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A New Approach to Components in a Digital World - Something to think about


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#1 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 21 2006 - 01:47 AM

One thing that CEDIA 2006 drove home, at least to me, was that digital video, and all the products that embrace it, is creating a situation where for many home theater enthusiasts a dedicated video processor might be a viable option. I've written an article that addresses this issue and which, I believe, is a subject that is worth discussing. It actually spans several hardware areas of the forum (receivers, displays, etc.).

The link to my article is located HERE. Feel free to discuss this issue in this thread.
RAF
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#2 of 101 OFFLINE   Steven Simon

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Posted October 21 2006 - 03:49 AM

RAF,

Let me be the first to say thank you very much for your contributions to HTF and Home Theater in general. You truely are a wealth of info, and I respect you more than you know...
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#3 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 22 2006 - 03:51 AM

Thank you, Steve. In my opinion, external video processors are going to be the next "component" that a lot of people with Home Theaters are going to be considering (they are nothing new to power video users). With digital video already here and such a wide range of video resolutions out there on the new displays this is inevitable. And my article was written to try to bring more members up to speed on this sometimes confusing topic in a way that shows where these devices fit into the HT equation.

The article also gives me something to refer people to whenever video processing comes up in a lot of different threads here and elsewhere without having to repeat myself in each thread. This will, I estimate, be a terrific time saver for me so it was worth the effort.

Enjoy!
RAF
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#4 of 101 OFFLINE   Steven Simon

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Posted October 22 2006 - 01:39 PM

Currently here is my gear, tell me if it makes sense to consider a VP.

Pioneer 50 Inch Plasma 1080i max Rez. DVI Input and Component Only
Pioneer Blue Ray Outputs HDMI Converted to DVI for the Plasma.
HD DVD Same Config...
HD Cable PVR from Cabelvision....

All the video sources are run to my Outlaw 990 PrePro, 2 DVI(High Def DVD), and Component for Cable....

Thoughts??
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#5 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 22 2006 - 07:58 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by DarthSimon
Currently here is my gear, tell me if it makes sense to consider a VP.

Pioneer 50 Inch Plasma 1080i max Rez. DVI Input and Component Only
Pioneer Blue Ray Outputs HDMI Converted to DVI for the Plasma.
HD DVD Same Config...
HD Cable PVR from Cabelvision....

All the video sources are run to my Outlaw 990 PrePro, 2 DVI(High Def DVD), and Component for Cable....

Thougts??

Good question, Steve, and one that I would think a lot of people in your situation would be asking (even with different equipment.) The two things you have to ask yourself are:

1. Do my sources allow for output of the digital native resolution of the media? (In other words, does your SD DVD player offer 480i output over HDMI/DVI, and does your HD-DVD or Blu-ray player offer digital output of 1080p?)

2. Does my display offer an input that matches its maximum display resolution? (In other words, does your 1080i display accept 1080i digital input or does your 1080p display - I note you don't have one yet - offer a 1080p digital input?)

If the answer to both questions is "Yes" then you are a prime candidate to start thinking about an external video processor. This is because these processors work best if they are able to start with the native source material on the media, perform their digital magic, and then provide their output directly to your display with no further processing by the display. If the answer to one or both of the questions is "No" then I would probably wait until the next time you are thinking of upgrading some of your components since the video signal you will be processing is already processed by the player(s) and the display will modify any output from the video processor. Some processors like the DVDO VP50 have (or will have shortly) the ability to "undo" some processed signals (like changing 480p back to 480i with SD DVD player output, which is termed "re-interlacing") because this usually results in a superior image if they start with 480i, but that's something best avoided if possible.

Based on your equipment list I would suggest that you wait a bit since you can't get the maximum effect of an external video processor right now (i.e. it's not cost effective even though the image would probably be slightly better.) However, knowing you I assume that you will sooner than later own a 1080p display and, at that time, make sure you get one with a 1080p input. Also, when you are ready to upgrade to your next pre/pro or receiver you will be tempted to go with the flagship model of whatever brand you choose (the one that includes video processing - more and more companies, like Denon and Anthem, etc. are doing just that at a price premium). That would be the perfect time to consider purchasing an external video processor rather than shelling out the big bucks for a pre/pro or receiver that forces you into accepting the video processing continued within (because you are stuck with that processing as technology evolves unless you want to replace the whole pre/pro or receiver). The same rationale works for source players. No need for an "upscaling" DVD player if the external video processor does the upscaling even better than the player (and is upgradeable as well!).

If you followed the scenario I presented in my article you will see that you can avoid paying extra for the "top of the line" players and receivers as long as you put your video processing dollars into a good external video processor. The net result is as good or probably a better picture for the same money or less, and the added benefit of flexible upgrading at minimal cost. I would suggest that you start thinking about building your next set of components around a video processor like I'm doing. And any one else out there reading this can make their own assessment of what they currently have and what they want for the future. There is no set answer for everybody.

