Video processors are a bit of a mixed bag for me for two reasons. First, most displays and/or sources come packaged with an internal processor or two. Second, outboard video processors are often confusing and not really designed for the average consumer.
• Read a review of the DVDO iScan Pro here.
• Read a review of the DVDO iScan VP30 video processor here.
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Enter the DVDO Edge video processor from Anchor Bay, the leaders in video processing chipsets found in many of today's consumer electronics. Retailing for $799, the Edge offers a lot of the performance of DVDO's own iScan VP50Pro processor, yet has been streamlined and designed with the typical consumer in mind. Does it work? Well, yes and no.
From the outside, the Edge is a neat-looking piece of kit with its curved, rubber-like finish. The face of the Edge is about as barren as they come, with a simple DVDO logo, remote sensor and trapdoor HDMI input gracing the slanted façade. Around back, it's a different story altogether. The Edge has five HDMI 1.3 inputs (six, if you include the front input) and two HDMI 1.3 outputs. Don't get too excited, as I did, for the Edge does not have the ability to send video via HDMI to two different sources. One of the HDMI monitor outs is audio/video-capable and the second is audio-only. However, the HDMI audio output can pass the latest uncompressed audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, so it's not completely useless. Along with the HDMI outs, there is an optical audio out if your receiver doesn't have an HDMI input. The Edge has two component video inputs and a single set of composite and S-Video inputs, as well as five audio inputs that can be assigned to any of the Edge's video inputs. The Edge is designed to send everything to your source via a single HDMI connection. Surprisingly, the Edge features no RS-232 support for control systems or universal remotes, though I'm sure Anchor Bay would like it if you used the Edge remote as your system remote.
Under the bonnet, the Edge utilizes Anchor Bay's VRS chipset that properly deinterlaces SD and HD interlaced signals, like those found in broadcast presentations. The Edge will scale all signals to 1080p, as well as reduce noise and compression artifacts found in DVD, broadcast and downloaded material. The Edge also claims to improve perceived video quality, using a system they call PReP, or Progressive ReProcessing, and can do a bit of fine detail and edge enhancing that goes a step beyond normal sharpness controls found on most TVs. Lastly, the Edge can eliminate lip sync issues by removing the delay between audio and video signals.
Then there is the Edge's remote. I spoke earlier about video processors not being consumer-friendly. Well, for all the effort and time spent making the Edge precisely that, the remote does little to battle the stereotype. It's big, bulky and looks no part of the Edge's design. It's cheap, looking more like a ten-dollar universal remote than one belonging to a streamlined, well-designed piece of video hardware.
I installed the Edge in my bedroom system between my sources and Regza LCD HDTV. I used the Edge in tandem with my AppleTV, Dish Network DVR and Sony PS3, with a single UltraLink cable running from the back of the Edge to my LCD TV. I installed the Edge in my reference rig for a short while, but found its presence to be more of a nuisance than one of huge benefit, for much of what it offers in terms of performance is already in place in my reference system. While it was in my reference rig, it became clear that the Edge was not designed for consumers with state of the art systems already in their homes. Instead, it appears geared towards those with some HD capability, either a display or source, but still holding true to their legacy components.
Once connected, the Edge's set-up menus are first-rate and easy to navigate, although one must ask a fair question. If the Edge wants to be the processor for all things, do you calibrate your set and/or sources, too? No. Double calibration is too much of a good thing or, worse, makes it appear as if no calibration is needed at all, negating the need for an item such as the Edge in the first place. I set all my sources and my display to their factory defaults and proceeded with calibration within the Edge itself. The process was somewhat lengthy but doable, even at the novice level, and I was up and running in about 30 minutes.
I stared my evaluation of the Edge with some AppleTV viewing, picking the worst it has to offer, podcasts. Podcasts or Internet video radio (as I like to call it) can be created by anyone and put online or on iTunes for the world to view. Like blogs, some are good, most are horrid. Two of my favorites lately are CNET's Auto Review podcast and a five-minute comedy show called The Midwest Teen Sex Show. Starting with CNET's Auto podcast, the Edge imparted a bit of improvement upon the uber-compressed yet full-screen image. Colors remained largely unchanged. Remember, the Edge is working on scaling, edge enhancement and artifacts, and whether calibrated via the Edge or on my TV itself, it would (and did) result in similar if not the same image. Compression artifacts were lessened, but by no means eliminated. Motion artifacts and jaggies were still present, though again minimized. However, motion on the whole appeared smoother and more natural. Noise was by far the biggest improvement as was perceivable edge sharpness, though if I broke the proper viewing distance, I could still see some noise throughout the image and the edges of objects, mainly cars, were not razor-sharp.
