For one reason or another, it feels like I'm always setting up a new computer. Whether it's my (now aging) Dell, my parents' desktop or one of several PCs belonging to my friend Tom, I feel as though I've gotten to know the Windows installation process quite well. Unlike a lot of computer fans, the first thing I do once the operating system is installed is begin disabling and uninstalling features. This is because each and every needless background application eats into the potential speed and capability of my machine. In short, I like to squeeze every drop of performance out of my gear and make sure it's running at its full potential.
Thanks to the iScan HD video processor and scaler, I can finally apply those same principles to my home theater projector. Even if you're using a top of the line digital projector, I guarantee the iScan HD will push it to the limit and make it look better than you ever thought it could.
In a nutshell, the iScan HD takes all of your standard definition (480i) source components (DVD player, satellite receiver, VCR, etc.) and upconverts those inputs to a high definition resolution of your choosing. If you're using a front projector with a native 16:9 resolution of 720p, then you can set up the iScan HD to output everything from those multiple sources in 720p. Doing so removes the need for your projector to perform video processing and scaling of its own. Some projectors do feature excellent internal video processing, but the iScan HD does a better job than nine out of ten of them. Plus, the iScan HD also brings a number of other goodies to the table.
Unique Features - For starters, the iScan HD allows you to choose the output resolution that best suits your display device. Although you can certainly use the iScan HD with other types of displays, it seems to have been designed with front projectors in mind. In my case, I happened to have a BenQ PE7800 DLP projector in-house, so I used that for this evaluation. The PE7800 has a native resolution of 1024 x 576 and it tends to look particularly good when watching 1080i HD. I selected 1080i as my desired output resolution on the iScan and this transformed my 480i DVD signal into the far more desirable 1080i.
After pooling your various inputs, the iScan HD gives you two options for your video output. The first is an analog VGA connection. Although several displays and projectors feature this input, the more desirable option is to use the iScan's DVI output. Using the DVI output will give you a digital signal path, reducing image artifacts and noise that can result from excessive digital-to-analog conversion(s).
It should be noted that by the time you read this, a new iScan HD+ will be available. The difference between the iScan HD and the iScan HD+ revolves around the DVI interface. The iScan HD is not HDCP-compliant, but it will serve as a pass-through for a DVI source device. The iScan HD does not offer video processing or scaling on its DVI input. The iScan HD+ is HDCP-compliant and offers processing and scaling on its DVI input. At press time, the iScan HD+ was expected to carry with it a $300 premium over the iScan HD. Be sure to choose the model that best fits your needs.
On a final DVI note, I would love to see future iterations of the iScan include a second DVI input, even if it's solely an unprocessed passthrough. The iScan HD is marketed as a video hub in addition to being a high-powered scaler. Since most cutting-edge systems feature a DVD player and a HDTV receiver, both with DVI (or HDMI) outputs, it would be nice if the iScan HD could switch everything. As of this writing, I have yet to come across a projector with more than one DVI (or HDMI) input.
Apart from the powerful scaling capabilities of the iScan HD, there are a number of other features that make it hard to live without. My favorite of these is called "AV Lip Sync." This function automatically delays the digital input audio to match the delay created by the video processing. The iScan HD has two coaxial and two optical digital audio inputs. AV Lip Sync can be used on all four of these inputs and adjustments are made in milliseconds. If American-made new releases play like an old Jackie Chan movie on your system, this is one feature that's bound to come in handy.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - Unpacking the iScan HD was a snap and all of my necessary video connections were made within minutes. The unit features an impressive, easy-to-use On-Screen Display (OSD). Considering the complex nature of a video scaler, menus were well laid-out and functions were grouped under intuitive headings.
The supplied remote control has an extensive number of shortcut buttons that instantly take you to the most commonly-used menus. I liked the feel and layout of the remote, but I'd really like to see backlighting on future models. Glow-in-the-dark buttons just don't cut it in this house and without text labels on the buttons, it's impossible to know which button you're pressing.
My system for this evaluation consisted of a Panasonic RP91 DVD player (considered to be among the best interlaced players on the market) connected via Monster component video cables and my old RCA VCR connected via composite video. I used the iScan HD's DVI output to connect my hardware to a BenQ PE7800 projector.
Final Take - I started with the VCR because I know there's only so much you can do with a garbage signal. Throwing in my copy of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, I cringed at the unscaled image with a straight composite connection. Placing the iScan HD in front of the projector resulted in a slightly smoother picture with noticeably reduced image noise. Did it look great? No. Did it look better? Yes, it did.
While VHS improvements are nice to hear about, it's DVD that we really care about. Popping in The Chronicles of Riddick (one of the best-looking transfers I've seen in a while), I was amazed at what the iScan HD did for the presentation. Setting the iScan on 1080i output, Riddick took on a completely film-like persona and the image developed a solidity typically only seen when viewing native HDTV. Even with a quality interlaced player like the RP91, the iScan HD still made substantial and easily visible improvements to the projected image.
That last sentence really sums it up. "Substantial and visible improvements" -- isn't that what we're all looking for? We've spent our hard-earned money on quality components, so is it too much to ask that they perform at the top of their game? DVDO's iScan HD forces them to do exactly that. I have no doubt that you'll be impressed, as I was, with what this ingenious device can do for you. If I had to find fault, I would argue for a second DVI input and a backlit remote. The issue of HDCP-compliance on the DVI input has been solved with DVDO's iScan HD+, so remember to look at that before you buy. These nitpicks aside, I fully intend to make the iScan HD a permanent fixture in my reference theater.
DVDO iScan HD Video Scaling Engine
User-selectable Output Resolution
Outputs 480p/576p/720p/1080i and more
(2) Component Inputs
(2) S-Video Inputs
(2) Composite Inputs
(1) DVI-D Input
(4) Digital Audio Inputs (2 C/2 0)
2.2" H x17" W x10.4" D
Weight: 6.4 lbs.