Hope this helps.
RAF
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#6 of 101 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 24 2006 - 03:26 AM

FYI PREP will be included on the next DVDO firmware update due in 4-6 weeks.

#7 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 24 2006 - 08:03 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich
FYI PReP will be included on the next DVDO firmware update due in 4-6 weeks.

Thank you, Adam.

And for those perhaps not DVDO acronym savvy, PReP refers to the "re-interlacing" of deinterlaced signals.

PReP stands for "Progressive ReProcessing of 480p, 576p and 1080p sources (into their interlaced counterparts).

RAF
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#8 of 101 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted October 24 2006 - 10:51 AM

RAF:

So what if you have an HTPC that you run your DVD and video out to your RPTV that is 1080i and has HDMI inputs? Does the HTPC provide the scaling for you?

Parker

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#9 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 24 2006 - 12:29 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Parker Clack
RAF:

So what if you have an HTPC that you run your DVD and video out to your RPTV that is 1080i and has HDMI inputs? Does the HTPC provide the scaling for you?

Parker

Good question, Parker. While I'm not an HTPC expert by any means, I've used them a bit in the past (mostly to provide some 1080p input to my 1080p capable HP DLP set before other 1080p sources (HD discs) became available. For a more definitive answer I would hope that some of our HTPC "power users" would chime in here with additional information or to correct me if I'm wrong.

That said, one of the nice things about HTPCs is that they are capable (usually through software - as I did in my experience) of outputting a wide range of display resolutions. This is usually limited by the capability of the video output card in the HTPC. Remember, the video material on SD DVDs is contained in 480i format and in HD DVDs (either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray) is native 1080p. The Windows Media Video (WMV) HD files that are available either from Internet Downloads (or on commercially available WMV HD DVDs) are usually 1080p (1980 x 1080) with some being 720p (1280 x 720). The important thing to note is that if you configure your HTPC to output anything other than the native resolution on the disc (be it 480i, 720p, 1080p or anything else) then yes, video processing is being done by the PC.

The ideal thing would be, assuming you wish to use an external video processor, to have the HTPC pass through the actual resolution on the DVD being played so that all processing is in the hands of the video processor. The reason that I say this is that any of the major video processors out there (Lumagen, DVDO and a handful of others) is bound to have more sophisticated video processing circuitry than the vast majority of video cards in HTPC (unless there are some cards out there that I'm not familiar with - and I'd venture to say that those cards would be priced much higher than what one usually spends for a video card in the average HTPC.) Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the video cards in PCs to say for sure that they have such a "pass-through" mode so I can't give you a definitive answer in this regard. Remember, just because a card may output 480i at your command from an SD DVD (480i native) doesn't mean that the video signal didn't go through some processing before reaching the outside world. If one chooses to add an external video processor to his or her HT system then using and HTPC would be overkill as a DVD source. There are players that output SD DVD 480i over digital for under $150 (The OPPO 970, for example) and even an HD source player would be less expensive than maintaining an HTPC as the primary source for video into an external processor.

So the answer to your question is yes, the HTPC normally provides the scaling. And whether or not you can bypass this scaling might be important if you want to use an HTPC in the scenario I propose. Most of my presentation is directed at people using video sources other than HTPCs (DVD players, Cable and Satellite boxes, etc.) but that doesn't exclude HTPCs from the mix if that's your choice. It's just an expensive choice given the conditions.

Two other thoughts occurred to me while responding here.
  • The upcoming PReP feature on the DVDO iScan VP50 might be able to restructure any output from an HTPC to possibly increase the quality of the final picture.
  • Keep in mind that my comments are for any quality video processor, not just the DVDO products. I keep mentioning the VP50 because that's the unit I'm most familiar with (and its sibling, the VP30) but most of what I say also applies to products from Lumagen, Crystalio, Runco, Teranex and a host of others. Be aware that some processors carry eye-opening (like in "expensive") price tags compared to the more affordable DVDO and Lumagen, et. al.) This is something that requires research on the part of those serious about using an external VP.

RAF
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#10 of 101 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC

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Posted October 24 2006 - 01:32 PM

I believe that most who use a HTPC in a high-end setup use it precisely as a video processor. With the enormous processing power available in today's home computers, it's possible to equal or better the performance of the dedicated DSP components and routines typically found in separate video processors, with a great degree of flexibility and controllability. With the appropriate adaptor cards, the PC can accept video from external sources and apply all kinds of processing, while for DVDs played onboards it has the advantage of being able to operate on the MPEG stream in its native form, depending always on the software used.

