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Product Review - Faroudja Native Rate Series Digital Video Processor - December, 2001

John E. Johnson, Jr.


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Specifications:

Inputs: Composite (BNC). S-Video, YCrCb-Component (BNC), and HD/Computer Passthrough (D15M); RS232 Port

Outputs: RGB, YPrPb (5 BNC, Including H and V Sync), D15

Aspect Ratios: 4:3, Anamorphic 16:9, Letterbox, Anamorphic Image on a 4:3 TV

Controls: Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, Noise Reduction, Detail, Image Shift, Pattern Generator

Special Features: DCDi

Size: 3" H x 17" W x 12" D

Weight: 15 Pounds

MSRP:  $4,000 USA

 

Faroudja, Inc., http://www.faroudja.com

Introduction

Faroudja has been making high performance video products for three decades. You might have seen their name on the back of some VCRs and video cameras, because they hold lots of patents. They have also won several Emmys for their contributions to TV technology. It is a very special company.

My first experience with them was at CES a number of years ago. I sat open mouthed as I watched the TV image on a large front projection screen. They were doing something called "line doubling", where the NTSC picture was deinterlaced. It looked like film. Then, a couple of years later, they were quadrupling.

The problem for me was that the Faroudja processor was about $15,000. Their products all remained expensive until just recently.

When I saw the news release for the Faroudja Native Rate Series (NRS), I was very anxious to get one because it is only $4,000. Sure, that is still no chump change, but it is a fraction of the price compared to their previous technology.

The NRS is a video processor that is designed for mid-priced projectors where you know the scan rate that you want to use. When you order the unit, you specify the resolution of your projector. The choices include 480p, 720p, 800 x 600, 852 x 480 (plasma screens), 1024 x 768, etc. The difference between the NRS and the expensive model is basically that you just get the one choice of resolution. We obtained our review unit as 720p, so that we could try it with our Sony 10HT digital projector, but we also used it with the Zenith Pro 1200X CRT projector that we reviewed recently.

The Design

The NRS is designed to take an interlaced video signal, deinterlace it, scale it, apply whatever processing you want (such as contrast, tint, etc.), and output it in progressive scan component video with Horizontal and Vertical sync, to a projector. This can be an HDTV rear projection unit, a digital projector, or a front CRT projector. It delivers the signal in the frequency that is required by the resolution of your display. Ours was 720p, which meant the output signal had a 45 kHz frequency instead of the 15.75 kHz frequency of the NTSC interlaced output of the DVD player (in this case, a Toshiba SD-6200 and Denon DVM-4800).

Now, there is already a deinterlacer in the player, so you could send a 480p signal to the projector. But, the deinterlacer in the NRS is of a far superior caliber than the one in the player. It is like comparing the DACs in a mass market CD player to the ones in a Mark Levinson DAC. Big difference.

One thing I particularly like about the NRS is that it is basically plug and play. I was absolutely delighted that it worked perfectly when I turned everything on. The first test configuration was with our Sony 10HT 3-panel LCD digital projector. The front panel of the NRS has numerous well lit LEDs to indicate the input and type of image you want to be output. In the photo below you can see that the input is composite video, S-Video, RGB, YCrCb (it should be labeled YPbPr as this is the analog version of component video), or Pass-Through. For a DVD player, you choose YCrCb, not RGB even though the output jacks on your DVD player might be color-coded red, green, and blue, like they are on the Toshiba. I chose "Anamorphic" because just about every DVD movie these days is in anamorphic widescreen and the Sony 10HT has anamorphic presentation with its 16:9 LCD panels. DVD players in Europe actually support RGB and not always YPbPr. So in Europe, if they output RGB through RCA jacks instead of SCART, you would select RGB. There is no on-off button for the NRS. You plug it in, and it goes into Standby mode, with the LED red. Pushing the Standby button turns the LED to green, and you are ready to go.

There are two areas of settings on the NR. One is for the screen shape, and this is in a setup menu. The other is for the source material format, and this is in the user menu. When you install the NR, you tell it what shape screen you have, 16x9 or 4x3. It will then know how to format the output (actually the NRS has a third for 4:3 DLP displays). From the front panel you get 4:3, letterbox, and anamorphic. This is for you to change the aspect ratio for the given movie you are watching. An example would be "Space Jam, where you set it to 4:3 because that is format it was released in. This will leave you with black bars on the sides of the screen. If you put in "The Abyss", you set for letterbox. This will zoom in the image, hiding the top and bottom portion of the black bars. This movie was not released on DVD in anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 TVs, so this setting has to be used. You set it to anamorphic for something like "The Fifth Element" (and most new widescreen DVDs of the last year or so), and this will expand the image side-to-side to fill a 16:9 screen.

