPr universal, 2x 15p VGA, 2x HDMI 1.3

Video Outputs: 1x HDMI 1.3, 1x 15p VGA

Audio Inputs: 4x RCA Stereo, 2x 1/8” mini, 2x HDMI

Audio Outputs: 1x Stereo RCA, 1x coaxial SPDIF, HDMI

Control: DB9 RS232, Ethernet

Supported input resolutions: VGA-UXGA+, WXGA, 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p, 1080i, and custom

Output resolutions: VGA-UXGA+, WXGA, WUXGA (1920×1200), 480p, 576p, 720p 50/60, 1080i 50/60, 1080p 50/60, custom

Available from:

Kramer Electronics USA

96 Route 173 West, Suite 1
Hampton, NJ 08827

(888) 275-6311

www.kramerus.com

Quick Pick Review: DVDO Edge HD Video Processor (March 2009)

DVDO is a brand well known to home theater enthusiasts. In 1999, they shocked the home theater world (not to mention Faroudja) with the iScan, a $899 interlaced-to-progressive video processor that worked as well as any line doubler then on the market – most of which sold for as much as ten times the price of the iScan.

Over the years, DVDO (since acquired by Anchor Bay Technologies) has come out with a variety of video scalers and deinterlacers, first based on the iScan line and then moving to the VP-series processors. Along the way, ABT also rolled out its own custom ASICs that wound up in more than a few projectors and even one of Toshiba’s last HD DVD players.

Figure 1. Not much going on with the front of the Edge, is there? (Can you see the hidden HDMI input?)

Times have changed, and video processing ASICs have gotten a lot more powerful while their per-unit process have dropped. It’s not unusual to get a high level of image processing even in a $3,000 1080p home theater projector these days, and CRT displays are pretty much gone from the market. Is there still a need (and a market) for stand-alone video processors?

The answer is – yes, if you have an older projector or have multiple analog and digital video sources to switch in and out of your system. For $800, the Edge is reasonably priced to function as an AV “hub” and you get a lot of functionality for your money. It uses the VRS ABT2010 processor, earlier limited to top-line VP-series ABT scalers.

OUT OF THE BOX

You’ll notice the unusual wedge-shaped design of the Edge right away. All of the connectors and the AC power jack are located on the rear panel, while the front panel (if you actually can call it a “front panel”) slopes downward and consists of an IR sensor, plus a pop-down HDMI input jack.

Believe it or not, that’s one of six HDMI 1.3 inputs (yep, you read that right) on the Edge. The other five are located on the rear panel. All six inputs pass video and bitstream digital audio, which is important for more than the obvious reasons of switching input sources.

Analog video hasn’t been neglected. DVDO gives you two racks of component YPbPr video input jacks. These double as RGBHV inputs for computer sources, with additional H and V/composite sync RCA jacks located nearby. The obligatory composite and S-video inputs are also present. (Hey, each of us is still born with an appendix, and we don’t use that, either!)

Figure 2. If the Edge doesn’t have your input connector, then you don’t need that connector!

For audio switching, you’ll find one stereo analog audio input, a single coaxial SPDIF digital audio jack, and three Toslink digital audio ports. That complement might be short one coaxial input in my thinking, but with six HDMI ports, you’re probably OK on digital hookups.

For outputs, you’ll have two HDMI 1.3 options. One passes both switched/processed video and audio, while the other passes audio only. That’s real handy for projector installations where video and audio part ways and travel in very different directions early on in the signal chain. DVDO has also provided a single Toslink digital audio output connector.

The balance of connectors includes a Mini USB service jack and a 1/8” mini jack for IR control. Oddly enough, there’s no RS232 control port. (For that matter, an Ethernet connection could have been included too, for remote control and Internet software updates.)

Figure 3. The supplied remote can control up to seven additional AV components – and it’s backlit, too.

The supplied remote is a “universal” design, and can handle up to seven other AV components. (It’s even labeled for a Blu-ray player!) The design is nice because (a) all of the buttons are clearly labeled, and (b) they’re large enough to operate even in a darkened room.

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

I won’t go into great detail about each of the menu tweaks found in the Edge – it would take a month to do so. Suffice it to say that you’ll be able to do the following.

