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Product Review
 

Anthem Statement D2 Surround Sound and Video Processor

August, 2006

Kris Deering

 

Setup

Setting up the D2 is pretty much exactly the same as the D1. All of the flexibility stays intact and all the things you could previously do with any audio or video input remains the same. When you are setting up each individual source you select which video input and audio input you want associated with it and what sound decoding you want the input to default to for each type of input signal. For example, for DVD you can select HDMI 1 for the video input but you can select any audio input whether it is analog or digital. Then you go through the surround sound modes you want for each input type. 6.0 PCM, 2.0 PCM, 2.0 surround sound flagged, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, and DTS-ES Matrix can all have different post processing applied including THX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and so on (DTS-ES Discrete can not have post-processing applied to it). All of the flexibility is still there.

With HD DVD and Blu-Ray there are new sound formats to deal with. These include Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, and DTS-HD. As it stands right now these formats need to be decoded to high resolution PCM inside the player to take full advantage of them in your system. This means the decoded PCM stream can be transported via either HDMI or analog multi-channel outputs like we’ve had to do with DVD Audio and SACD in the past. Only receivers or A/V processors with HDMI v1.1 compliant inputs will be able to accept these signals via HDMI. The D2 does this and you can apply any post processing format you want to it including ones like THX Ultra 2 and PLIIx. Recently Anthem updated the D2 firmware to allow for setup of the default for up to 6 discrete channels of PCM so you can apply different processing on top of it. This allows me to take decoded Dolby Digital + 5.1 soundtracks that have been decoded to high resolution PCM and add stuff like THX Ultra 2 or Dolby Pro-Logic IIx post processing to it.

Eventually these formats will have support for decoding inside receivers and SSPs. This is rumored to happen with the introduction of the HDMI v1.3 spec (or possibly even a v2.0). I haven’t spoken directly with Anthem on what their plan is for this but they have mentioned in the past that they will support any sound format that comes down the pipe and since the D2 has a completely upgradeable DSP board, I imagine they will do this when it becomes available and necessary. The only roadblock I see for this is the HDMI receiver chips in the D2. I don’t think they can just be upgraded with firmware to the 1.3 spec later down the line so I am not sure if another hardware update would be necessary. I really don’t see this as much of an issue though since all of the formats can be decoded within their respective players. The only upside of HDMI 1.3 in my view would be support of SACD via HDMI. SACD uses a 1-bit encoding format called Direct Stream Digital (DSD). The HDMI 1.2 spec addressed the need for the transmission of this 1-bit data stream and all further HDMI specs will incorporate the previous features. There is a workaround for this though. DSD bitstreams are often converted to PCM in most Universal DVD players for things like bass management and time alignment. That PCM data could be passed over HDMI just like any other PCM material making digital delivery of SACD possible. Right now I know of only one player that does this, the Oppo 970HD.

In the main setup menu of the Anthem is a new selection for video output. This is where you can select the main output configuration of the D2. There are selections for output type, resolution, color space, data format, letterboxing, synch and the Component 2 output (the D2 has two component outputs).

For output types you can chose from HDMI or component video. If you select component then the selections that pertain to HDMI only will not be accessible in the output setup menu.

The next setting is the output resolution. The D2 does not allow for custom output resolutions but it does come pre-programmed with 21 different resolutions in various refresh rates (frame rates) including 24, 25, 30, 50, 54, 60, 65, 70, 75 and 85Hz! (Refresh rates are output resolution dependant and not all rates are supported with all resolutions.) There are plans in the works to add 48Hz soon to some existing resolutions and new resolutions can be added as necessary. During my review I used the D2 with output resolutions of 720P and 1080P both at 60Hz.

The output color space is selectable and includes HDTV and SDTV depending on the end display and what the user prefers. You can also select Auto. Many of the displays on the market automatically use the HD color space (REC 709) when they receive a signal higher than 480P, even if the original source was mastered using an SD color space (REC 601, like most DVDs). The D2 allows you to force a color conversion or let the EDID information from the display dictate.

