Video Processors

DVDO Edge Video Processor

ARTICLE INDEX
DVDO Edge Video Processor front

Introduction

Many years ago, CRT projector owners had an annoying problem, if they increased their projection area, scan lines would become visible. The idea of line doubling – duplicating the number of lines to avoid the empty spaces between the scan lines became the first consumer video processing technique available.

Since all of our video sources at the time were video, but were originally film – Yvves Faroudja introduced the world to the concept of 3:2 pulldown de-interlacing. De-interlacers were able to double lines but effectively turned the image into a progressive one – a single image that contained data from both interlaced fields at once.

Specifications

  • Design: DVDO Edge by Anchor Bay Technologies
  • Inputs: HDMI, 2 x Component, Composite, S-Video, Optical Audio, Stereo Analog
  • Outputs: HDMI, Digital Audio
  • Input Standards: PAL, NTSC, 720P, 1080i, 1080p, VGA, SVGA, XGA @24, 50, and 60 Hz
  • Output Standards: EDID (Auto), 1080i, 1080p, 720p, and Other Standard Resolutions
  • Dimensions: 2.1" H x 16.9" W x 10.3" D"
  • Weight: 6.2 Pounds
  • MSRP: $799
  • Anchor Bay Technologies

The main problem with de-interlacers was that they were a costly proposition. Along came DVDO, a small company which had an interesting notion. They created a chip that they wanted to market for de-interlacing, but also needed a platform on which to demonstrate it. Since this was primarily intended as a demonstration platform, DVDO was essentially the first to create a standalone de-interlacer for the consumer market, as other contenders in this market had their prices well above DVDO’s price range. Several models were created at the time, all under the iScan brand (iScan plus and iScan ultra were particular favorites).

The company, DVDO, was sold, lock stock and algorithm, to Silicon Imaging in 2000, which meant that the company focused primarily on making and selling their de-interlacing chip: the Sil504. After a while, the original DVDO team decided to refocus their efforts and created Anchor Bay Technologies which later purchased the iScan and DVDO brand names back from Silicon Imaging.

At first, Anchor Bay Technologies created processors. Among these were two main product lines: the iScan line (iScan HD, HD+) and the VP line (VP20, 30, 50 and 50Pro). As time progressed, prices increased and the top of the line product from ABT is currently  priced at $3499.

The DVDO Edge marks another paradigm shift in ABT’s history. Anchor Bay Technologies is back in the chip making business, this time with the ABT 2010 chip. Since creating the Sil504, remarkable improvements have been made by the ABT team and this is clearly seen in all of the latest ABT products. The scaling engine has been improved, de-interlacing has been dramatically changed and is now on par with the best consumer oriented algorithms out there (major competition includes Marvel’s QDEO, Silicon optix with HQV and Sigma designs/Genum’s VXP). More algorithms include some MPEG artifact removal, edge and detail enhancement algorithms, genlocking (the act of locking the output frequency to the source frequency, twice the source frequency or three times the source frequency) and PReP (an ingenious idea by video processing master Dale Adams which is able to undo a badly deinterlaced image even when the interlaced source is unavailable).

These algorithms, which had made the VP50-Pro so attractive have now been placed on the ABT2010 chip. Now, Anchor Bay wanted another platform to demonstrate its capabilities – enter the Edge.

The Anchor Bay Techologies “DVDO Edge” is essentially a single chip oriented solution designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the ABT2010 chip (which is able to do pretty much anything the VP50Pro can do). This is becoming ever more important as more projector, A/V receiver, Blu-ray players and flat screen display manufacturers try to gain market share by improving picture quality. However, the DVDO Edge is revolutionary in another aspect – it also has shifted dramatically the pricing of video processors. This is one of the first video processors that has an MSRP of $799. Competing products with similar feature sets (including from ABT themselves) are priced at over 3-5 times this amount, an intereting turn of events.

ABT envisions making this a household product, that anyone can use. That means not just catering to the typical video processor sales channels (integrators, primarily) but also selling the unit online through Amazon.com , buy.com and tigerdirect.com – something that has not yet been attempted.

This goal means that the unit would have to be designed so that anyone can use it, not a simple thing when it comes to video processors.


Design

DVDO Edge Video Processor back

The Edge comes with virtually any connection one would need – 6 HDMI inputs with HDMI 1.3a support (including the new BLU-RAY audio formats), 2 sets of component inputs (which double as RGBcvS inputs for European users), one S-Video input and one composite input. The unit holds no less than 5 separate audio inputs – optical, coax and stereo, in addition to the ability of each of the HDMI inputs to act as an audio input as well.

For outputs, the unit can output audio through a dedicated HDMI 1.3a audio output that goes out to the AV Receiver, or the unit can send audio out through a combined audio/video HDMI output, or even convert the audio to an optical digital output for AVRs that do not support HDMI input yet.