The rear panel has BNC for the inputs and outputs so you need an RCA to BNC set of component video cables to connect the DVD player to the NRS, assuming you are going to use component video connections, and also assuming you have a typical mass market DVD player with RCA output jacks. NRS output is also BNC, and some projectors, such as the Zenith Pro 1200X, have BNC inputs. Some, such as our Sony 10HT, have RCA input jacks, so choose the cable from the NRS to your projector accordingly. We used BetterCables for this purpose. They are light and flexible, and went under the carpet nicely. Keep in mind that the NRS only accepts interlaced video inputs. You can't connect the progressive output of a DVD player to the NRS (but you would not want to, because the whole point is to let the Faroudja do the deinterlacing). Both the XBox and Nintendo Game Cube output Native 480p (not deinterlaced video), and this is better than feeding an interlaced signal to the NRS, so the fact that the NRS only accepts interlaced video is a disadvantage here.

Performance

When I first turned on the system with the Sony 10HT, I did not notice anything right away. That is because the Sony already scales all incoming signals to a set resolution of progressive 1366 x 768, and this cannot be bypassed (other digital projectors let you bypass the projector's internal scaling circuitry). The image looked bright and crisp as it did with no NRS, so what is new? I was about to find out.

Most of you are familiar with our Benchmark articles. One of the things we reported on was the Chroma Bug. This is an artifact of MPEG decoders that results in blue areas and red areas having horizontal bands. It is distracting to many people, and is especially obvious on a large screen display. We have it on our Toshiba SD-6200 DVD player. Wait a minute! With the NRS in the circuit, no chroma bug. Why? Because the NRS uses a vertical low-pass filter on the chroma channels, and it becomes invisible, or nearly so. I could not see it at all. So, if your DVD player has the chroma bug, you can kiss it pretty much goodbye when using the NRS.

I moved the NRS into the lab with a Zenith Pro 1200X 8" CRT projector, and tested it with a Toshiba SD-6200 DVD Player as well as the new Denon DVM-4800. The Faroudja made such a huge difference, I now refuse to watch any movies without the NRS in the circuit with the 1200X. This particular NRS is set for 720p, and the projector will handle higher resolution signals than that, but even so, wow what a difference. For digital projectors, you need to order the unit configured for that projector's resolution. For a 7" CRT, the 720p that we had in the review unit would be fine. For the 8" 1200X, probably one of the high resolution options would be best. There are some low priced CRT projectors out there, including "B" stock and used units. The NRS would be a beautiful addition to them. If you have one of the new 9" CRT projectors, then perhaps the higher performance Faroudja processors should also be considered, since numerous resolution options are a matter of simply selecting them from the front panel. On the NRS, you have to choose just one resolution when you order it for purchase.

A short time ago, Sage-Faroudja (Sage purchased Faroudja a few years ago) announced DCDi technology. This is Directional Correlational Deinterlacing. The technique gets rid of the jaggies in diagonal lines from moving objects in interlaced video sequences, i.e., native 60 fields per second video, not 24 frames per second film. The exception is when a bad edit occurs, and the deinterlacer drops to video mode for a few frames. If it did stay in film mode, you would see combing. This is how combing is avoided. The chip in the 6200 stays in film mode come hell or high water, and this is why you see the combing more often. I tested this feature using the Video Essentials DVD, Chapter 19, where there is a video image of a flag waving in the wind. Without DCDi, the red and white stripes on the flag were very jagged along their borders. With DCDi, no jaggies at all. This technology really works beautifully!

We left the brightness and contrast at their default positions on the NRS and adjusted those on the CRT. Tint was disabled on the YPbPr input, so we did not touch that. We also moved color up a few clicks from default. We lowered detail down from the default setting because we felt it added an artificial edge to the image. While some prefer this look, we decided to go for the more natural appearance (purist).

With the NRS, movie after movie just jumped off the screen. Colors were rich and beautifully saturated. DCDi did its thing with video signals, and it is not really noticeable when it is operating. What is noticeable is when DCDi is not there! With the kind of video I like (sports), there is lots of movement, and every diagonal edge otherwise has the jaggies. DCDi reduces it to the point that you have to practically put your nose to the screen to see any.