Switching "channels" to The Midwest Teen Sex Show, I was treated to a bit more of the same. However, the Edge's noise reduction also made for an over-smoothing of the cast's skin tones and textures. You can scale the noise reduction back, as I did, and achieve more acceptable and natural-looking results. There was still a bit of macro-blocking in the dark regions during the black and white opening and closing segments, but it did improve once the program moved to full color. Was I at any time tricked into thinking that the lower than SD-quality video was being output as true HD? Not a chance. But honestly, despite white papers and manufacturers' claims, no one can achieve this. If you put garbage in, you're going to get garbage out. The Edge just helps take a bit of the stench off. If your viewing consists primarily of Internet video and/or the like, the Edge is not really going to help you, nor should you expect it to do so. However, I thought it a good test, for if it could impart even a ten-percent improvement to a podcast, then DVDO might be on to something, which they are.
Next, I cued up Jurassic Park (Universal Studios Home Video) on DVD and put the Edge to work. Motion, especially the rapid camera pans that accompany the chaotic opening sequence, were smoother and clearer than with the Edge in the signal chain. Motion artifacts were minimized, albeit not done away with completely, but the noise floor did drop a bit. Edge detail and perceivable sharpness appeared crisper, lending a slight touch of improved depth to the image. Colors and grayscale tracking were largely if not totally unaffected but, due to the added boost in edge fidelity and sharpness, the black levels and contrast appeared to get an added boost.
I ended my evaluation of the Edge with some HD material, beginning with Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel (Discovery). Storm Chasers is shot in HD, using largely consumer-grade HD cameras from Panasonic. The show's better moments happen largely in low-light situations, which causes a great deal of noise and compression artifacts, due to the consumer-grade cameras and lenses used. This said, the Edge did assist the Storm Chasers, at least in the video realm, more than it did my girls from the Midwest Teen Sex Show. The noise reduction seemed to have enough on its plate with the vast landscapes and swirling debris; it appeared to leave the characters' skin tones and textures untouched. The scaling seemed to work best with the broadcast material and I could see a noticeable improvement and reduction in motion artifacts and macro-blocking, as well as in overall smoothness of motion. Through the Edge, Storm Chasers, which has a 1080i signal, looked more like good 24p via Blu-ray than a satellite HD feed. The edge enhancement was noticeable and there was a slight boost in clarity and sharpness.
I went ahead and popped in 3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray disc and readied myself for the best video I'd ever seen. It looked like Blu-ray. It was stunning, colorful, saturated and natural, with inky blacks and wonderful motion all captured in crystal clear HD. But I don't think it had anything to do with the Edge whatsoever, an impression that was confirmed when I bypassed the Edge and plugged my PS3 straight into my HDTV. I could see no noticeable difference, other than that my set was no longer calibrated, between playing a Blu-ray disc through the Edge and playing it straight to my monitor. Putting the Edge back into the chain of command and sitting a mere foot from the screen, I could see a few minor (and I mean minor) enhancements and/or improvements in terms of noise reduction and edge fidelity, but motion and/or motion artifacts remained unchanged, for there were really no issues really to speak of at the outset. This made me wonder, which consumers exactly is the Edge targeting?
I didn't install the Edge in my reference system, because my receiver and a few of my sources use the VRS chipset found in the Edge already. Also, my reference rig is used almost entirely for HD viewing of the 1080p/24 variety, which doesn't suffer from many of the issues the Edge is designed to fix. If you have an HDTV but your receiver is non-HD-compliant and you'd rather buy an HD source or two instead of a new receiver, then I suppose the Edge fits the bill, but you're then only going to use one of the countless inputs your receiver is offering, which kind of defeats the purpose of owning a receiver. Additionally, you can purchase a hell of a receiver these days for what you'd spend on a DVDO Edge and, if you choose your brand properly, it'll have the VRS or something very similar already installed.
So, does the Edge work at all? Yes, but its effect varies from source to source and content to content. For instance, The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Studios Home Video) on DVD seemed to benefit the most from the Edge's processing, with scaling and de-interlacing removing all but the last ounce of digital compression and motion artifacts from the numerous whip pans past mini-blinds and panes of glass. However, no film is comprised entirely of "demo material" and, if you're not an action movie fiend or don't watch a fair amount of film noir, you may question the Edge's added expense.
So what good is an Edge? Well, if you bought a 1080p HDTV and perhaps enjoy your HD satellite or cable feed (720p or 1080i), yet cling to your DVD and VCR (480i) with an iron grip, then, my friends, the Edge is for you. More importantly, if you're a "tweaker" (not in the drug sense) looking to get that last ounce of performance from your video system and have lusted after DVDO's iScan VP50 Pro but just can't seem to afford it, then the Edge is for you.
Competition and Comparison
Be sure to compare the DVDO Edge video processor against other products by reading our DVDO IScan HD video processor review, as well as our article Cary Audio Design Introduces the Cinema 11v High-Definition Video Processor. You can also find more information in our Video Projector section.
Read The Downside and Conclusion on Page 2