I think the question becomes whether one has what I will call the engineering background, as well as the willingness and interest, to choose and assemble the parts for such a computer-based processor, and set it up and tweak it for best performance, instead of buying an "off-the-shelf" processor. Mind you, I don't think the above description applies at all the the majority of "HTPCs", which are boxes running Windows XP Media Center Edition, used by their owners for word-processing, Internet, games, and occasionally as a substitute for a TiVo.

#11 of 101 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted October 24 2006 - 08:47 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich
FYI PREP will be included on the next DVDO firmware update due in 4-6 weeks.
How does one acquire an update?


Cees

#12 of 101 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 25 2006 - 03:07 AM

Download it from their website and install it using the RS232 port.

#13 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 25 2006 - 05:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChristopherDAC
I believe that most who use a HTPC in a high-end setup use it precisely as a video processor. With the enormous processing power available in today's home computers, it's possible to equal or better the performance of the dedicated DSP components and routines typically found in separate video processors, with a great degree of flexibility and controllability. With the appropriate adaptor cards, the PC can accept video from external sources and apply all kinds of processing, while for DVDs played onboards it has the advantage of being able to operate on the MPEG stream in its native form, depending always on the software used.

Christopher,

I agree completely with your description of the HTPC as a device which can be tailored to meet a wide range of scaling, processing and playback needs for those so inclined. In fact, until recently, HTPCs ran processing rings around most of the "video processing" found in most home components (players, displays, etc.) And the direct link to MPEG and other video formats is also a flexible plus. However, as you stated, there is a large segment of the HT population (in fact I would assume the majority) who don't wish to get as hands on as many of us in this area and the growing field of external video processors (in the relatively "affordable" range) is providing a lot of capability and processing power that rivals (or surpasses) some of the HTPC functions. In the early days, the average hobbyist without bottomless pockets would usually turn to HTPCs as providing the VP answer. Now the dedicated video processor is another contender without the perception of "you have to build it."

Of course, a lot of this is actually moot because once you get below the surface of external video processors they are actually computers themselves with many of the same functions of HTPCs - just packaged a bit more elegantly for prosumers.
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#14 of 101 OFFLINE   Joe S.

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Posted October 25 2006 - 05:38 AM

So Robert, what do you think of something like the Anthem AVM50? It seems to be a very good video upconverter and, of course, a pre/pro in one. I've been looking at upgrading my Outlaw 950 anyway and was looking in this direction.

Supposedly the AVM50 will take any input and upgrade it to 1080p (or whatever you like) to be output over HDMI to the HDTV.

Wouldn't that setup serve the same purpose?

#15 of 101 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted October 25 2006 - 05:39 AM

Adam,

Quote:
and install it using the RS232 port.
Posted Image

Excellent concept, apparently.


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#16 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 25 2006 - 06:47 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe S.
So Robert, what do you think of something like the Anthem AVM50? It seems to be a very good video upconverter and, of course, a pre/pro in one. I've been looking at upgrading my Outlaw 950 anyway and was looking in this direction.

Supposedly the AVM50 will take any input and upgrade it to 1080p (or whatever you like) to be output over HDMI to the HDTV.

Wouldn't that setup serve the same purpose?

Yes, Joe, it would serve the same purpose at present and I'm sure that the Anthem AV50 is a very nice "one box" solution. If your situation and/or your preferences lean towards a "mega-receiver" that's one of several excellent models.

However, the very nature of it being a one box solution is also its downfall. No matter how much upgradability they promise, manufacturers usually fall short on their promises. Something new is always coming along that can't seem to be incorporated into current models. And at that point you are stuck with what you have unless you want to buy it all over again. I read the Anthem "Future Proof" promise on their site and forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical on this. They can't really predict the future - especially in electronics.

My whole thesis is to avoid the one box solution to home theater to avoid being locked into a particular piece of equipment. For example, I didn't see any information whether or not the AV50 contains HDMI 1.3 circuitry (I doubt it due to the timing of its release) and this is not something easily upgraded by a circuit board, etc. It may not be important now but is sure will be during the lifetime of the AV50 for all the new audio codecs being introduced. Also, I really don't think the quality of the video processing in a $4700 (list) AV receiver is going to match the quality and flexibility of a $3000 dedicated video processor like a Lumagen or a DVDO. That just doesn't make economic sense unless the rest of the AV50 is made up of really cheap componentry (and I doubt that it is). And I could go on and on regarding the positives of a component approach to HT. The only real negative is that you have several pieces that you must interconnect. However, that also lets you swap out a piece of the puzzle for a newer technology once "future proofing" doesn't hack it.