The front of the unit is a radical design step from most video processors. The unit has a distinct upside down u shape front that has a visible angled edge to it, reflecting a name change. The design is unique, but not everyone who has seen it likes the new design – it’s more of an issue of taste. I personally prefer this type of design over the now extinct “black box” designs from which most video processor manufacturers are finally starting to move away.

The bottom right hand foot of the Edge holds a small light. This design is strange but also finally shows that someone has figured out that a bright LED flashlight at the center of the unit might not be the best thing for those who appreciate design. The clean angled edge on the front is disrupted, however, by two items – a small nipple shaped IR sensor and a front HDMI connector, used primarily for new HD cameras. The front HDMI connection is neat, but I was expecting it to click open, but it requires a thumbnail to be used to pull it out. When the HDMI connector is out, it interferes with the clean look of the Edge design.

DVDO Edge Video Processor remote

The remote is another step into the consumer market and is a dramatic leap from previous DVDO/ABT remotes. It is a cleanly designed, universal remote that can work in most situations for most users as their main remote. I personally prefer smart remotes, but I can see how this can really come in handy for users.

Many people ask me why bother with a video processor anymore now that AVRs have gotten so good.  The thing is,that no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to find an AVR that does a half decent job at half the things video processors are good at. They usually try to hide as much detail from you as they can, with respect to video. You often get about 100 different tweaks for audio, but you hardly ever see an AVR that has aspect ratio control, one of the simplest things to implement in a video processor.

Many users with processors tend to separate video and audio so that their video chain is switched and controlled by their video processor and their audio works in much the same way through the A/V receivers. This type of separation is now becoming nearly impossible, now that HDMI has become such an important transporting medium for audio. This usually means you are forced to pass all your sources through your AVR first and then have it switch your sources and pass them down to your display. That’s how AVR manufacturers want you to work. The trouble is, this often precludes you from using your display’s processing, aspect ratio control and usually produces inferior picture quality.

The first product I have seen that departs from this methodology was the Lumagen Radiance and the DVDO Edge has followed suit. Two separate HDMI outputs mean you can route all your video and audio sources through the DVDO Edge and pass the HDMI audio output to your AVR or audio preprocessor.

This means you need almost no adjustments on your AVR, just a single HDMI input that will work with a host of your audio sources. I have tested this with a variety of different equipment and had absolutely no problems routing my audio through in this manner.

The pricing of the unit also means that many users will actually use this unit as their main video hub or as an HDMI switcher of sorts.


Menus and Features

DVDO Edge Video Processor display

The unit starts with a wizard style interface that most home users will welcome, it relies on automatically detecting (using EDID) your display’s name and information and lets you override audio and video settings.

Some of the menus can still be made simpler. I doubt most users buying this as an HDMI switch will know if they need to use 1080P 59.94Hz or 1080p 50Hz, but they would know that their display is FULL HD (1080p). While this seems to be only a difference in terminology, this is one of the first video processor products that is oriented towards the mass consumer market, and should really adopt those terms.

DVDO Edge Video Processor output format

EDID worked fine for me on all resolutions I have tried, but it’s important to note that the unit does not support custom timing as do the VP line of processors. The importance of this, however, decreases as all displays are now standardizing on FULL HD these days.

DVDO Edge Video Processor onscreen picture

Overall, the interface is intuitive, simple and cleanly designed. When adjusting something, the top of the screen indicates what you are adjusting and the bottom gives you helpful hints at it.

Not all of the features are clearly defined or easily accessible. One of my favorites is 1:1 frame rate which should be, in my opinion, enacted 100% of the time.  Most users might not even realize what an improvement they are making in activating it, it really should be part of the wizard process to test if this feature works on their display and activating it accordingly.

DVDO Edge Video Processor advanced controls

Some of the features might also be left out, the great number of test patterns that we know and love in the VP product line seem to be a bit out of place here. Most consumers wouldn’t know a 100IRE from a needle pulse pattern.  Access to these patterns, at least in the V61 beta I had tested for this review, is cumbersome and unintuitive.

Some of the best features are buried deep within menus that most users will probably never find (e.g., just leave PReP on automatic – I can’t see the harm in that…). This is nitpicking on my part, I think the menus are great and quite usable as they are, but they can be further improved.


Picture Quality

I will start by saying that I will have to review each part of the processing path separately. I think the DVDO “ABT102” (code name “Ducky Lucky”) algorithm is one of my favorites. It certainly ranks among the top 3 consumer de-interlacers that I have subjected to my torture tests. It rarely combs and squeezes out a lot more details than are available through other means.