Remember our discussions of "combing" in the DVD Benchmarks? They are caused by bad edits after the film has been transferred to video and editing is performed. These bad edits cause the decoder to switch from film to video mode. Some players handle this problem better than others. Our Toshiba SD-6200 has it pretty bad. Well, with the NRS in the circuit, no combing on most movies! I only saw one incident of it happening, and that was in "The Abyss" Benchmark test. It is appropriate to switch from film to video mode when the issue arises on a DVD. If it doesn't do it, you will see combing. Bad edit detection makes that change happen more quickly, and without it, it will stay in film mode when it isn't supposed to, with combing as the result. In video mode, you lose up to 50% of the vertical resolution, diagonals become jagged, and moire becomes present in fine areas of detail. Motion-adaptive deinterlacing, a technology present in the NRS, is a video mode algorithm that only loses resolution in parts of the image that are in motion (performed on a pixel-by-pixel basis). The Toshiba SD-6200 that we reviewed recently loses resolution on the entire image because it is not motion adaptive. Also, DCDi smoothes out the diagonals so it is even harder to tell when the switch between film and video modes is made.

Here are the results of the Benchmark tests:

Product WF1 WMM WC1 WC2 VZP BL GQM GQT MT A13 BC SS A
Faroudja NRS Processor   (10 Frames to Recover)

 

(9 Combs)

You can see that the NRS performed admirably. There is some Pb to Pr delay as shown in the photo below. The light blue arrow points out a thin red stripe along the left edge, followed by a black stripe (blue arrow) and then the rest of the red band (green arrow). The NRS also has YC delay, where the black stripe would not have the red stripe to the left of it. But, until the Pb to Pr delay is fixed, YC delay is not visible. Sage is working on an update that will correct this.

Because the NRS is upgradeable with firmware, we are anticipating that it will be greatly improved over time as the Faroudja programmers work on the various issues mentioned above. The review unit had version 2.4.

Although both of the projectors we tested the NRS with have sharpness controls, the range of control is much finer with the Faroudja in the circuit (the NRS has a "Detail" setting). This detail control does not adjust the frequency response like a sharpness control. It does 2-D (H and V) detail enhancement on both Y and C. If you set the default to 0, you see exactly what the DVD player is doing (how much ringing it has). There is no way to remove ringing from a DVD player using the NRS.

The NRS has a menu item called DVD Animation Mode. This turns off the cross color suppressor. Cross color occurs when Y and C are combined, creating composite video. This is a common artifact found on laserdiscs because it (LD) is a composite format. It will only be found on DVD when using the Composite output or when the source material for the DVD came from a composite master. Much of Japanese animation and early Fox DVDs are like this. It is also apparent on animation and computer generated sequences such as in "Gladiator". Here is what it looks like (photo below). With DVD Animation Mode turned off, the cross color suppressor is on, and the rainbow artifact shown below is not seen. However, cross color suppression can cause flickering in some animation movies. So, you just turn the DVD Animation Mode on with such DVDs.

So what is the difference between the Faroudja NRS and other video processors out there? The NRS compared to the Faroudja DVP3000 is better in many ways. First, the NRS actually has a more detailed image because it has a flatter frequency response. This is evident by looking at the 6.75 MHz patch on Avia. It is a gray blue on a DVP3000 and detailed on the NRS (using the same DVD player). Secondly, the NRS is outputting the full chroma bandwidth, where the DVP3000 is rolled off dramatically. Third, the deinterlacing on the NR is even better than on the DVP3000 and handles bad edits more gracefully. The downside of the NRS is that it does not support the highest resolutions like the DVP3000 can, and this includes 960p and 1080p. It also cannot accept a 480p input from sources like the Microsoft XBox and Nintendo Game Cube, which are native progressive. Both the NRS and DVP3000 can support PAL, but the 3000 will cost extra for this option, while the NR includes it at the same price. 

I took the NRS out of the circuit with the DVD player and the 1200X, and turned on progressive output (480p) from the player. The image quality with this configuration compared to having the NRS in the circuit, outputting 720p was almost laughable. In other words, even if you have a progressive output DVD player, having a good digital video processor can make a marvelous difference. This is because 480p is far below the 1200X capability. On a mass market rear projector (RP) TV though, setting the NRS to 480p or 540p would be just fine. RPTVs require convergence memories for 480p and 1080i. When you switch between them constantly, this makes the projector less stable and you get convergence drift. Wouldn't it be great if you ran all sources at the same rate? Well, we know 1080i has a problem because of interlacing artifacts. However, 540p is half of 1080i and will run at the same scan rate (~33 kHz). In fact, the new Toshiba TVs convert all rates to 540p, so an NRS would be terrific on these TVs at 540p, which is one of the scan rates they now offer.

Conclusion

The Faroudja NRS lets those of us without big budgets afford Faroudja technology. It is hard to argue with results, and the NRS really delivers. Its flexibility will let you have it configured to the exact resolution of any digital projector out there, including those with 16:9 panels, but would also be a welcome addition to modest CRT setups.

 

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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