There are a lot of Mega-Receivers out there right now that are promoting all sorts of features including extensive (they say) video processing. In addition to the Anthem AV50 (and the more expensive D2) are items like Denon's $7000 flagship receiver. As I stated before, if that's the way one chooses to go, they are fine pieces of equipment - but limited for future expandability in my opinion. And they might actually be more expensive than components. If you look at what I'm doing by purchasing the Denon 3806 (~$900) and the DVDO iScan VP50 (~$2600 - even much less with an upgrade from my VP30) I'm getting all that I want and need from the Denon 5805mkII (~$5000 street) at significant savings. Of course, I already have my separate amps (as you must with an Outlaw 950) and, therefore, I can concentrate on today's processing and switching.

Remember, the nice thing is that I can sit back and wait for the HDMI 1.3 situation to sort itself out before making a move. At that time I will upgrade my Denon 3806 (being used as a pre/pro) to the next "latest, greatest." And this might be another receiver in pre/pro mode or another dedicated pre/pro - like the next generation Outlaw after the 990 or, perhaps, if Denon releases its rumored pre/pros (hopefully a version without extensive video processing.) This is almost like having one's cake and eating it too.

Posted Image
RAF
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#17 of 101 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted October 25 2006 - 07:23 AM

The current downside to using a HTPC for a scaler is it can only scale it's own sources (DVD and ?), and not external sources (cable and sat receivers, game consoles, etc). Windows vista will see cable cards built into HTPCs along with HDDVD. In a few years I think the HTPC may replace the scaler and the preamp. Some day I wouldn't mind a Niveus in my HT. http://www.niveusmed...s/rainier07.htm

#18 of 101 OFFLINE   Joe S.

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Posted October 25 2006 - 08:09 AM

Yes, I see what you are saying. I'm in much the same boat, my system works fine for me today so really what I am doing now is "window shopping" until the audio formats can work themselves out. But with the PS3, HD-DVD, Bluray, and other HDMI products on the horizon (or at least for me Posted Image) I can see the 950 needing an upgrade. Right now I have an external audio authority auto-switcher to handle component cable multiplexing, I envision soon needing something similar for HDMI lines. Whether that is handled externally again, or in a "one box" solution is up in the air.

I would have to say that if something like the Niveus was available with extensive inputs/outputs that would be very attractive to me. HDDVD player with scaling for all other video inputs to an HDMI output is a great idea. As Adam states, if it had interconnects for an external amp that might be the perfect solution someday.

Thanks for your time and well-reasoned response Robert.

#19 of 101 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted October 25 2006 - 05:11 PM

You're welcome, Joe. The purpose of this thread and my article is not to tell everyone to rush out and buy a video processor immediately, but to get people thinking a bit as they plan their next equipment acquisitions to deal with all the new formats, audio as well as video. Remember to add to the mix all the confusion about HDMI and it's various implementations and revisions. As HDMI 1.3 rolls out during the next year or so many will be tempted to add equipment that accepts this standard and the component approach is one way to tackle this. Investing in today's "big box" receiver locks you into whatever plugs are on the unit, whereas replacing only the audio pre/pro is a lot easier on the pocket.

Remember, I'm advocating considering an external video processor and this is not, by any means, limited to the DVDO product line. Lumagen makes fine VPs as do several other manufacturers. There are as many choices as there are products and the list will undoubtedly grow. As I pointed out, the "big boys" of the projection industry (Runco, Digital Projection, et. al.) have been using external video processors for years as part of their very expensive FP packages. This even goes back to the early days of front projection (remember "line doublers and quadruplers?"). This practice is now filtering down to the regular HT enthusiast now that prices have come down on VPs. And VPs are now much easier to integrate into HT systems than in the past. They also offer a lot more features than before in part due to the digital nature of today's video and the advances made in computer technology.

Finally, I was fortunate at CEDIA 2006 to link up with Jano Banks (currently of Radiient Technologies) and have been corresponding with him on a regular basis as I try to sort out the HDMI situation. He's a great guy and has been a tremendous resource for me. And who is he? If you look at the HDMI patent, Jano is the second name on that document so he knows what he's talking about. Posted Image Over the next couple of months I hope to learn a lot more about the evolving HDMI standard and implementation. I will share anything important with members here on the forum.
RAF
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#20 of 101 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted October 25 2006 - 11:26 PM

One of the things that I like about an HTPC is its upgradeability by replacing a card for the video or the audio. If you buy a device that is set up for today's market you are going to have to at some point replace it to keep with the latest and greatest like HDMI 1.3.

Right now you can get an HTPC with dual HD tuners, high end video card, Blu-Ray DVD player and spend under $3K. And with the cost of the drives coming down I see this falling to even less over the next with Vista included.

I think for those that want an external unit that can handle all of their video processing this is the way to go. For me though an HTPC is the way to go.

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