(1)   Assign priorities to any active inputs, analog or digital

(2)   Switch audio normally associated with that input, or assign separate combinations of audio and video and then memorize them

(3)   Choose between 14 different video output formats, based on both PC and video displays (these include 24Hz, 25Hz, 50Hz, and 60Hz refresh rates)

(4)   Or, let Edge determine the optimum output display rate, based on the exchange of Electronic Display Identification Data (EDID) with your HDTV or projector through the processor’s HDMI output connector

(5)   Select numerous aspect ratio options and memorize them for specific input signals

(6)   Advance or delay digital audio to correct for latency errors (the range is from –56 to +200 milliseconds)

(7)   Adjust and save picture settings like brightness, contrast, color saturation, hue, and sharpness for each input

(8)   Apply analog and digital noise reduction as needed to different signals

(9)   Zoom in or out of source signals, or shift them horizontally and vertically to get rid of sync or masking problems

It should be noted again that every setting and assignment you make will be saved in memory. So if you REALLY want to use stereo analog audio from your Blu-ray player, Edge will memorize that combination and use it when the player’s HDMI output is selected. (Don’t worry; Edge won’t tell you to have your head examined for doing this. However, I will…)

All of these adjustments appear as cleverly designed fade-in and fade-out overlay menus that are intuitive to navigate. Once you make your settings, they’re saved until you alter them again. So feel free to jump from one input to the next  – Edge will remember your preferences and match everything up as best it can to your projector or TV (Within reason, of course –don’t expect VHS tapes to look all that good on a 50-inch 1080p plasma!)

IMAGE QUALITY

My imaging tests were pretty simple. I connected the 480i component output from an OPPO DV-970H DVD player through the Edge and onto Pioneer’s Elite PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma monitor. Next, I loaded up the red laser Realta HQV DVD and stepped through each of the performance tests.

Needless to say, the Edge sailed through this part of the review. It gave me clean rotating bars in the jaggies tests, a smooth-as-silk waving flag, and locked up within milliseconds on the 3:2 Super Speedway clip. The analog noise reduction processing worked wonders in the nighttime desert clips, cleaning up lots of “sparkle” from the deep blue sky.

The multiple cadence tests didn’t fool Edge, either – it corrected every one of them, and pretty quickly, too. Even the Varispeed 3:2:3:2:2 sequence, which often trips up other video processors, came out cleanly. So did the mixed video titles over 3:2 filmed content – not a “jaggie” to be seen anyplace.

The next test was with the Realta HQV Blu-ray disc. For this sequence, I set the output of an LG BD300 Blu-ray player to 1080i, and stepped through the rotating bars, Video Resolution, and Film Resolution loss tests. Once again, the bars were super-clean (evidently the ABT2010 chip uses some pretty selective adaptive bandpass filtering to soften aliased edges), while the Video Resolution test was stable with no flicker.

The Film Resolution test was also smooth, but with a touch of judder. I didn’t see this when feeding a 1080i signal directly into the Pioneer, which also has a decent interlaced-to-progressive conversion process. Obviously the Edge does a full “weave” on both the odd and even fields in a 1080i frame, and interpolates motion while doing so. So, I’m at a loss to explain the slight juddering motion as the SMPTE test chart moved back and forth.

The digital noise reduction circuits work well, too. Tune in a standard-definition digital cable channel, and you’ll see plenty of macroblocks (MPEG over-compression artifacts) and mosquito noise, particularly around fast-moving objects. Edge will clean up a lot of that schmutz – not completely, but it won’t be quite as obvious. (Turning down edge enhancement also helps a ton when getting rid of MPEG garbage.)

UPDATES

In December of 2008, Anchor Bay released firmware version 1.1. It should be present on all new models, but if you find you’re running the older 1.0 version, it’s easy enough to upgrade, following the instructions at this location – http://www.anchorbaytech.com/dvdo_edge/EDGE_firmware_v1.1.php

Version 1.1 adds such goodies as 35 different test patterns, automatic chroma upsampling error correction, a 1:1 frame rate feature to support both 50Hz and 60Hz sources, and output color space and colorimetry selections. (That’s just scratching the surface.)

CONCLUSIONS

Every once in a while, an AV product comes along that resembles a Swiss Army knife in functionality. It’s been a few years, but DVDO’s Edge fits squarely into that category. (Actually, it’s more like one of those loaded knives that has everything from a magnifying glasses and saw to tweezers and a bottle opener.)

Upconversion, downconversion, image sizing, cropping, image correction, noise reduction, and latency adjustments – they’re all here for just $800, and they all work exceptionally well. That seems like a steal to me. It’s hard to see how the Edge would ever become obsolete – you’re likely to go through a few TVs or projectors before you hit the limits of what it can do. (And if Anchor Bay provides a way to get software updates directly from the Internet, you may never get close!)

