High Resolution Video Scaling Processor
Anchor Bay Technologies (ABT), Inc. is the newly formed company composed of the former DVDO team that shook the industry with the introduction of its original iScan deinterlacing processor. Oddly enough in July of 2000, DVDO was acquired by Silicon Image, a major supplier of video interface semiconductors used in the industry and a founder of the newest HDMI specification. Within a few years, DVDO's parent company Anchor Bay Technologies took over the iScan product line and it was back in the hands of the founders. As I recall, the original mission of DVDO was to push the high performance ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) they developed (the DV101) for deinterlacing 480i video. Rather than finding a manufacturer willing to use their new chip, they developed their own product that was called the iScan. The product received rave reviews from the press and soon became the "must have" deinterlacer for the budget conscious consumer.
The core deinterlacing algorithms have been key to the success of all iScan products with outstanding performance from a variety of interlaced sources (film, video or CG). While we noted the significant feature enhancements of the iScan Ultra, it was still limited to 480p video. The latest iScan HD is much more than a fancy deinterlacer, it's a full blown scaler as well. The new iScan HD can now output high-definition 720p and 1080i video in analog or DVI digital form. In addition, a large number of other high resolutions modes are also supported to match the native resolution of many new fixed-pixel displays currently on the market. Matching the display's resolution 1:1 results in fewer visible artifacts. Four audio inputs and two audio outputs are also provided on the new iScan HD for switching and time-aligning the audio with the video, eliminating the common lip-sync problem.
The new iScan HD comes in a full size rack mountable chassis with front panel buttons that are large and user friendly. Optional rackmount brackets are available from DVDO. The 1/2 inch alphanumeric four character display is easy to read from a distance and provides useful feedback to the user during menu adjustments. We would have preferred a detailed alphanumeric display on the front panel to provide users with more information when making adjustments. However, the current four character design seems to work just fine.
Five of the submenu buttons (Input Select, Input Aspect Ratio, Input Adjust, Picture Control and Configuration) located on the left side of the front panel each have an LED to indicate which group is active during adjustments. The Input Select LED is unique by turning red when no valid signal is detected on the selected video input and green when a valid signal is detected. The sixth submenu control Output Setup has a dedicated set of LEDs for each of the items within the submenu.
The two analog component video inputs can accommodate either component or RGB signals. Each set of inputs has a corresponding sync input (RCA) for composite sync when used with the certain RGB interfaces. Some systems use this separate signal rather than embedding it on the green input. The iScan HD is designed to work with either system.
The DVI input only processes unencrypted 480p/576p DVI signals. All other DVI formats including encrypted video are passed through to the DVI output connector completely unprocessed. The 15-pin Sub-D (VGA) input pass-thru connector accommodates any RGB or component video signal. This input does not process the signal in any way, but instead sends it directly out of to the 15-pin Sub-D (VGA) output connector in its native form.
The input Aspect Ratio defines the aspect ratio for the current selected input (4:3, Letterbox 16:9 or Preset). This setting is unique to each video input and is saved into memory. The Preset setting is the custom aspect ratio that can be defined by the user when using the Pan and Zoom functions and is unique for each input.
The Input Adjust allows the user to adjust Zoom, Pan, Borders, Border Levels, Overscan, Line Offset, VCR Mode, Film Mode Audio Input and AV Lipsync, Control. The Zoom mode has separate horizontal and vertical adjustments. The Pan mode also has separate horizontal and vertical adjustments and can only be adjusted when the corresponding (horizontal or vertical) Zoom axis is greater than 100%. The Border function controls the size of the side bars while the Border Level sets the gray level of the side bars. The Overscan feature enlarges the overall image to eliminate underscan artifacts in some video content. The Line Offset can only be used with the SDI input. The VCR Mode, which is designed to improve picture stability, is only adjustable with composite and s-video inputs. The Film Mode can be set to Film Bias, Auto and Off. Audio Input defines which audio input (Audio 1-4) is selected for the active input. The AV Lipsync allows the user to set the variable delay time desired for the input. This adjustable delay compensates for delays that are introduced by the video processing electronics.
The Input Adjust parameters came is handy when we switched between our Sony and Kenwood DVD player. Since we had the Sony DVD player set up for interlaced video and the Kenwood for progressive, the timing differences cause a slight shift in the image on our screen. Using these controls we were able to realign the image to be properly displayed on our screen. This is an important feature of the iScan HD.