For data format you can chose from YCbCr 4:2:2 or 4:4:4, RGB, or Extended RGB. 4:2:2 YCbCr is the standard output of most DVD player’s MPEG decoders. Some of the newer upscaling DVD players will also output 4:4:4, which enables for higher color sampling (keep in mind that DVD is mastered at 4:2:0 so the higher color sampling is essentially added information not inherent in the original source, HD DVD and Blu-Ray use 4:2:0 as well). RGB is the most common color scheme on the market and is supported by all displays. Extended RGB re-maps the RGB luma levels so that black is moved from digital 16 to 0 and white is moved from digital 235 to 255. This will usually introduce banding and it also clips head and toe room in the image. We do not recommend this setting unless you are using a display that clips head and toe room anyways, which only a few do. For this review I used the YCbCr 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 output modes as well as the RGB output with various projectors. The Gennum VXP chip does a minimum of 10 bit processing but if the HDMI output is selected for YCbCr 4:4:4 or RGB it is dithered and truncated to 8 bit. The YCbCr 4:2:2 supports the full 10 bit resolution of the VXP chip and is highly recommended for anyone using a digital display featuring an HDMI input. This will help with the common “banding” and “contouring” artifacts so typically seen with digital displays.

The output menu also lets you select the level of “gray” for pillar-boxing or letterboxing applied to the image. There is a setting for adjusting the synch of the HDMI output and for selecting the output of the second component output. Component output 2 can be set to the same processed resolution of Component 1, can be unprocessed, or be set for Zone 2 (which is unprocessed). You can also turn the second component output off if you want.

But that is just the start of the video processing setup and tweaking. You could just leave it at that but Anthem has taken full advantage of the Gennum VXP processor. For this there is a completely different setup menu that will overlay over the active onscreen image. The menu system is very clean and intuitive and is separated into five main areas; Picture, Crop Input, Scale Output, Pattern and Info. Processing like you’ll find in these menus is what would normally be reserved for high-end stand-alone video processors, not surround sound processors or audio/video receivers.

Gennum VXP

The Gennum VXP chip is not just a simple de-interlacing and scaling solution; it is a full video processing solution similar to the recently reviewed Silicon Optix Realta chip with HQV processing. In the past we’ve been limited to chips that do a good job with certain things but required a lot more processing for image processing beyond de-interlacing and scaling. Things like chroma upsampling error (CUE) correction, picture controls, and advanced picture controls (Y/C delay, pixel cropping, detail enhancement, noise reduction) have been absent, which is why standalone video processors have become so popular (and in our opinion necessary!). But just because a chip offers a high level of flexibility in image processing doesn’t mean the companies that use them take full advantage of them. We’ve seen this a lot in our reviews and it’s not the case here.

 



All of the advanced picture options in the Gennum menu are adjustable for EACH source. That means every input source can have separate tweaks applied. As I go over the features in this menu you will see why this is so important.

For picture control the D2 offers a wide variety of options. Some are far more useful than others and some most people will never use at all. Most of the default settings are actually dead on and what we recommend but some of the features are worth looking at to decide whether you can use them to enhance your viewing experience. All of the settings apply equally to both SD and HD input sources.

In the Picture menu you’ll find selections for input color space, image color (contrast, brightness, saturation and hue), Film Mode (de-interlacing mode), detail enhancement, noise reduction, and motion threshold.

Input color space is a selection few will use, as most people don’t know what color space their devices output in. The options include HDTV YCbCr, SDTV YCbCr, or Auto. This will force the input color space for those of you who may be scaling a SD source in a DVD player but want the processing done in the correct SD color space. The Gennum VXP does all of its video processing in the RGB domain so no matter what all input signals are converted to RGB and then converted back to the output color space selected in the output video menu I commented on earlier. I used the auto feature and never had a single issue.

Image color had the obligatory adjustments most find with any display but since the D2 handles each incoming source separately this allows for the end user to adjust for inconsistencies between each source. Since there is only one HDMI output (and since most displays only have one digital input) the need for separate picture adjustments for each source is imperative as most manufacturers just can’t seem to get all on the same page, even in the digital domain. Adjustments you’ll find here include Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Color.

