Product Review (October 2002) - Silicon Image iScan Ultra
Progressive Line Doubler
 

Not long ago, I recall reading an article that said one day high quality (3:2 pull-down) de-interlacing technology would come down to a reasonable price which most people could afford. Needless to say, that occurred with the release of the original iScan about three years ago making it difficult to justify spending several thousands of dollars on similar products. The performance of the processor surprised industry professionals as well as consumers who believed deinterlacing had to be expensive. The original iScan took advantage of the low-cost of ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) technology and powerful PC-based tools resulting in an amazing deinterlacer for under $1,000. Since then, two additional iScan deinterlacers have been released making this latest iScan Ultra the fourth generation model. According to Silicon Image, the older iScan V2 will no longer be offered, making the new iScan Ultra and existing iScan Pro their current products.

The new iScan Ultra offers several significant changes made to the previous iScan model. First of all, the chassis is now full size and fits nicely in a rackmount setup. Rackmount ears are also available for this type of installation. The unit has a solid build making it easy to operate with tactile buttons on the front panel along with a three digit alphanumeric display. A small remote control has been added to the list of new features. More importantly, each video input can now be configured independently and the data is stored in nonvolatile memory in the event of a power loss. This is very important since all video sources have slightly different video characteristics and must be adjusted accordingly. These new features are a great addition to an already excellent performing iScan. The user can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, sharpness, Y/C delay and activate the chroma filter to minimize color problems related to DVD players with the chroma bug in the MPEG decoder. The latter two adjustments are new to the Ultra model. The Ultra also has a pass-through mode for the video coming from the input VGA connector. This is especially useful if the VGA connection on the display is already occupied by another source. In our review, we ran our RCA DTC100 set-top box (running HD 1080i video) into the pass-though connector and we saw no video degradation on the display.

Peek Inside
The internal design of the new iScan Ultra is similar to its predecessors, but with far more capabilities, resulting in a larger board footprint. Power forms are generated using linear voltage regulators for minimum power supply noise. The input video interfaces to the same Philips SAA7118E multi-standard video decoder with the integrated 2D adaptive comb filter used in the iScan Pro unit. This powerful chip provides the high quality Y/C separation for composite video sources and incorporates the front-end video switching needed for the large number of video inputs. Analog video is converted to the digital domain using four 9-bit analog-to-digital converters sampling at 27MHz (twice the standard sampling rate). Digital component video is then sent to the new Silicon Image Sil-504 deinterlacer chip where 3:2 and 2:2 pulldown detection and motion adaptive deinterlacing takes place.
The digital progressive video is sent to the custom Xilinx Spartan XC2S200 FPGA that performs aspect ratio conversion and chroma filtering. Finally the output of the FPGA is sent to an Analog Devices ADV7301A chip with 12-bit video DACs for the VGA output, and to Silicon Image's SiI 164 PanelLink chip for the DVI output. The DVI output takes advantage of Silicon Image's arsenal of video interface chip technology.

As a side note, manufacturers such as Denon Electronics have incorporated the latest generation of the deinterlacing chip (Sil 504) into their flagship DVD-9000 ($3500) as well as in their less expensive DVD-3800 ($1199). This is the second generation of DVD players in which Denon has decided to implement the Silicon Image deinterlacing chip. Obviously the technology has impressed them enough to put it into their highest performing and most expensive DVD players. Other high-end companies such as Camelot have also used this technology in their DVD players.

Back Panel
On the rear panel, the wider chassis easily accommodates the six video inputs, pass-through connector and two video output connectors (VGA and DVI). There are two of each type of inputs (composite, s-video and component video) providing users with not only a great deinterlacer, but an added video switcher with independently stored video parameters. The output video can be sent to either the analog VGA connector or the new DVI output. We didn't have a DVI capable display for this review, so we could not test this function. However, displays with DVI inputs avoid unnecessary conversions that tend to degrade video quality, so we would expect this interface to be highly desirable.

Color space on the analog VGA output can be set for YUV component or RGB. The sync option is selectable between RGB/HV, RGB/S, RGsB and YPrPb. Three different aspect ratios are offered (Full, Letterbox, and Squeeze Mode). The Squeeze mode has four different video selections for the side bar area (Black, dark gray, medium gray, and light gray). Using non-black bars decrease the chance of screen burn when watching content in this mode for extended periods of time. The letterbox mode allows non-anamorphic (non 16:9 enhanced) DVDs to fill the screen while maintaining the proper aspect ratio for 16:9 displays. This was great for those old DVDs in our collection.