DVDO Edge Video Processor

MSRP: $799

 

Specifications:

Dimensions: 16.9” W x 10.3” D x 2.3” H

Weight: 6.2 lbs

Video Inputs: 1x composite, 1x S-video, 2x YPbPr component, 2x RGBHV PC, 6x HDMI 1.3

Video Outputs: 1x HDMI 1.3 video/audio, 1x HDMI audio only

Audio Inputs: 1x RCA stereo, 1x SPDIF coaxial, 3x Toslink, 6x HDMI

Audio Outputs: 1x Toslink, 2x HDMI

Output Formats: VGA-SXGA< 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i/p 24/25/50/60

Available from:

Anchor Bay Technologies, Inc.
300 Orchard City Drive
M/S 131
Campbell, CA 95008

(866) 423-3836

http://www.anchorbaytech.com/dvdo_edge/

Product Review: JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector (March 2009)

For those readers who’ve been following the DLP vs. 3LCD projector controversies over the years, it’s easy to overlook JVC. They don’t have the market clout of Epson, or the strong brand identity of Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing. You won’t see their projectors hanging in an enormous booth at InfoComm or Cedia Expo.

Yet, JVC D-ILA projectors consistently produce some of the best-looking video and cinema images anywhere, and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get that kind of image quality in your own home theater.

JVC’s “secret sauce” is simply an emphasis on photorealistic images with accurate color, tight grayscale tracking, and good visual dynamic range. Toss in an attractive form factor, super-quiet fans, and a minimalist design approach to connectors, remote controls, and bells and whistles, and what you wind up with is a projector that truly “walks the talk.”

JVC’s DLA-HD350 is one of a suite of D-ILA (Digital Image Light Amplifier) projectors that was announced at Cedia Expo 2008, two of which (DLA-HD750 and DLA-RS20) offer THX-certified operating modes. While the lower-priced DLA-HD350 lacks the THX imprimatur found on its more expensive sibling, that’s almost irrelevant – it provides so much control over image parameters that you won’t even notice.

Figure 1. This projector looks good even when it’s not doing anything.

OUT OF THE BOX

Once again, JVC’s put together a sleek, piano-black projector housing with a theme that can best be described as “stealth.” Unlike its predecessors, the DLA-HD350 features an offset motorized 2:1 ratio zoom lens, complete with +/-80% vertical and +/-34% horizontal power lens shift.

In general, longer focal-length lenses provide the best image geometry; free of pincushioning and lens barreling with sharp, square corners. Of course, you’ll need more horsepower from the projection lamp to compensate, depending on the effective lens aperture.

JVC has armed the DLA-HD350 with a 200-watt UHP lamp, and that’s more than sufficient to light up a 92-inch, zero-gain screen with a projection throw of 12 feet. The imaging panels are three .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA devices harnessed to JVC’s unique wire-grid dichroic filter system and a polarizing beam splitter.

Figure 2. There aren’t many video inputs, but with outboard switching, you’ll be covered for any signal source.

The connector complement is, as usual, sparse. Two HDMI 1.3 connectors are accompanied by a single analog component (YPbPr) input, along with the inevitable composite and S-video jacks. There’s also an RS232 port for remote control, and that’s all she wrote – no screen trigger, Ethernet port, etc.

If you want to use your desktop or notebook computer with the DLA-HD350, it will need a DVI-D or an HDMI port, plus the appropriate adapter cable. Compatible PC resolutions include VGA (640×480), SVGA (800×600), XGA (1024×768), WXGA (1280×768), WXGA+ (1440×900), SXGA (1280×1024), WSXGA+ (1680×1050), and WUXGA (1920×1200 with some pixel decimation).

REMOTE AND MENUS

Some people ask why I make such a big deal of the ergonomics of projector remote controls. Well, when you’ve tried as many remotes as I have over the past two decades, you realize just how difficult they can be to use in rooms with low or no light. And that’s a real PITA when trying to make a quick image adjustment or changing inputs. (Hey, not everyone uses RS232 control!)

JVC’s remotes have usually gotten it right, with a limited number of buttons that are spaced sufficiently far apart and are large enough so you can operate most of them by feel. What’s more, many of the functions you use the most frequently are accessible directly from the remote, including basic image adjustments, gamma, color temperature, and aspect ratios.

Figure 3. The supplied remote loses the “silver” look and goes back to basic black.

You can also directly access any of the five factory image presets (Cinema 1 and 2, Natural, Stage, and Dynamic), plus three user-programmable memory slots. The motorized lens functions are accessed by toggling the “Lens” button to go from Focus to Zoom and then to Lens Shift. As you do, different crosshatch patterns will appear on the screen to aid in sizing, positioning, and focusing the image.