The Picture Control is used to adjust Brightness, Contrast, Saturation (Color), Hue (Tint), Sharpness, Y/C Delay and CUE Correction. While most of the controls are standard, the Y/C Delay and CUE Correction controls offer advanced features for users. The Y/C Delay allows users to compensate for delays between the Luminance (Y) and Chrominance (C) signals. The CUE Correction has the capability to remove chroma upsampling errors (CUE) found in many sources with the chroma bug in their MPEG2 decoders. The CUE Correction can be set to On, Off or Auto.
The Configuration control menu controls the Test Patterns, Auto Priority, DVI Input, Auto Standby, Power LED, User Mode, Factory Default, Software Update, and Information. The 27 built-in Test Patterns are very useful for those who don't have a separate video pattern generator. Best of all, it also works with the DVI output for a pure digital interface. The Auto Priority defines the priority of the nine video inputs. The Auto Priority can be set to Auto or Passthru. Auto Standby can be set to On or Off. The Power LED can be set to On Off or Auto. The Auto mode turns the LEDs on, but then blanks them out after a period of time. The User Mode (Normal/Advanced) allows the user to adjust the video timing. The Normal mode provides 1-pixel steps for both horizontal and vertical image position. The Advanced mode provides adjustments for Horizontal/Vertical Size, Front Porch, Sync, Back Porch and Total pixels. These custom settings offer amazing flexibility for future displays up to 1080p. The Factory Default button loads the iScan with the factory default values. The Software Update is for updating the firmware in the iScan HD and we did this during the course of our review. The Information button displays the current status of the iScan HD including the video source, signal type, audio source, input aspect ratio, resolution, frame rate, line rate, output aspect ratio and firmware revision.
The Output Setup has indicators on the front panel for each submenu item, which include Analog/Digital, Format, Aspect Ratio, Sync Type, Color Space, Framerate,and Display Profile. The Analog/Digital selects the type of display connected to the iScan HD (Analog RGB/YUV, DVI Video or DVI for PC). The Format selects from 25 different formats ranging from 480p to 1080p including support from a large variety of fixed pixel displays. There's even a User mode that allows the user to build a custom format for future use. The output Aspect Ratio can be either discrete H and V for RGB/HV systems or can be set for bi-level syncs The Sync Type defines the type of syncs (Bi-level, Tri-level, Composite or Separate H/V) used for the analog video output. The Color Space setting can be set for RGB or YPbPr and is also used strictly for the analog output. The Framerate can be set to 48 Hz, 60 Hz or 72 Hz. Both the 48 Hz and 72 Hz eliminates the 3-2 pulldown artifacts known as judder. However, many displays are not compatible with these frame rates. Judder occurs when film based material (24 Hz) is displayed at non-multiples of 24 Hz. The Display Profile is currently not used.
The operation of the menu structure is well designed. We particularly liked the quick access to the submenu items without having to back up before moving forward. The on-screen display worked well and was easy to read.
Since the test patterns are unique to each output format, this becomes a powerful test tool. Patterns include Frame & Geometry, Brightness & Contrast, 1-Pixel Checkerboard, 1-Pixel Vertical Lines, 1-Pixel Horizontal Lines, Frame Rate, 75% Color Bars, 10-100 IRE Gray Windows, Gray Ramp, Coarse Cross-Hatch, Fine Cross-Hatch, Focus, Half-Transparent Black/White, and Half-Transparent Color Bars. The extensive selection of patterns are very useful when evaluating the performance of different displays with various native resolutions.
The analog video outputs use Maxim MAX4382 video amplifiers that offer a 210MHz (-3dB) bandwidth and an impressive 485V/µs slew rate. Low differential gain/phase help ensure excellent video performance. The iScan HD uses Analog Devices' latest 7th generation video encoder chip called the ADV7311, which has 12-bit DACs capable of running at over 200MHz. As a result, the analog video outputs perform very well. Digital audio interfaces use the Cirrus Logic's digital interface chips (CS8406 and CS8416) and are capable of supporting data up to 24-bit at sample rates as high as 96kHz.
The downside to processing video from an analog source is that the video must be converted to the digital domain before any deinterlacing processing can be performed. As with any analog-to-digital conversion process, noise and quantization errors can be introduced into the data resulting in some degradation in the overall video quality. One of the new features found in the iScan HD is the ability to interface to SDI serial video. The iScan HD designers decided to include an SDI interface that bypasses the need for converting the analog video, thereby improving the integrity of the video signal. The Serial Digital Interface (SDI) standard is primarily used by professional broadcast studios and video production centers (SMPTE 259M standard interface), but has also found its way into the videophile community. The advantage of SDI is that the decompressed digital video data is transmitted directly from a digital source, such as a compatible DVD player or other device, directly into the iScan HD when upgraded with this SDI module. The advantage is the iScan HD can process the video completely in the digital domain all the way to the DVI output connector.