The ABT1020 improves on this but only by a little. For my de-interlacing tests, I hooked up the same equipment to my LX5090 Pioneer FULL HD display (this is a similar display to the 5020 or Elite pro displays available in the US). The connections were made both directly to the display and also via the Edge.

dvdo-edge-video-processor-img-4883.jpg
My original display’s processing (note the stair stepping during motion)

dvdo-edge-video-processor-img-4886.jpg
DVDO Edge, the same program with similar motion (no visible combing or stairstepping)

Normal content had shown a dramatic improvement when running through the Edge. Differences such as de-interlacing artifacts, stair stepping and combing occurred on a regular basis when the screen had tried to deinterlace the image on its own. With lots of tweaks these can be reduced, but at the expense of a much softer image. The Edge retained the maximum resolution, but did not comb even once on my tests.

Scaling, however, was not at the top of the class. Some of the test patterns I ran through exhibited some ringing and were softer than I would have expected the image to be. There’s no doubt it’s a clear improvement over the Pioneer’s original processor, but further improvement can definitely be made.

I had also witnessed some white clipping above 95IRE on one of my analog PAL component sources, but the very same input worked great with RGBcvS.

The unit also did quite well with mosquito noise removal. The effect is subtle and can remove some image detail as well, but detail and edge enhancement can bring those details back. MPEG artifact removal is quite important when processing overly compressed bit starved sources and in particular – local SDTV channels.

When I compared this to the reigning champion of this field, the Algolith Mosquito, the latter performed better and removed more artifacts while retaining more detail. One algorithm that the Mosquito performs is Block and Macroblock artifact removal. This effect creates virtual blocks of similar, but not identical, shades and is one of the main causes behind making a channel appear “digital”. This effect is also part of the reason why gradients compress so badly – a gradient of blue sky usually deteriorates into a set of squarish blocks with varying shades of blue. Of course, the new H264 compression reduces these effects and can bypass some of these artifacts given enough bandwidth and time to do minor block corrections, but those of us who need these channels are stuck with blocks. The lack of a BAR algorithm is one that I hope  will be addressed by ABT in the future.

I have already mentioned the detail and edge enhancement features. Both are similar in function and effect. Detail is primarily an algorithm that accentuates the area within a particular object’s boundaries, while edge is designed to make edges appear sharper. Both algorithms can introduce halos and add ringing to objects, but in small quantities, these can also counteract the softening effect of the mosquito algorithm and improve the details. These algorithms work quite well, and interestingly enough can also be set to negative values to deemphasize these very artifacts when they come from the source (many DVDs are notoriously plagued with over use of edge enhancement algorithms).

DVDO Edge Video Processor aspect ratio

Aspect ratio controls are quite limited as compared to the VP series of products. In addition to underscan and zooming control, you only have 16:9, 4:3 and 4:3 LB (letterbox) on the remote itself. Add to that a new Panorama algorithm that is clearly a big step forward from all the other Anchor Bay processors. It’s still not perfect, but it is quite usable and is on equal footing or even better when compared to what most displays have to offer. As many displays block aspect ratio control when HD signals are sent to them, this is critical if you plan to use the unit with any sources that may not be 16:9.

DVDO Edge Video Processor widescreen

HD is processed just fine, but not a significant leap from my own display’s capabilities

Many people ask about HD processing. If you have a full-hd display, which I would guess many of those reading probably do, you may be surprised to learn that your display probably doesn’t do too bad with 1080i content… Most displays are able to produce pretty good results. I have not seen dramatic improvement between native 1080i after processing it with this processor (or many others) although the change might be more apparent on a larger display (100” or so with a good projector). Content such as blu-ray usually goes through as 1080P anyway, so the main issue would be handling of 720P and 1080i from sources like OTA, satellite and cable channels. PReP also kicks in with those (including 720P) and picks up any 3:2 cadence it finds. In my testing, it also worked well with 2:2 content for 50 Hz content for the European crowds.

The unit lacks CMS and Gamma controls and is also not ISF oriented (no night & day modes). I doubt most users require this even from the higher end users, as these features would require some serious training or an ISF trained custom installer or calibrator to implement effectively.

As time progressed, the public beta of the DVDO Edge involved biweekly updates that often resolved issues and pushed the product further. The firmware update is one of the easiest I have seen to date. Turn the unit on with the “reset” button pushed in using a needle or ball point pen and connect the USB cable. The unit appears as a portable storage or thumbdrive and you can just remove the old firmware and put in a new one.


Conclusions

This is a well thought out product and a great new flagship for ABT. As a mass consumer product, it does require some more simplification.

As a video processor, it breaks in a new price point for this level of video processing, but it does need more work with regards to some of its aspect ratio controls (in particular panorama) and scaling.

Experts will easily adapt to the unit, but may feel that a few of their favorite features have gone missing or are a bit stunted.

Overall, this is a solid product and one that many people would enjoy as their first or as an entry level video processor.