You’ll find controls for the Gennum’s de-interlacing capabilities in the Picture menu under Film Mode and Motion Threshhold. Film mode is either On or Off and we didn’t find a single reason to turn this off. The Gennum does an excellent job picking up cadences and locking on. Motion Threshold sets the level of detection and its default setting did fine with all of our mainstay tests.

The Gennum offers some more advanced video processing similar to the Silicon Optix Realta chip including detail enhancement and noise reduction. The HQV Benchmark DVD has some excellent video clips to test these functions with so I relied on it for all my subjective testing.

The Detail Enhancement feature did a good job with the “staircase and bridge” scene on the HQV chip but the Gennum offers a LOT of range for this setting. I found that if you went to high, things got bad. Be careful what you do here. Detail chips essentially add high frequency information that is not really in the image and normally to get something you have to give it. While it may look good in certain scenes, it may also hurt others. A great test pattern to use for this feature is an overscan pattern from Snell and Wilcox. This pattern is used a lot for setting sharpness in calibrations and you will see how changing detail settings (or sharpness) will add ringing into an image to make things seem sharper.

On the noise reduction side the Gennum does okay but not nearly as good as the Realta HQV chip. Even turning the Gennum to its max setting did not clear up the test sequences on the HQV test disc as well as the Realta processor. There was still some underlying noise apparent. The same was true for the motion adaptive noise reduction tests. The Gennum just cannot compete with the Realta chip in this case, but it did better than most consumer noise reduction features I’ve seen. About half of the noise was reduced overall.

The Crop Input menu has some very cool options including the ability to mask the borders of the image. Most people do not understand the importance of this feature because unfortunately most people’s displays have a certain amount of overscan that cannot be undone. What this means is the display is cutting out a certain percentage of the active image. Normally this is right around 3-5% but I’ve seen even worse than that before. Personally I prefer my display to have 0% overscan. I want the entire active image. This is pretty much essential for reviewing purposes since we test things like pixel cropping, but I also like the piece of mind of knowing that my display is actually showing me everything that is supposed to be there. But there are occasions that this is not a good thing. With some cable or satellite broadcasts you will start to see information in the upper boarders that is random noise. This is usually copyright coding and it can be distracting. Anthem has addressed this issue with a user specified amount of pixel cropping from 1-20 pixels. This worked exceptionally well with HBO-HD. That channel is always fine with movies and shows but the commercials in between always have a lot of garbage in the outer frame.

You’ll also find adjustments for your letterbox settings. The Anthem allows you to letterbox or pillarbox any image you want or have a straight bypass altogether.

The next menu, Scale Output, allows you to adjust the size and position of the active image. It also lets you stretch the image or set a bypass for the scaler. So if you want 480P information to just pass through without scaling, it will do it. Same goes for any other resolution. This is a great feature on a per input basis for someone like me that tests a lot of different video sources.

The Pattern menu has some pre-rendered calibration patterns that some people may find useful. Most of the patterns are various color ramps in stepped form. Recently they added a SMPTE color bar pattern as well. While these patterns may be useful for some, I didn’t get much out of them personally. I use very specific patterns for calibrating my display and unfortunately these don’t encompass the things I look for.

The last menu is the Info menu, which provides input and output information for your sources. There were a couple of occasions when the input video source displayed the wrong colorspace information. I honestly hope that Anthem does a bit more with this menu in the future.

During the course of the review I used various source devices and projectors. Sources included DVD players, an HD PVR Cable box, a D-VHS player, an HD DVD player and a home video game console. I used a BenQ 8720 DLP projector, Sony VPL-VW100 (Ruby) 1080P projector, Marantz VP12S4 720P DLP, and a Panasonic AE-900 through the course of the testing. This allowed me to test out the various color space outputs as well as evaluate the D2 for 1080i de-interlacing to 1080P into the Sony Ruby. All DVD sources were output at 480i. HD sources were set to 1080i output and the home game console was outputting 720P.

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