Aspect ratio options include 4:3, 16:9, and Zoom. That’s it! The effect varies by signal input, but you’ll be able to show SD (4:3) and HD content correctly sized, stretch anamorphic DVDs, zoom into letterboxed 16:9 and 2.35:1 movies, expand 4:3 to fill the 16:9 image, and show 480i/p, 576i/p, and 720p content mapped 1:1 (window-boxed).

JVC has included variable edge masking in two steps (2.5% and 5%) for HD signal sources, and overscan (2.5% and 5%) for SD video inputs. 1920×1080 content from Blu-ray and other sources is shown with a 1:1 pixel map – if you want to crop it, you’ll have to us the masking control and zoom the image accordingly.

The DLA-HD350 is also equipped for CinemaScope anamorphic lens adapters, using a menu setting called “V-Stretch.” When a ‘Scope film is being shown, switching this feature “on” expands the letterboxed image to fill the frame, top to bottom. Your accessory anamorphic lens adapter then expands the image to restore the correct 2.35:1 image ratio.

Beyond the usual Big 5 image settings, JVC has provided a toolbox full of image tweaks for more advanced calibrations. Those include four factory-preset color temperatures (5800K, 6500, 7500k, and 9300k) that can be saved to three Custom memories. (But wait, there’s more!)

For those of us who are real nitpickers, JVC has also included multi-level gamma correction, using both preset gamma curves (1.8, 2.2, etc.) and user-adjustable red, green, and blue gamma tweaks at 13 different luminance levels, five of which range from black to 20% white.

In order to use this feature correctly, you’ll need a color analyzer that can provide continuous RGB histograms at the desired level of adjustment. I’ve charged ColorFacts 7.5 with this task, and I let it update me on color temperature and RGB levels in real time as I try to keep the mix of RGB consistent at each luminance level. The result, when done correctly, is a steady grayscale track with consistent color temperature from black to white.

If you’re not quite so brave (or crazy) as to try a major gamma overhaul, JVC also gives you three preset gamma calibrations (A, B, and C), but no information on what they correlate to. Based on my measurements, Gamma A is roughly 1.8, Gamma B is 2.0, and Gamma C is 2.2. (Sorry, no 2.4 or deeper film gamma is available.)

Additional tweaks include Sharpness and Detail Enhancement (leave ‘em off with HD sources), analog, mosquito, and MPEG block noise reduction, and three levels of color transient improvement. You can also set the range of HDMI signals (16-235 or 0-255 gray levels), select the correct color space (4:4:4, 4:2:2, or RGB), and enable/disable HDMI CEC (control projector operation through the HDMI port).

Last but not least, JVC has a three-step lens iris, identified as Dark, Medium, and Bright. It’s not a dynamic iris that tracks changes with input level – just a preset iris. My suggestion is to leave it off – the DLA-HD350’s black levels are pretty good, as you’ll see shortly.

ON THE TEST BENCH

I gave the DLA-HD350 a pretty vigorous workout, using an AccuPel HDG4000 to generate all the calibration test patterns in the 1080p/60 format. Additional content came from a pair of Blu-ray players – Samsung’s BD-P1500, and LG’s new BD300. I also watched live broadcast HD feeds from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (CBS 1080i HD) and a few NBC HD programs (The Office and 30 Rock).

After calibration for the best grayscale images and widest dynamic range, I measured projector brightness at 413 ANSI lumens in Cinema 1 mode, with the iris set to position 3 (Bright). That was the low reading, and brightness ranged as high as 5 lumens in Dynamic mode. Additional readings included 445 lumens in Cinema 2 and 483 lumens in Natural mode. Brightness uniformity was very good at 78% to the average corner and 66.5% to the worst corner.

Contrast measurements were also impressive. ANSI (average) contrast clocked in at 350:1 in Cinema 1 mode, with peak contrast measured from the same checkerboard pattern at 707:1. I should repeat that I had the projector’s iris set to Bright mode for all of these tests, resulting in an average black level reading of 3.14 lumens. That’s about the best black level performance I’ve seen from any D-ILA projector, and it’s certainly as good as any current 3LCD model.

Figure 4. Maybe I spent too much time fiddling with the Gamma correction circuit. But look at that beautiful response!

Figure 5. The DLA-HD350 tracks a given color temperature very closely.

White balance uniformity was outstanding, with a maximum shift of 168 Kelvin across a full white test pattern. Not surprisingly, color temperature tracking from 20 to 100 IRE was very tight, with a maximum shift of 237 Kelvin as shown in Figure 4. (Any display that can keep that shift to 250 Kelvin or lower is doing very well in my book!)

The Gamma correction menu has a lot to do with this, although I did find its response a bit erratic at times. More than once, I’d select a given luminance value and color, only to see the value of that color jump by two to six points before I even entered a new value. JVC needs to fix this glitch, which makes back-and-forth tuning across red, green, and blue more of a chore than it should be.