Installation of the option PrecisionSDI Video Input Module is simple for anyone who has worked on electronics such as computer hardware. The kit includes the main SDI board along with an RG59 cable terminated with BNC connectors at both ends. A feedthrough connector is also provided to install in the rear of the chassis. A standard 40-pin IDC connector is used to interface the SDI board to the main video board in the iScan HD unit. A pair of plastic stand-offs hold the other side of the SDI module making it difficult to accidentally misalign the board during installation.
The PrecisionSDI module uses a Gennum GS7005 serial digital receiver that is SMPTE 259M-C compliant and capable of running at 270Mb/s. The integrated NRZI decoder and SMPTE descrambler provides a throughput of 27MHz data (8-bit parallel CCIR-601/656 or SMPTE 125M compliant) to the existing video interface. Onboard linear voltage regulators ensure clean power to the video electronics. Once the PrecisionSDI Video Input Module is installed, a firmware update may be required depending on the current version of the iScan HD unit. Both the firmware on CD and a serial cable are provided in the kit. We recommend checking the DVDO website for the latest firmware updates rather than using the disc provided. Our disc was actually a version earlier than what was available directly from the DVDO website.
Digital content that has HDCP encryption does not get processed by the iScan HD, but instead gets detected and passed through to the DVI output. We verified this using our JVC HM-DH30000U D-Theater VCR connected to a Samsung SIR-T165 set-top box via firewire. The DVI output of the Samsung provided the protected DVI signals to the iScan unit. Data was then sent to our HDCP compliant projector using the Silicon Image .
Our cables came from a variety of different sources for the review. InFocus provided the special DVI cable that is needed for their projector. DirectConnect provided the analog RGB cable we used for the analog component interface to the ScreenPlay 7205 DLP projector. A variety of nice quality video cables were also provided by DVDO. Apparently DVDO/Accell are working together to bring affordable high-performance cables to their consumers.
Our standard definition review system consisted of a Sony DVP-NS900V DVD player connected to the composite, s-video and component video connections of the iScan. We chose to run this player in the interlaced (480i) mode for our tests. We also connected our Kenwood DV-5900M DVD player running in the progressive (480p) mode. Other components included an inexpensive Panasonic VCR using the composite input, and a Pioneer CLD-D704 laserdisc player using the s-video input.
The color decoder in the iScan HD resulted in excellent color accuracy. This could be seen with both composite and s-video source material from our DVD player. Laserdisc produced a higher noise floor, but also looked pretty good on the iScan using the s-video input. Video from our low-cost VCR looked the worst and with the help of the built-in time base correction for jitter reduction, the video looked acceptable. No one should be convinced that the iScan HD or any other video processor will make poor source material look good on a 100" screen, even with a $9K projector. However, if you feed the iScan a quality picture using the component or digital inputs, you'll be quite happy with the results.
Interlaced component video from our Sony DVD player utilized the capabilities of the Sil504 deinterlacing processor within the iScan HD. The iScan HD looked excellent on a variety of DVD material we viewed. The flesh-tones found in Shakespeare in Love were smooth and accurate looking. The deinterlaced and scaled image produced by the iScan HD was impressive and looked very natural on our display. We didn't see objectionable artifacts from good source material and the scaling from 480p to 720p resulted in a smooth film-like picture.
The folks at MSB Technology to provide us a Pioneer Elite DV-47Ai DVD Player fitted with an SDI output for this review. They are well known in the audio industry for their cutting-edge products. Video played pefectly using this DVD player with the SDI output connected to the iScan PrecisionSDI module. The quality of the video was exceptional and we never experience any dropouts when using the SDI interface.
To maximize performance of the iScan HD it is recommended that the digital interfaces (DVI or SDI) or the analog component interface be used. Progressive video will bypass the Sil504 processor, but will still take advantage of the excellent scaler Anchor Bay Technologies has developed for this unit.
Considering the capabilities of the new iScan HD, we actually found it to be quite affordable in our configuration by offering us a way to improve the quality of our home theater video while also providing flexible video switching. The iScan HD is a fifth generation product from the same folks at DVDO that introduced the original iScan deinterlacer many years ago. Using the same highly acclaimed core deinterlacing technology with the addition of ABT's high-performance scaling engine, the iScan HD comes highly recommended.
- Kevin Nakano
7205 High-Definition HD2+ DLP
|Review - At a Glance|
Anchor Bay Technologies
PrecisionSDI Video Input Module
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
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