The race for more pixels has really picked up steam in the high-definition display arena. It wasn't too long ago that we were talking about just making sure you got an HDTV display--and not just an EDTV 480p one. Now here we are, a couple of years later, talking about 1080p. Yes, you read that right: the buzz is no longer around 720p or 1080i, but 1920 x 1080 progressive scan displays. Several new DLP/LCOS/SXRD/LCD displays with 1080p as their native resolution have
been introduced by Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, and others. LCD panels are now popping up with 1920 x 1080 capability, such as the BenQ I recently reviewed. There is now talk of 1080 plasmas as well, with Panasonic about to introduce one. Why is this important, you may ask? When you increase the resolution, you increase the capability of handling the most resolute signals, you can sit closer to a display with smaller scan lines, and with the proper electronics you can have the cleanest, most detailed picture possible. Unfortunately, as we all know, the scaling and processing electronics in many displays are far from the best, as the majority of the money to reach their respective price point goes toward the actual hardware and feature set.
Until the past few years, good external video processors were exceedingly expensive, costing many thousands of dollars. Now with 1080p being the new resolution to have, you would expect the introduction of super expensive 1080p scalers, but DVDO has thrown a curve ball into this normal state of affairs by introducing the $1,999 VP30 video processor. That's right, two grand for a processor that can not only spit out 1080p, but will also process and switch 4 HDMI sources, component video/S-video sources, and even switch the digital audio stream that goes with them. That's a lot of bang for the buck, and it solves one of the major problems we have with many surround sound processors today--the lack of HDMI switching.
I have not been terribly impressed with many of the video processors that I have used, finding them somewhat complicated to use. Much to my surprise, the VP30 is a comparable delight to use. The VP30 is a simple black box, very slim in construction, with a display panel in front, a few controls, and a cleanly laid-out back panel. I hooked it up via Tributaries component cables to a Krell DVD Standard player outputting 480i, via a Tributaries HDMI cable to a Time Warner Cable Scientific Atlanta 8300HD box that also was set to output the native format of the programming--whether 480i, 480p, 720p, or 1080i--and initially this was all connected to a 37inch 1920 x 1080 BenQ LCD. The BenQ only has a DVI in, so a Tributaries HDMI-DVI adapter was used.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
Once in the setup menu, it is easy to discern all of the features that are available to you. There is a menu for picking the type of active aspect ratio of your display, the frame aspect ratio, a border function allowing you to put borders around the sides or top of the display, a zoom function, and even a pan function. The controls don't just stop there--just select the next menu tree, and you have the ability to scale the image up using the overscan function, specify which signal is coming over the HDMI/RGBHV inputs, select a video or pc level setting for each input, and turn on and off a VCR mode, the different Film modes, and finally the lip sync mode in case all that extra wiring throws off the sync between the audio and video. Whew! Like the Energizer bunny, this processor still keeps going. The next menu tree has a whole bevy of picture controls, including the ability to control Y/C delay and also correct for chroma upsampling error! The upshot--just about whatever it is that ails the video part of your home theater can be helped or fixed by this little box. Oh yes, I almost forgot the 27 internal test patterns, the easy-to-use output format control, the output aspect ratio, and the ability to change the sync and color space functions for the output control, set the output level setting for video/pc, turn HDCP on and off for the output, and also perform framerate conversion for 50 or 60 Hz displays. There are probably two or three other features that I have missed in this laundry list, such as the automatic coffee maker and egg poacher, but I think by now you get the idea.
There was one fly in the ointment, though. When I started using the VP30 with the BenQ LCD, it would not take a 1080p signal, and I finally had to change the setting for 1920 x 1080i. This was rather strange because, as I already mentioned, it is a 1920 x 1080p display. Undeterred, I pressed on to assess the picture quality. The VP30 puts out a decidedly smooth, film-like picture. When hooked up via the component inputs to the Krell DVD Standard, it was able to transfer its already excellent image quality and successfully upsample it to 1920 x 1080i, making it look even better. The Time Warner 8300HD cable box was set to output whatever the native format of the programming, whether 480i, 480p, 720p, or 1080i. Again, the image was smooth and film-like with lots of detail. There is only so much you can do with SD programming, but it's good that the VP30 was able to interpolate enough detail that the picture seemed not only smoother, but also more three-dimensional. The black level appeared even darker, as there was less overall noise, and dark detail seemed to improve.
I decided to try the VP30 on another system with a larger display,
so I took it to the theater in my home and hooked it up to the Pioneer
DV-59AVi outputting 480i via HDMI and another Time Warner 8300 HD box.
The VP30 outputted to my Fujitsu 50inch 720p display. Here the
differences were less apparent, as the Fujitsu has a pretty good scaler
already, and the Pioneer does a very nice job of upscaling also.
What this did tell me, though, was that the VP30 was probably most effective in systems with less-than-stellar internal scalers, systems with really large displays or screens, and probably even most 1920 x 1080 systems, as to upscale successfully to that level requires a very good scaler. What the VP30 also offers is the host of controls to enhance, tweak, and correct your home theater system, as well as the ability to add efficient HDMI switching to your system. The fact that it does this for $1,999 is just astounding to someone like me who remembers the days of scalers that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The iScan VP30 is a truly phenomenal value.
Video Inputs: Two Composite, Two S-Video,
Two Component (YPbPr or RGB/S),
One RGBHV/Component, Four HDMI,
One SD-SDI (Optional)
Audio Inputs: Four HDMI, Two Coaxial Digital,
Two Optical Digital, One Analog Pair (L/R)
Video Outputs: One BNC Analog Component Video Output (BNC) configurable for YPbPr, RGBHV, RGB/S, or RGB; one HDMI output
Audio Outputs: One Coaxial Digital, One Optical Digital
Automatic Chroma Upsampling Error Detection & Correction;
10-bit, 300 MHz DACs, with up to 10x oversampling
and 2x oversampling for 1080p.
Flexible Input and Output Aspect Ratio Control
Full-frame Timebase Correction
Motion and source adaptive video deinterlacing for
NTSC with 3:2 and 2:2 pulldown.
User-defined output resolution from 480p to 1080p