After an hour of playing “ping pong” with the gamma menu, I came up with the track shown in Figure 5. This gamma calculated out to 2.24 and provided the best results for viewing everything from live HD sports to The Dark Night, my current favorite Blu-ray disc for checking out shadow detail and low-level grayscale tracking.

Figure 6. Now, that’s what I call a WIDE color gamut…

As for color reproduction, the DLA-HD350 excels in this area. The projector’s available color gamut, shown in Figure 6, is very wide – wide enough, in fact, to show the digital cinema P3 (minimum) gamut. You’ve got lots of real estate to work with here; enough to handle all standard digital TV color spaces and perhaps even some that haven’t been invented yet.

More importantly, the projector’s RGB and CMY coordinates are very close to ideal for the REC.709 HDTV standard. All that’s needed is a way to dial back color saturation to precisely hit those targets when viewing DTV content, something JVC ought to add as a switchable menu option.

IMAGE QUALITY

I’ve noticed that, out of all the available imaging technologies; images created with liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) panels most closely resemble those of motion picture film. The pixel structure of 1920×1080 LCoS panels is fine and indistinct, thanks to a very high fill factor. But image sharpness isn’t compromised. And I prefer real-time RGB color mixing to sequential (scanning) color with its rainbow artifacts.

The DLA-HD350 has a Silicon Optix Reon-VX image processor tucked inside, and it handled every interlaced SD and HD source from the red and blue laser versions of the HQV Realta tests with equal aplomb. Both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution tests from the Blu-ray disc were smooth as silk, with no judder and flicker. The rotating bars were also smooth, with just the tiniest suggestion of aliasing.

To appreciate just how good this projector can look, spin up The Dark Knight on Blu-ray in the 1080p/24 format, and give close scrutiny to pastel shades and flesh tones, particularly in nighttime scenes or under fluorescent lighting.  The Joker’s first encounter with the Gotham City mob is an excellent place to start, as the assembled gang has a wide range of skin tones from light to dark – contrasting, of course, with Heath Ledger’s white pancake makeup, purple suit, and cherry-red lipstick.

For a test drive of dynamic range, watch the IMAX high-speed chase sequence underneath Gotham, and you’ll see that deep shadows hold up quite well, even with bright headlights and brilliant explosions dominating the frame. Finish things off with the climatic ferry scene and the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker, high atop the unfinished skyscraper. You’ll still see plenty of detail, even with the intentionally poor lighting.

Another great test of dynamic range is the BBC’s Planet Earth series, also on Blu-ray. Check out From Pole to Pole and you’ll be surprised just how many shades of subtle color and gray you can see in icebergs and snow packs. The footage in this series comes from a variety of sources, including 35mm film and 1080p/24 HD camcorders. No matter, it all looks amazing, in particular the views from outer space.

With this projector, you’ll clearly see the difference in exposure and gamma/color correction for TV sitcoms and dramas when compared to feature films. I noticed a much wider range of exposures during The Office and 30 Rock, and while both shows were certainly enjoyable on my 92-inch Da-Lite JKP Affinity screen, they didn’t quite have the contrast punch of the Blu-ray material.

CONCLUSIONS

I’ll make it short and sweet. For $5,999, you get one heckuva home theater projector that’s absolutely up to the challenge of showing BD and other HD content to its full potential. Excellent color, stable gamma and grayscale tracks, wide dynamic range with plenty of contrast – it’s all here.

For that matter, the DLA-HD350 is good enough in my opinion to use as an evaluation monitor in a color correction and exposure-timing post-production suite. All JVC needs to do is fix that cranky gamma correction circuit and allow even deeper gamma correction, down to 2.6. Toss in advanced color management and an optional HD-SDI input, and they’d REALLY have something!

JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector

MSRP: $5,999

Specifications:

Dimensions: 14.4W” x 6.6H” x 18.9D”
Weight: 24.3 lbs
Imaging device: 3x .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA (LCOS)
Lamp: 200W UHP
Resolution: 1920×1080
Lens: 21.3 – 42.6 mm (2:1) power zoom/focus with motorized H/V lens shift
Inputs: 1 composite, 1 S-video, 1 component YPbPr, 2x HDMI 1.3, RS232C
Analog compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50

PC compatibility (through HDMI): VGA-SXGA, WXGA, WXGA+, WUXGA
Digital compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50, 1080 24p/60p/50p, Speakers: None

JVC America / Professional
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
(800) 582-5825

http://tinyurl.com/cq9l37