The unit comes with composite, s-video, and component video cables to help you get started with the unit. However, it does not include the output cables (VGA or DVI), so you will have to buy these separately. The switching AC adapter supplied with the unit works with any voltage between 100V and 240VAC making it a universal power module for both the USA and Europe. They even provide the round two-prong European plug with the supply.

Performance
Our review system consisted of a Sony DVP-NS900V DVD player running in the interlaced mode with the s-video and component video connections to the iScan Ultra. We also used a Mitsubishi HS-U82 S-VHS VCR and Pioneer CLD-99 laserdisc player to supply us with composite source material. We were interested in evaluating the front end of the iScan Ultra to see how well the Y/C separator worked. The output of the iScan was connected to our Pioneer Elite PRO-610HD monitor.

Using the composite video inputs on the iScan we tested a variety of laserdisc material and some not-so-great VHS recordings that had substantial jitter in the video. The Time Base Correction (TBC) circuitry in the iScan worked extremely well on poor VHS material by substantially reducing the line-to-line jitter, resulting in an improvement in overall picture quality. Interlacing artifacts were removed completely without the introduction of new artifacts from the deinterlacing process. Yes, some deinterlacers do actually make the video look worse than the original interlaced video, but certainly not the iScan Ultra. We were pleasantly surprised to see all the great attributes of the earlier iScan models with new and improved features.

Now it was time to put on a DVD to see what we had been waiting for. The video we fed to the iScan from our Sony DVP-NS900V was refreshing, especially after looking at VHS and laserdisc. While I was a big supporter of laserdisc, it doesn't even compare to the best DVD releases. The beautiful color accuracy and flesh-tones found in Shakespeare in Love show how good this format can be. The progressive image generated by the iScan was stunning and looked very natural on our display. I carefully watched the edges of various images during motion and could not detect any significant problems with the deinterlacer. It did a wonderful job processing the incoming component-based source material.

The iScan Ultra from Silicon Image is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to improve the quality of your home theater video while also providing video switching for each of the six inputs. The latest iScan represents a fourth generation product that has been refined to offer real value-added features along with proven core deinterlacing technology from past and proven iScan products. Any serious home theater system with multiple video sources whether they be composite, s-video or component, would benefit from the iScan Ultra.
- Kevin Nakano

 

Review System

Display - Pioneer Elite PRO-610HD 58-inch HD-Ready TV (ISF calibrated)
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Front Speakers - Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers - Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer - Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments - Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box - RCA DTC100 HDTV/DSS Satellite Receiver
DVD/CD/SACD Player - Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
Laserdisc Player - Pioneer Elite CLD-99 Laserdisc Player
VCR - Mitsubishi HS-U82 S-VHS VCR
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables
Video Generator - Sencore VP300 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Color Analyzer - Sencore CP288 ISF Certified Color Analyzer

 

Review - At a glance
Silicon Image - iScan Ultra Deinterlacer/Line Doubler

Inputs

  • Two composite
  • Two s-video
  • Two component
  • VGA 15-pin Pass-through connector (Works with HD video)

    Outputs

  • Analog: VGA 15-pin (RGB with Sync-on-green, RGB/HV or Y-Pb-Pr)
  • Digital: DVI Connection

    Features

  • Supports NTSC/PAL/SECAM
  • Component video inputs for maximum video performance.
  • Auto detection of original source (i.e. film, computer graphics, or video).
  • De-interlacing of detected video source.
  • Squeeze mode for 16:9 displays.
  • Fully independant control with memory of each input
  • Adjustments for Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Hue and Sharpness, Y/C Delay.
  • Chroma filter on/off control
  • High quality adaptive comb filter for composite sources.

    Includes

  • Remote control.
  • Composite video input cables.
  • S-video input cables.
  • Component video cables.
  • 6VDC/2A multi-region AC adapter (100-240VAC 50/60Hz input).
  • Power cables for USA and UK.
  • User's manual.

    Company Information
    Silicon Image
    1060 E. Arques Avenue
    Sunnyvale, CA 94085
    Phone: (888) 726-3554
    Website: http://www.siliconimage.com

    Product Brief
    User Manual

    Source: Manufacturer Loan
    Model Number: MM504
    Serial Number: USI14-1
    Price: $1199
    Size: 10.4" x 17.0" x 2.2" (LxWxH)
    Weight (main unit): 5.5 pounds
    Warranty: 1 year

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